Cubs Have Spoken with Brad Brach, Jake Diekman, Deny Meeting with Bud Norris as Part of Bullpen Search

Update: Per Tony Andracki of NBC Sports Chicago, the Cubs have denied contact with Bud Norris, as was originally reported. Whew.

The Cubs have been actively combing through all the options in both free agency and the trade market during the winter meetings, with two “not high end” relievers among their targets. Because they’ve got several irons in the fire, including the possible pursuit of Bryce Harper, it looks like they’re going to wait for the top bullpen arms to sign before making a move.

In the meantime, they’re laying the groundwork and making contact with representatives of several different pitchers. Bruce Levine specifically mentioned righties Brad Brach and Bud Norris and lefty Jake Diekman as players with whom the Cubs have already spoken, but noted that there are many other options and nothing is imminent.

Brach has been mentioned in the past as a Cubs trade target and they were rumored to be “pushing” for him ahead of the 2018 trade deadline. They must not have pushed too hard, though, because the Braves pried him loose from the Orioles for $250,000 in international slot money. Of course, Brach was no longer the All-Star performer we saw in 2016.

The former Oriole has made at least 62 appearances in each of the last four seasons, and at least 67 in each of the last three, but his performance and velocity have tailed off. Some of that could have been due to languishing in Baltimore, as evidenced by significant improvements across the board following the trade to Atlanta. MLB Trade Rumors projected a two-year, $12 million contract for Brach, who’ll turn 33 in April, which seems about right.

Norris has the same salary projection and is coming off of a decent campaign in which he notched 28 saves, but he’s a year old than Brach and carries what can most kindly be described as “baggage.” As a self-appointed arbiter of baseball’s unwritten rules, Norris has displayed thinly-veiled racism beneath the guise of respect for the game on more than one occasion.

“We’re opening this game to everyone that can play,” Norris told USA Today in 2015 for a piece on the alarming number of brawls involving players of different ethnicity. “However, if you’re going to come into our country and make our American dollars, you need to respect a game that has been here for over a hundred years, and I think sometimes that can be misconstrued.

“There are some players that have antics, that have done things over the years that we don’t necessarily agree with.”

And just this past season, Norris was a central figure in the events that contributed to Mike Matheny‘s ouster as manager in St. Louis. Specifically, Norris served as Matheny’s snitch and was encouraged to “mercilessly ride” young teammate Jordan Hicks. The Cubs have spoken often about a desire to add leadership, but Norris comes across as a crustier, less affable John Lackey so it’s good that they are not entertaining the idea of adding him.

Diekman, who will turn 32 in January, is the youngest of the bunch and still has the liveliest arm. But he’s also coming off of the worst season of his career and has never been a very accurate pitcher. Still, he’s a lefty who can touch the upper 90’s and misses a ton of bats. He’s posted double-digit K/9 marks in each of the last five seasons and carries an 11.05 career mark, which is worth something even if he does walk nearly five men per nine innings.

If forced to guess, I’d say Diekman is the most likely of this trio to end up in Chicago. He’s got the most upside and he’s a southpaw to boot, so that bodes well. He might also come the cheapest, perhaps looking for a bounceback deal to build value. This is all exploratory right now and it could well be that none of these guys will be Cubs, but they set examples of what the front office is looking for.

Not quite as exciting as fawning over Harper, is it?

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