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Nationals lefty Matt Thornton has exceedingly rare velocity for his age, as Chelsea Janes of the Washington Post writes. Now 38, Thornton joins former closer Billy Wagner as the only 35-and-up southpaws to sustain a 95+ mph average fastball over an entire season. Thornton’s method of maintaining his velo is rooted in a somewhat non-traditional workout program and commitment to an early but gradual build-up each offseason. The Nats have benefited thus far from picking up the veteran on a waiver claim last August, thus taking on his $3.5MM salary this year, and he is arguably the club’s top left-handed pen arm heading into 2015.
More from around the National League:
- The new Dodgers front office is finding its hands tied somewhat in putting together a final roster, as Bill Plunkett of the Orange County Register writes. While the organization likely would prefer to open the year with recent acquisitions Chris Heisey and Enrique Hernandez on the bench, the contracts of Andre Ethier and Alex Guerrero make that difficult. Both Heisey and Hernandez have options, creating some flexibility, and will presumably start out at Triple-A unless the team swings a trade.
- Eric Young Jr. is the early leader for the Braves center field job out of camp, MLB.com’s Mark Bowman reports. Manager Fredi Gonzalez says that the club feels comfortable with Young’s ability to play the position defensively in spite of his limited experience.
- Reliever Pat Neshek says he was somewhat disappointed, but understanding, of the Cardinals‘ decision not to pursue him after his breakout year with the club, as Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports. Neshek ultimately landed with the Astros for two years and $12.5MM. In discussions during last season, GM John Mozeliak told Neshek that he held a “lottery ticket” and that the team would not be able to compete with the offers Neshek would receive on the open market. “In one sense it was kind of disappointing,” said Neshek, “but he knew it. He saw better. He could do something cheaper and try to get better. I see where they’re coming from. It was a good run. It worked out for everybody.”
Already having added Luke Gregerson, the Astros announced on Friday the signing of fellow right-handed reliever Pat Neshek. The client of Meister Sports Management receives a $12.5MM guarantee over two years, with an option for a third.
The side-armer was already a great story before his 2014 campaign, but the tale only improved after he dominated the league after joining the Cardinals on a minor league deal. Neshek posted a 1.87 ERA with 9.1 K/9 against a paltry 1.2 BB/9 over 67 1/3 frames in St. Louis.
True, Neshek had logged productive campaigns in the past, at least in terms of results. But the true breakout for the now-34-year-old came in the peripherals. In addition to that sterling K/BB ratio, Neshek registered a 2.37 FIP, 3.29 xFIP, and 2.55 SIERA in 2014, suggesting that his run prevention was no fluke.
Whether he can maintain that level of performance going forward remains to be seen, of course. Most concerning, perhaps, is the fact that Neshek benefited last year from unseasonable HR/FB and BABIP numbers (both against league and his career averages). But that’s a reasonable risk to take given the dominating ceiling he has now established.
MLBTR’s Steve Adams explained his case for a two-year, $10MM prediction in his free agent profile of Neshek back in October. Neshek topped that by a not-insignificant margin, and will surely feel confident that he did not leave any money on the table in his best chance at a big payday.
Bob Nightengale of USA Today had the first report on Twitter. Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com tweeted that agreement was struck. Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported the financial terms on Twitter, with Brian McTaggart of MLB.com tweeting that the deal includes an option. ESPN.com’s Jerry Crasnick reported the full salary breakdown (Twitter links).
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
The Pirates seem willing to spend on relievers, as Rob Biertempfel of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review writes. “We have typically stayed away from large dollars in the bullpen,” Huntington said. “That said, we are evolving as a organization. We’ve got a little more to spend now. For the right guy, we can go a little bit beyond our comfort zone.” More out of the NL Central..
- There’s mutual interest between the Cardinals and Lance Lynn in discussing an extension this winter, according to Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Yesterday, GM John Mozeliak inferred that he had a chat with someone from Excel Sports Management about Lynn.
