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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.
Here’s the latest coaching news from around the majors…
- In addition to Seitzer, the Braves have announced the hiring of Jose Castro as the assistant hitting coach. Castro, 56, has worked as a minor league hitting coach or coordinator with the Expos, Marlins, Padres and Mariners from 1990-2010 and served as the Cubs’ quality assurance coach last season.
- The Braves have hired Kevin Seitzer as their new hitting coach, MLB.com’s Mark Bowman reports. The hiring could be officially announced as soon as today. Seitzer served as the Blue Jays‘ hitting coach in 2014, meaning Toronto now has a vacancy to fill. Seitzer also previously worked as a hitting coach with the Royals (2009-12) and Diamondbacks (2007).
- Seitzer and the Blue Jays couldn’t settle on a new contract, which led Seitzer to explore options elsewhere, Sportsnet.ca’s Shi Davidi reports. The Jays are now looking for a new hitting coach in addition to a new bullpen coach, though the rest of the coaching staff is under contract for 2015.
- The Athletics have hired Mike Aldrete as their new bench coach, Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle reports, with the hiring expected to be announced today. Aldrete, a Bay Area native, spent the last three seasons as the Cardinals‘ bench coach and four seasons prior to that as St. Louis’ assistant hitting coach.
- The Rays don’t know who their next manager will be, but they’re planning on keeping their current coaches, Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times writes. A new manager will usually add some of his own staff, but that won’t be the case with the Rays, who want to ensure continuity regardless of who manages next year. Topkin points out that could be good news for bench coach Dave Martinez, who could be a candidate for the managerial job.
Cardinals outfielder Oscar Taveras has died in a car accident in Puerto Plata in the Dominican Republic, Dionisio Soldevila of ESPNDeportes confirms (via Twitter). Taveras’ girlfriend, 18-year-old Edilia Arvelo, also reportedly passed away. A variety of outlets from the Dominican Republic had reported news of the accident. Taveras was 22 years old. Soldevila notes that the police report indicates that Taveras’ car had veered off the road.
“I … will forever remember him as a wonderful young man who was a gifted athlete with an infectious love for life,” said Cardinals GM John Mozeliak, via the Los Angeles Times’ Bill Shaikin (also on Twitter).
“Oscar was an amazing talent with a bright future who was taken from us well before his time,” added Cardinals chairman Bill DeWitt Jr., via FOX Sports’ Jon Morosi.
“All throughout baseball are in mourning this evening,” said Bud Selig in a statement. “With heavy hearts, tonight we play Game Five of the 2014 World Series in memory of these two young people. On behalf of Major League Baseball, I extend my deepest condolences to the families and friends of both individuals, as well as to Oscar’s teammates and the entire Cardinals organization.”
Taveras signed with the Cardinals in 2008 and, within a few years, became one of the top young talents in the game. He had just begun his career in the big leagues, playing in 80 games with the Cardinals this season. Among his career highlights was a dramatic home run in Game 2 of this year’s NLCS against the Giants. Most prospect evaluators considered Taveras to have superstar potential.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
Cabrera’s operation isn’t entirely surprising, but doctors also discovered a stress fracture in the navicular bone near the top of his right foot, Beck writes. That injury requires a longer rehab process and required screws to be inserted into Cabrera’s foot, according to Beck.
Cabrera will be re-evaluated in three months’ time, and GM Dave Dombrowski said the former AL MVP will be “pretty much inactive” until that point. Dombrowski wouldn’t comment on whether or not Cabrera would be ready for Spring Training, but it seems possible that he’ll be getting a late start to his 2015 campaign at this point. Dombrowski said the team would provide further updates once Cabrera is re-evaluted in January, but missing an offseason of workouts does bring his status for Opening Day in 2015 into question. Needless to say, the onset of injuries is troubling for both Tigers fans and the team itself, as Cabrera is owed an enormous sum of $240MM through the 2024 season.
Shifting to Wainwright, the team has since confirmed the news, and Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch provided further details. Wainwright had some cartilage “trimmed” in the back of his elbow in order to avoid irritation in that area, an official tells Goold. The Cardinals have said Wainwright will resume a throwing program in eight weeks, and the surgery is not expected to impact his 2015 season, Goold writes.
