The Tampa Bay Rays have expressed interest in Detroit Tigers left-hander Daniel Norris, according to a Sunday evening rumor. While Detroit has yet to make any significant deals this year, Monday’s trade deadline has struck a sense of urgency throughout the league’s contending teams. It’s only natural that they’d come knocking, considering the Tigers’ willingness to part with major league talent in recent years.
Norris, who is now 27 years old, has been productive for Detroit in a long relief role during the 2020 season. The team’s starting pitching staff has been crippled by injuries and ineffectiveness, leading to some truly ugly box scores. Norris, who was transitioned to a full-time long relief role, has held his own admirably while helping to fill that void and providing some padding to a bullpen that would otherwise be badly overworked. Over the course of six games, he’s pitched 15 innings and accumulated a shiny 2.40 ERA and 2.13 FIP.
With Tampa Bay, Norris would be serving in a similar capacity to the one he has here in Detroit. The Rays have a penchant for pitchers with a riding fastball and the flexibility to work effectively both as a starter or in long relief. Norris has shown the ability to be that kind of pitcher over the last two seasons — his performance this season has made Norris the Tigers’ third most valuable pitcher, trailing only Spencer Turnbull and Jose Cisnero in fWAR.
The Tigers are in a good position to negotiate a deal with Tampa Bay. The Rays’ pitching staff is in rough shape, and Norris fits their needs like a glove. He’s not on an expiring contract, meaning they’d be able to rely on his abilities for an additional year if he’s still needed. They could also simply flip him over the offseason, as they often do with arbitration-eligible players.
Better yet, it seems that his statistical achievements have sprung from real improvement. Norris’ fastball velocity has risen a full two miles per hour since last year and he’s increased his changeup usage by a significant amount. If the two sides can’t come to an agreement, Tigers General Manager Al Avila can turn his attention to extending the lefty’s contract instead. It’s not like he’s trying to offload an undesirable player; with these changes and a multi-year struggle with groin issues behind him, Norris can be a real asset to a contending team.
Speculating about the specifics of a rumored trade is fun, but it’s generally pointless even in a year that hasn’t been thrown entirely off kilter by COVID-19. This year, it’s an even more unpredictable situation. Teams have been unable to scout opposing clubs’ minor leaguers (except those playing Indy Ball) and have to rely on notes from previous seasons to make important calls.
Another complication is that the only players who can be traded this season are those included on 60-man rosters. Teams have been sidestepping that rule by dealing players to be named later in larger bulk than usual. Don’t be surprised to see the Tigers wind up with a PTBNL or two in the deal if Norris is sent packing. Avila likes to hunt for less-known players in trades and Tampa Bay has a huge number of decent players in the low minors for him to parse through in order to find someone interesting. Odds are, the Tigers would do best by targeting pre-breakout prospects in the lower levels of the Rays system.
As far as a potential centerpiece to the deal is concerned, don’t expect something flashy just because the Rays have the best farm system in baseball. They could massively overpay for anyone on the trade block and barely feel the impact, but that’s just not their style.
One player that could make sense as the return for Norris is shortstop Taylor Walls. He’s not particularly tooled up, but he’s fine as a defender and on the bases. He really shines because of his consistency at the plate and the lack of deficiencies in his overall game. He’s the kind of player that scouts tend to fall in love with as the watch him play; he outperforms his tools and hasn’t had any problems with minor league pitching at any stop.
Why would the Rays be willing to part with him? The answer is two-pronged. Despite his excellent track record, he’s hopelessly blocked in their organization thanks to the presence of Willy Adames, Wander Franco, Mike Brosseau, and Joey Wendle. Additionally, he’ll need to be protected from the Rule 5 draft in the upcoming offseason. That would require them to dedicate a spot on their 40-man roster to him as well, but it’s already bursting at the seams.
Regardless of which names are being discussed or how far the negotiations have progressed, this is an interesting story for Tigers fans to keep an eye on as the deadline gets closer. How Detroit handles the situation will give us a peek into the mind of the men at the helm and how they plan to steer the team into the near future.