- Pat Neshek signed with the Astros earlier today, but he nearly joined the Pirates, according to Brian McTaggart of MLB.com (via Twitter). The reliever was about to join the Bucs, but Houston upped their offer at the last second. Neshek had eight two-year offers in front of him.
- The Cardinals are not only interested in Rickie Weeks, they’re also looking at another ex-Brewer in Mark Reynolds, according to Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel (via Twitter). Reynolds, 31, hit .196/.287/.394 with 22 homers last season.
- The Cardinals aren’t necessarily looking for a platoon partner to pair with Matt Adams, writes Goold. “I believe we saw Matt Adams put together some fantastic at-bats against lefties in big situations,” manager Mike Matheny said Tuesday. “We can’t get too far away from the fact that this kid is still not really long into his career. Lumping him into this idea that he can’t hit lefthanded pitching isn’t really fair right now.”
Free agent reliever Pat Neshek is in the midst of talks with the Astros and two other teams, and he could soon agree to terms, ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick tweets. Recent reports have connected the Blue Jays and Pirates to Neshek, although it’s unclear if those are the other two teams in negotiations. The Astros, meanwhile, have lately been linked to relievers like Tyler Clippard, Sergio Romo and Luke Gregerson.
Neshek is coming off an outstanding season with the Cardinals in which he posted a 1.87 ERA, 9.1 K/9 and a measly 1.2 BB/9 in 67 1/3 innings. MLBTR’s Steve Adams predicted in October that Neshek’s breakout season at age 33 would earn him a two-year, $10MM deal this offseason.
A reunion between Max Scherzer and the Tigers is “not happening,” a club official tells Peter Gammons (via Twitter). What Detroit might do, however, is trade right-hander Rick Porcello to the Red Sox for a package of Yoenis Cespedes and Rubby De La Rosa. Rumors of a Porcello/Cespedes deal arose a few days ago but talks between the two sides were “not hot” according to Michael Silverman of the Boston Herald. Here’s some more from around the AL Central…
- The Angels are searching for middle infield help and the Twins‘ Eduardo Escobar is on their list of targets, MLB.com’s Alden Gonzalez tweets. Mike Berardino of the St. Paul Pioneer Press (also via Twitter) thinks the Halos could offer Minnesota a reliever in return, with Vinnie Pestano being “one name to watch.”
- Also from Berardino (on Twitter), the Twins haven’t yet talked to free agent starter Ervin Santana. The right-hander’s representatives are open to hearing from Minnesota, however, with a source telling Berardino that Santana “loves pitching in the cold.”
- Pat Neshek‘s agent Barry Meister tells Berardino that he had a “social discussion” with Twins GM Terry Ryan but the two sides “haven’t had any substantive discussions at all” about the reliever rejoining the club. Meister said that there has been “substantial interest“ from around the league in Neshek and another top reliever client, Sergio Romo.
- The White Sox are telling teams that Dayan Viciedo is available, USA Today’s Bob Nightengale reports (Twitter link). It’s no surprise that Viciedo is being shopped given that the Sox have been rumored to be exploring such outfield replacements as Melky Cabrera. Viciedo hit .231/.281/.405 with 21 homers in 563 PA last season, providing below-replacement level value with -0.9 rWAR.
Here’s the latest from Toronto…
- The Blue Jays asked the Diamondbacks about both left-hander Wade Miley and outfielder Mark Trumbo earlier this winter, Bob Elliott of the Toronto Sun reports. Arizona, in turn, asked for some of the Jays’ young pitching in return. Interestingly, the Jays didn’t plan on keeping Trumbo, but rather flipping him to the Mariners for Michael Saunders, a player Toronto landed anyway by dealing J.A. Happ to Seattle.
- Also from Elliott, the Jays have looked into signing free agent relievers Pat Neshek and Luke Gregerson. Sportsnet.ca’s Shi Davidi also notes that the Astros and Yankees are among the other clubs interested in Gregerson’s services.
- The Blue Jays are one of three teams who have spoken to veteran reliever Kyle Farnsworth, Davidi reports.