Clearly, the eight-week timeframe for Wainwright is less troubling than Cabrera’s outlook, although it doesn’t leave a large amount of room for setbacks. That schedule would allow Wainwright to resume throwing in mid-to-late December. The right-hander is owed $78MM over the remaining four years of his five-year, $97.5MM contract.
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.
Lance Lynn and the Cardinals have both said they’re open to discussing a contract extension for the righty this winter, Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports. Lynn will be eligible for arbitration for the first time this offseason, and he’s built a strong case for himself by posting a 2.74 ERA in 2014 and averaging 194 IP, 8.7 K/9 and a 2.64 K/BB rate over his first three full seasons in the St. Louis rotation. As Goold notes, Lynn could be the latest in a series of core Cardinals players who the club has extended before hitting their arb years or free agency.
Here’s some more from the 19-time National League champs…
- Cardinals chairman Bill DeWitt tells Goold that the organization plans to increase payroll and is “forecasting fairly significant increases in the next three to five years.” The spending increase was planned to coincide with several younger players (Lynn, Shelby Miller, Matt Adams, etc.) reaching arbitration eligibility within that same time span. Additional money could also be spent to bring new talent into the team via trades or free agency, as DeWitt said “we would have the capacity for an additional core player or players depending on their quality, their compensation, and our need.” The Cardinals’ payroll has ranged from roughly $109MM to $116MM over the last four seasons, and Goold speculates that number could jump to around $130MM in the next few years.
- GM John Mozeliak made it clear that the team is very happy with Mike Matheny, and Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch considers it “ludicrous” for critics to suggest a change at manager despite some questionable tactical decisions from Matheny during the NLCS.
- Mozeliak also said that Oscar Taveras isn’t going to be traded, and that the star prospect’s underwhelming first season “is not the end of the world. If anything, it’s a blessing in disguise” since now Taveras knows what is needed to perform at the Major League level. On the other hand, Miklasz writes that Matheny “isn’t a fan” of Taveras and wonders if the Cardinals might be tempted to explore trades for the outfielder this winter.
- Also from Miklasz, he feels relief depth, upgrades at the backup catcher and backup middle infielder spots and a right-handed hitting platoon partner for Adams are all logical winter goals for the Cardinals.
A group of former minor leaguers has filed a lawsuit protesting that while they were playing, they received less than minimum wage and did not receive overtime, working for tiny monthly salaries to pursue their dream of making it to the Majors. Brendan Kennedy of the Toronto Star traveled to Clinton, Iowa as part of a long exposé on working conditions in the minor leagues. Class A players, for example, only make about $6,300 for an entire season, earning only per diems for instructional leagues and mandatory spring training. NBA and NHL minor leaguers make many times that amount. The extremely low wages for minor league baseball players might not be a hardship for early-round picks who receive six- or seven-figure bonuses, but they’re especially tough on the many players who sign for only a few thousand dollars. Here are more notes from around the game.
- A number of Cardinals players were at Busch Stadium Friday to pack their belongings, with some players not knowing whether they’ll return next season, Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch writes. 2014 was “up and down,” says Peter Bourjos, who made $1.2MM this season and is eligible for arbitration for the second time this winter. “Inconsistent playing time, inconsistent results — that’s how it goes sometimes. If there’s an opportunity out there, I’d like to play every day.” One player who sounds like he’ll certainly be returning is John Lackey, who says he has “every intention” of playing next season even though the Cardinals have an option on him for the league minimum salary. Also, impending free agent catcher A.J. Pierzynski says he’d like to continue playing. It’s unlikely that the Cardinals will re-sign him, however, with Yadier Molina and Tony Cruz at the catcher position.
- Two years after their last playoff game, the Yankees‘ roster is dramatically different, Chad Jennings of the LoHud Yankees Blog writes. Of the 19 players Yankees who appeared in Game 4 of the 2012 ALCS, just four — Mark Teixeira, Brett Gardner, Alex Rodriguez and C.C. Sabathia — are under contract for 2015.
Though there’s been speculation that Royals GM Dayton Moore could be a possibility to take over the GM slot in Atlanta following Frank Wren’s dismissal, Royals owner David Glass told Jon Heyman of CBS Sports that Moore is “absolutely” staying with the Royals. Moore’s contract runs through 2016, but as Heyman and others have noted, it’d seem odd to leave town after getting the Royals to their first World Series in 29 years. Glass had nothing but praise for Moore: “He’s done a great job. He’s as good as it gets as far as a general manager.”
