Breaking News: Rays Take No-Risk Gamble on Jordan Norberto

By Robbie Knopf

Right-hander Jordan Norberto just tweeted that he has agreed to a contract with the Tampa Bay Rays. The deal, which is a minor league pact according to Susan Slusser, completes a saga seven months in the making and gives the Rays a relief arm with potential with absolutely no risk.

Way back in April we heard for the first time that the Rays were interested in left-hander Jordan Norberto following his release from the Oakland Athletics, and we have been waiting for action on that front ever since. Norberto, who turned 27 earlier this month, had a strong season in the A’s bullpen in 2012, managing a 2.77 ERA and a 46-22 strikeout to walk ratio in 39 appearances and 52 innings pitched. However, Norberto hit the DL twice that season with shoulder issues, and he suffered an elbow strain in spring training of 2013 before eventually undergoing Tommy John Surgery in June. Compounding Norberto’s problems further is that he was among the players connected to Biogenesis and has a 50-game suspension left to serve. But Norberto will serve that suspension as he continues his Tommy John rehab, and the Rays are excited about we he could become when he returns.

In Jake McGee and Alex Torres, the Rays have two lefties with electric stuff. Norberto has a chance to be a third. He has always stood out for a fastball that reaches the mid-90’s to go along with two strong secondary pitches in his slider and changeup, and those three pitches allow him to retire both righties and lefties. All of him pitches feature great late movement, making him extremely difficult to square up. Norberto’s pitches move so well that his control has come and gone in the past, but he can be effectively wild and be even better if something clicks. One obvious improvement the Rays could implement would be for him to throw his changeup to same-side batters, and that could make him even more effective. Norberto also has relative youth on his side and getting released by the A’s did wonders for his service time from the Rays’ standpoint–he will not be eligible for free agency until following the 2018 season at the earliest.

The Rays will likely do with Norberto exactly what they did with Juan Carlos Oviedo this season: add him to their 40-man roster at the end of spring training and immediately place him on the 60-day DL. Norberto will work to rehab when he comes back, and if he is not ready at the end of his 30 days or the Rays have no need for him, he could be optioned to Triple-A to continue working on his health and control. The worst-case scenario is that Norberto never pitches a game for the Rays, but the risk are risking essentially nothing–he will not even take up a 40-man roster spot until at least June–with the possible reward of a talented reliever. Norberto looked like a perfect fit for the Rays from the start thanks to his ability and minuscule cost, and the Rays were finally able to get him signed. Check back in six months to see just how big their no-risk gamble will pay off.