- Munenori Kawasaki has looked into options in Japan and may now be considering returning in North America on a minor league deal, according to Davidi. The Blue Jays would seem to be natural candidates to bring Kawasaki back, though manager John Gibbons wasn’t sure what was going on between the team and the infielder.
The Royals have interest in free agent Asdrubal Cabrera, according to MLBTR’s Tim Dierkes (via Twitter). Earlier today, Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports reported that the Royals have made Omar Infante available, so they could be viewing Cabrera as a potential upgrade. More from the Central divisions..
- With Francisco Liriano back in the fold, the Pirates are seeking relief help and have some money to spend, according to Rob Biertempfel of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review (on Twitter). The Bucs, he adds, are fans of Pat Neshek.
- Jon Paul Morosi of FOX Sports (on Twitter) adds that the Pirates are checking the trade market for left-handed relief options. As it stands, Tony Watson is their only proven lefty reliever after the Justin Wilson deal.
- The Cardinals‘ primary focus is on finding a right-handed bat off the bench, tweets Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports. St. Louis will turn their attention to finding a bargain fifth starter/long man type in January as protection for Carlos Martinez.
- Cardinals GM John Mozeliak is making no secret of the fact that he’s going to wait until the New Year to find pitching, writes Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “I would be looking for someone who adds depth to what we already have,” Mozeliak said. “I’m not saying I’m searching for that. That might be the time if we might want to bring in an extra arm or two that we might do it. The way I like to think about it is I don’t know what it looks like. Basically, it’s what’s left.“
- In a chat with reporters yesterday, Tigers General Manager Dave Dombrowski stressed the importance of right-handers Joakim Soria and Bruce Rondon, indicating that he’s not about to make a major bullpen move, writes Chris Iott of MLive.com.
The Twins are focused on pitching upgrades this offseason, and here’s the latest on the arms that Minnesota is (or isn’t) currently exploring…
- Justin Masterson was linked to the Twins earlier this winter but 1500 ESPN’s Darren Wolfson reports (via Twitter) that “about every sign” indicates the Masterson will sign with another team. The Twins aren’t scheduled to meet with Masterson during the Winter Meetings and the right-hander has already met with several teams over the last few days.
- The Twins have been in touch with Francisco Liriano‘s agent throughout the offseason and they’re expected to meet Monday with Brett Anderson‘s agent, La Velle E. Neal III of the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports. Anderson is looking for a short-term deal to rebuild his value after an injury-plagued 2014, while Liriano looks to command a significant multiyear guarantee. Neal (via Twitter) doubts the Twins would surrender the draft pick it would take to sign Liriano, who rejected the Pirates’ qualifying offer.
- Also from Neal, the Twins are one of over a dozen teams who have checked in on Pat Neshek this offseason. Neshek was originally drafted by Minnesota in 2002 and pitched for the team from 2006-10.
- The Twins have called about right-hander Ryan Vogelsong, Mike Berardino of the St. Paul Pioneer Press reports. Vogelsong has a 3.74 ERA, 2.35 K/BB, 7.05 K/9 and 42.4% grounder rate over the last four seasons with the Giants, throwing at least 179 2/3 IP in three out of those four years.
- Before Jason Frasor re-signed with the Royals, the Twins made a push to land the righty reliever, agent Dave Meier told Berardino. “The Twins had a lot of interest in him,” Meier said. “They stepped up and made an early offer. We were definitely considering that along with Kansas City and a couple other teams. The Twins were one of a select few clubs as we kind of narrowed things down.”
Pat Neshek improbably went from minor league signee to All-Star setup man after signing late with the Cardinals last winter. He’ll now look to parlay the finest season of his career into his first multi-year deal on the free agent market.
Over the past three seasons, Neshek has quietly assembled a nice track record. He’s pitched to a 2.26 ERA with 8.0 K/9 and 2.1 BB/9 over a period of 127 1/3 innings in that timeframe. In particular, the side-armer has been a dominant weapon against right-handed hitters, limiting same-handed bats to a paltry .173/.228/.271 batting line.
