Philadelphia Phillies: Can Norris and Storen offer anything?

(Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images) /

As part of the Philadelphia Phillies’ most recent wave of veteran free agent signings, pitchers Bud Norris and Drew Storen are set to show that they have some gas left in the tank.

Death, taxes, and the Philadelphia Phillies taking fliers on aging, cheap free agents.

With the Phils’ big-dollar commitments to a handful of players, they have resorted to signing veterans en masse this offseason, essentially throwing darts and hoping that some of them will land relatively close to the bullseye.

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We first saw it a while back when they extended spring invites to a number of position players, including Phil Gosselin, the career utilityman/legally required kind of player that the Phillies have to have.

Last week, it was time for the pitchers, including interesting character Francisco Liriano. But Bud Norris and Drew Storen also came aboard at the same time, and these signings merit a quick look at whether or not the Phillies could reasonably expect to get anything out of either or both of them in 2020.

Bud Norris is 34 years old and didn’t pitch in the majors last year. A starter for a large majority of his career, he most recently spent one year each with the Angels and Cardinals as a reliever. He was fairly effective in the role, too, so it’s kind of surprising that he didn’t land anywhere in the majors in 2019 after posting 28 saves with St. Louis the previous year.

It’s genuinely worrisome that he was simply out of baseball last year, not even due to injury. Can a guy ramp himself back up into game shape at this age? The Phillies are throwing the dice that he can pick up where he left off.

Drew Storen, meanwhile, hasn’t pitched in MLB since September of 2017 when he underwent Tommy John surgery. It caused him to miss all of 2018, and by the time he got back to action in the minors last year, he wasn’t very good in the nine appearances he made.

Might he be able to recover some of what made him a top reliever from 2010-15? The TJ surgery aside, Storen has age (32) and the fact that he has fewer “hard miles” on his arm working in his favor when you compare him against Norris.

And I believe that’s exactly the way we should view this. The expectations for Norris and Storen are similar enough that they are basically battling one another for a bullpen spot. Of course there’s a chance that they both fail in spring training and neither makes the team, but the Phils are clearly hoping that at least one of them steps up.

Conversely, if they both show that they still have gas in the tank this spring, it’s a good problem to have. I don’t believe it’s likely that the team would have a spot for both of them, but that’s preferable to having to waive both without a second thought.

In the end, I’m not expecting either to be a key to the 2020 Phillies. If they are, we’re all in store for another disappointing season. But if I’m choosing between the two of them, I like Storen to help the Phillies in a 6th- or 7th-inning role this year.

Coming back from the surgery puts a huge question mark on things, but Storen at his best is simply better than anything that Norris can provide. Plus, it will have been nearly 2 1/2 years since Storen’s Tommy John by the time that spring training rolls around. At 32, he’s not young, but he’s still at an age where he might have a few years left.

Adding to his motivation would be a chance to pitch in some important games against his former team, the Nationals. Yes, those Nationals for whom he was excelling before they ditched him as their closer by trading for Jonathan Papelbon back in 2015.

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So give the edge to Storen here in this royal rumble of right-handed reliever reclamation projects. Just don’t try to say that three times fast.