Does Jordan Norberto Make Sense For Rays?

By Drew Jenkins

The Rays have already made moves to secure their bullpen depth this offseason; acquiring Heath Bell from the Diamondbacks, signing Mark Lowe to a minor league deal, and re-signing Juan Carlos Oviedo to a big league deal. It is also said that Jamey Wright is now deciding between signing with the Rays or Dodgers. Despite these moves, the Rays are still looking to add more depth. Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay times reports that the Rays are looking into signing Jordan Norberto to add yet another arm into the mix.

Norberto, a left hander, was signed by the Arizona Diamondbacks out of the Dominican Republic in 2004. He first saw big league time in 2010 with the Diamondbacks, but was largely ineffective, posting a 5.85 ERA and a 9.9 BB/9 in 33 appearances. But he was traded to the Oakland Athletics the next year and showed promise in 2012, putting up a 2.77 ERA in 39 appearances. That one year remains his only stretch of effectiveness in the major leagues.

Coming into 2013, Norberto once again was expected to fight for a bullpen spot with the Athletics, but he suffered an elbow strain in spring training that forced him to undergo Tommy John surgery after a failed attempt at rehab. He was released by the Athletics at the beginning of May. Things only got worse while Norberto was injured as he was named as one of twelve player suspended in relation to the Biogenesis clinic last season. Despite those two issues, however, Norberto has the stuff to be an effective pitcher once again in the major leagues as soon as next season.

Norberto is a lefty, but he is no lefty specialist. His arsenal is headlined by a strong fastball that sits in the 92-93 MPH range, and he pairs it with two strong secondary pitches in his changeup and slider. His changeup was so good that he actually had a reverse split in 2012, holding righties to a .573 OPS compared to .679 by lefties. Because of his arsenal, Norberto had been labeled as a potential closer early in his career, but inconsistent command his secondary pitches, especially his slider, put that into question even before everything else. Norberto’s 8.0 K/9 and 3.8 BB/9 in 2012 were an improvement from years past, but still leave something to be desired. However, a pitcher with Norberto’s stuff will continue to get chances, and the Rays could be the next team that signs him on.

After having Tommy John surgery, Norberto will not be available to pitch until May of 2014 at the earliest. The Rays do not need Norberto to fill a bullpen role, but his signing would represent a solid low-cost depth move with the opportunity for upside. Norberto will only require a minor league deal, and even once he became healthy, he could remain in Triple-A Durham until he proves himself worthy of big league spot. But a team can never have enough bullpen depth in the upper minors, and having talented pitchers as depth is always a luxury. Norberto would also be under team control in the big leagues for five years if he was able to reestablish himself, so this move certainly could be made with the future in mind. Andrew Friedman loves making these cheap depth moves, and unless another team overextends for a major league deal on Norberto, there is little chance he lands anywhere but Tampa Bay.