Neshek’s three-year platform looks solid from a statistical standpoint, but it downplays how great his 2014 campaign truly was. His 67 1/3 innings and 71 appearances ranked eighth and 12th among free agent relievers, respectively, and only Andrew Miller‘s 2.4 fWAR topped Neshek’s mark of 1.8 this season. Assuming the options of Darren O’Day and Huston Street are exercised, no relief pitcher can claim to have topped his 2.4 RA9-WAR, and only Koji Uehara can lay claim to a better strikeout-to-walk ratio than Neshek’s mark of 7.56. He was even dominant against left-handed hitters, stifling them to the tune of a .196/.237/.304 line. However you slice it, Neshek was one of the very best relief pitchers in Major League Baseball this season.
A .233 BABIP and 83 percent strand rate also contributed to Neshek’s ERA, but somewhat remarkably, those marks are in line with his career norms. Neshek does appear to able to consistently strand runners and induce weak contact at a better-than-average rate, though it’s fair to question if he can sustain levels this superior to the 2014 league-average reliever rates of .294 and 73.9.
Like nearly all relief pitchers, he won’t come with a qualifying offer attached, so he won’t cost a draft pick. And, while he’s had some injuries in his pro career (most notably Tommy John surgery back in 2008), he’s been healthy in each of the past four seasons. His health in 2014 was apparent, given the fact that he posted his best fastball velocity since his rookie campaign in 2006.
Neshek also stepped into the ninth inning at season’s end and picked up six saves, which might make him a bit more appealing to teams with late-inning needs.
Neshek looked to be on the verge of breaking out as an elite setup man with his hometown Twins back in 2007, but the Tommy John surgery and a damaged pulley tendon in his right hand slowed his career considerably and limited him to just 22 1/3 big league innings from 2008-10. It’s been an uphill battle to reestablish himself in the Major Leagues since that time, meaning he doesn’t have a particularly lengthy track record to draw from. In fact, he’s totaled just 281 2/3 innings in the Majors.
Dominant as Neshek was against lefties in 2014, he had the opposite problem in 2013. Lefties batted .315/.367/.566 against Neshek last season, and he had enough trouble getting them out that he was at one point designated for assignment by the A’s despite possessing strong all-around numbers at the time. This season, he dramatically reduced the number of sliders he threw in favor of the fastball, and the result does seem to have been positive.
Neshek’s electric ERA was, in part, sustained thanks to a career-low homer-to-flyball rate of just 4.3 percent. Teams may worry that Neshek, who entered the season with a career 10.4 percent HR/FB ratio, will regress toward his career marks. Those who point to the change in pitch selection as a possible reason for this year’s shift won’t have a leg to stand on, either, as his slider has typically not been susceptible to homers.
Neshek’s resurgent season came at age 33, and he’ll pitch next season at age 34, so he’s older than a number of arms in the second tier of the free agent market. He also struggled down the stretch, allowing nine runs over his final 12 innings, although seven of those did come in just two bad outings.
Neshek’s unorthodox delivery stems from an injury sustained in high school that prevented him from throwing overhand. He was hit by a pitch on the wrist and described the sensation of throwing overhand following that incident to Ted Berg of USA Today by saying it felt like the ball “was ripping right through my fingertips.” Neshek’s delivery was developed to compensate for that injury but soon turned into a weapon that he used effectively in his college career at Butler.
Neshek is an avid autograph collector and has a love of collecting and trading baseball cards. Neshek started a web site for fans who share his passion. He is a fan of Out Of The Park Baseball — a popular baseball simulation game — and is even a reader of MLBTR (Hi Pat!). Neshek is often described as an outgoing, engaging person who takes a genuine interest in those around him.
The relief market this season is fronted by David Robertson and Andrew Miller, but Neshek will be one of many strong options in the second tier. He and agent Barry Meister seem likely to target multiple years, and there’s certainly a case to be made. In terms of ERA, FIP, xFIP, SIERA, K%, BB% and GB%, Neshek’s three-year platform heading into free agency is comparable, if not superior, to that of Joe Smith, who signed a three-year pact with the Angels last offseason.
