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Pat Neshek acquisition a creative, superb early move

pat_neshek_houston_astros_april_2015A little more than 24 hours after the Cubs beat the Indians in one of baseball’s greatest games to win the World Series, the Phillies made a sneak attack to open the 2016 offseason.

The Phils on Friday traded a player to be named later (or cash considerations) to the Astros for reliever Pat Neshek. In the process, the Phils exercised the pitcher’s 2017 team option, which means Neshek will get $6.5 million from the Phillies in 2017.

Considering what the Phillies needed in the bullpen, and the potential cost of that need, this move is superb.

Two weeks ago we presented our Offseason Overview, which detailed the best fits for the Phillies in three key areas: outfield, starting rotation and bullpen. Our bullpen piece went through 23 potential free agents, ranking them from the worst fit to the best fit. No.1 on our list, the best fit, was Neshek. Here’s what we wrote:

The reliable reliever has a $6.5 million option with Houston, and it’s likely to be picked up. If not, you’re looking at a one- or two-year deal at about $6M-$9M per season, which is on the high side but in the zone. If Neshek becomes available, the Phils should definitely inquire about a two-year deal.

We also wrote that the Phils shouldn’t seek out a reliever through a trade, as it could cost them a relatively solid prospect. But the Astros have a full bullpen with Ken Giles, Luke Gregerson, Will Harris and others, so having Neshek for an option year meant something of a logjam in Houston. Plus, with a $96 million payroll in 2016 (higher than usual), and quite a few young players nearing hefty raises, the Astros probably felt that a $6.5 million reliever represented misplaced value. In essence, the Astros were looking to get some value for Neshek’s more expensive roster spot … so in walks the Phillies.

This is precisely the kind of trade the Phillies should make. They’re likely to give up, at most, a filler-level minor leaguer (of course, if a prospect goes to Houston this deal looks very different) to receive one team’s financial misfit. The Phillies can absorb a $6.5 million reliever. In fact, they can absorb a $12.5 million reliever. But Neshek is as good as a reliever who’ll get $12.5 million next year.

(He’s probably not as good as the relievers in the class above – like Kenley Jansen and Mark Melancon – but the Phils aren’t in the market for an elite-level reliever.)

Neshek is, for a team direly needing it, a pitcher capable of handling crucial outs late in games. Jeanmar Gomez did the trick with smoke and mirrors through some of the year, and capable ground-ball pitching the rest. His final 4.85 ERA told a decent story of his season, but even more accurate were his 47 strikeouts with 22 walks. That won’t cut it as a late-innings reliever.

Besides Gomez, the Phillies have the overworked but overpowering Hector Neris (2.58 ERA, 102 K, 30 BB) and the newcomer Edubray Ramos (3.83 ERA, 40 K, 11 BB) from the right side. It is possible the Phils dangle Gomez as a trade chip (he’s 27 and much like Giles at this point last season), but it’s more likely they stand pat, allowing Neshek to join Neris and Ramos in the back of the bullpen, and allowing Gomez to slide into the middle innings, which is more his speed. Joey Rodriguez, who did well in a 2016 callup, could play as a solid left-hander to balance the workload, but expect a low-cost veteran signing or two to battle for spots in spring training.

Neshek (3.06 ERA, 43 K, 11 BB) has been reliable for the last four years with three teams (Oakland, St. Louis, Houston). The sidearmer walks few and, while he’s not a flame-throwing strikeout arm, gets outs in a variety of ways thanks to his unique delivery. His one flaw is his work against lefty hitters (.250/.321/.646 in 2016), which tends to result in plentiful extra-base hits.

(There’s a way to work with this: If the eighth inning starts with a lefty, followed by two righties, use Neshek right away, see if he can get the lefty, then keep him in regardless of the first outcome. But if the inning is righty-lefty-lefty, use him for one hitter, or if it’s righty-lefty-righty, let the outcome of the first hitter dictate if he stays in to face the lefty.)

Anyway, Neshek gets righties out. He’s a solid late-innings option for a team needing that one more option. And for $6.5 million for one year, he’s potential value for the Phils, who could trade him to a more needy contender toward the deadline. And if he pitches poorly, $6.5 million for one year isn’t a big loss.

In short, Pat Neshek was the best man for the 2017 Phillies bullpen. And the Phils got their man in a creative way.

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