Of course, that doesn’t mean Smith’s contract is a reasonable expectation, as Neshek is three-and-a-half years older, has thrown fewer innings than Smith in that time and has struggled more against lefties. The point, however, is that he has rate stats commensurate with well-compensated relievers, and he is coming off an elite walk season.
In spite of the lower innings total relative to his peers, there will be no shortage of clubs that look at Neshek as a relatively affordable piece to strengthen their bullpen. I’d imagine that the Red Sox, Yankees, Cardinals, Dodgers, Tigers, Giants, Indians and Nats could all have some interest. Each of those teams either made the postseason or was within striking distance this season. However, Neshek is a player who has “only” banked about $4.5MM in his career, so I can see him going to a rebuilding or non-contending club, should that team offer the most money. The White Sox are known to be in need of bullpen help, as are the Astros, Cubs and Phillies, to name a few.
Despite his standout 2014, I have a difficult time envisioning a three-year pact on an open market that is flush with relief options. I do, however, think that Neshek can land a two-year pact, possibly with an option, especially if Meister strikes quickly. Relievers are typically best-served to sign early in free agency, and Neshek should strive to do the same.
Last offseason, Edward Mujica inked a two-year, $9.5MM contract with the Red Sox despite a late-season slide that cost him his closer’s gig. While Neshek hasn’t built up Mujica’s track record of innings at the Major League level, he strikes hitters out at a higher rate and is coming off a better platform season. I expect something near Mujica’s contract to be the landing spot, as I’m projecting a two-year, $10MM contract for Neshek.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak and manager Mike Matheny conducted their end-of-season meeting with the media today, and Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch has several highlights from the talk. Here are some of the main items that are relevant to MLBTR readers, but interested parties should check out the full transcript for additional insight into the team…
- The Cardinals view Jon Jay as their starting center fielder heading into the 2015 season after the 29-year-old hit .302/.372/.378 in 140 games. Mozeliak revealed that Jay will have his wrist scoped this week to clear out some damage that has been lingering since July.
- Mozeliak expects Oscar Taveras and Randal Grichuk to compete for the starting right field job next season and echoed recent comments that he expects Taveras to be with the club in 2015. Taveras has received specific instructions to work on his conditioning and speed this winter.
- The entire coaching staff has been asked to return for the 2015 season. Bench coach Mike Aldrete is expected to be pursued by at least one other team, Goold reports, but Mozeliak said to this point no team has gone through the protocol of asking to interview Aldrete.
- The Cards will be on the hunt for power to add to their lineup and possibly a right-handed power bat to add to the bench or pair with Matt Adams at first base. Still, Mozeliak said that he and Matheny see Adams as a potential 600-plate-appearance player.
- St. Louis will shop Randy Choate this offseason, Goold writes, following comments from Mozeliak on the “specialized” nature of Choate’s current role. Said the GM: “I think we both feel that if we can upgrade there or have an additional arm to choose from, that makes sense. We’re certainly not ruling out [Kevin] Siegrist. I think in Choate’s case, for us, he’s fairly one-dimensional. That makes it difficult for us to use him, particularly during a long season.” Choate is owed $3MM next season and held southpaw hitters to a .093/.205/.147 batting line.
- Mozeliak expects to offer contracts to all of the team’s arbitration eligible players, including Peter Bourjos and Daniel Descalso. However, Goold writes that the team could gauge interest in both on the trade market. Bourjos strikes me as a particularly appealing candidate, given his elite glove in center field. I speculated that he’d be a good fit for the Twins as a starer in my recent Offseason Outlook, and he could make sense for a number of teams, in my mind. Goold’s colleague, Joe Strauss, tweets that he got a “strong sense” that at least one outfielder would be moved.
- Both Carlos Martinez and Marco Gonzales will come to Spring Training as starters, Mozeliak said, but the clearer openings for each are in the bullpen at this time. Elsewhere in the bullpen, Mozeliak noted that the team won’t rule out re-signing Pat Neshek or Jason Motte.