More news from baseball’s Central divisions…
- MLB.com’s Jim Callis breaks down how the Royals constructed their World Series roster, noting that the club has 14 homegrown players (draft or international signing), nine acquired via waivers or trade and only two signed via free agency (Omar Infante and Jason Vargas). One could make the case that Jeremy Guthrie also belongs in the free agent category, as he technically hit the open market for a couple of weeks between the end of the 2012 season and re-signing in Kansas City. However, the most intriguing part of Callis’ piece, for MLBTR readers, may be a comment from Moore on the importance of Jake Odorizzi‘s role in the James Shields/Wade Davis trade: “…he also kept Yordano Ventura out of that deal at that time.”
- MLive.com’s Chris Iott makes five predictions about the upcoming Tigers offseason in his latest piece, prognosticating that Detroit will not make a serious run at re-signing Max Scherzer, nor will it spend lavishly on its bullpen, perhaps adding one mid-range option at best. As he notes, the combined $17MM owed to Joe Nathan and Joakim Soria is already more than the $15.4MM the club spent on last year’s entire Opening Day bullpen. Iott does, however, foresee a re-signing of Victor Martinez. For his last two predictions, he expects an internal competition for the fifth starter slot and that one (or both) or Andy Dirks and Don Kelly will be non-tendered, based on recent comments from GM Dave Dombrowski. Bottom line: he expects Detroit to spend on retaining Martinez and acquiring a center fielder rather than on the bullpen or rotation.
- The Cardinals aren’t likely to re-sign any of their five free agents, writes MLB.com’s Jen Langosch. That means that Justin Masterson, A.J. Pierzynski, Mark Ellis and perhaps most notably, lifetime Cardinal Jason Motte and the resurgent Pat Neshek are ticketed for new jerseys. Neshek is probably the most intriguing of the bunch, as the 34-year-old signed a minor league deal last offseason but earned an All-Star nod en route to a final ERA of 1.87 in 67 1/3 innings with 9.1 K/9 and 1.2 BB/9.
The Cardinals’ thrilling 5-4 win over the Giants last night tied the NLCS at a game apiece and also made some postseason history. As ESPN’s Jayson Stark notes, the Cards became the first team to ever hit home runs in the seventh, eighth and ninth innings of a playoff game. That final homer, of course, was Kolten Wong‘s walkoff solo shot. Here’s some more from St. Louis…
- Oscar Taveras delivered that seventh-inning homer for the Cards last night, though a few issues have made the top prospect no longer “untouchable” in the organization’s eyes, Joe Strauss of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch writes. Taveras hit .239/.278/.312 over 248 PA in this rookie season and didn’t see much action down the stretch in September or in the playoffs thus far — he has only five PH at-bats during the postseason. Perhaps of greater concern, Taveras put on 20 pounds last offseason and “his work habits have drawn attention from some veterans,” though Strauss notes that the 22-year-old “is not considered a toxic clubhouse presence.” In my opinion, even if he’s not totally “untouchable,” St. Louis would undoubtedly want a massive return if they considered dealing Taveras and it’s a very long shot that the team would so quickly give up on such an elite prospect.
- Strauss figures the Cardinals are likely to trade an outfielder this offseason, with Matt Holliday locked into the left field spot and Taveras, Jon Jay, Peter Bourjos, Randal Grichuk and prospect Stephen Piscotty all in the mix for the other two outfield spots.
- The Cardinals’ decision to let Albert Pujols leave as a free agent “could go down as one of the wisest in baseball history,” Bill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times writes. Rather than spend $250MM on Pujols as the Angels did, the Cards instead spread that money around and have reached the NLCS in all three seasons since Pujols’ departure. “When we knew we had to look at the next chapter of this organization, it was really about understanding how we could redeploy those resources,” GM John Mozeliak said. “You never know if you’re going to be able to sustain that high a level, but certainly to get close to that level, or back to it, was something we were able to achieve, first with the signing of Carlos Beltran and then [Jhonny] Peralta.”
- Cardinals bench coach Mike Aldrete is “a very likely possibility” to become the Athletics‘ new bench coach, according to Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle (Twitter links). Aldrete has a very good relationship with A’s manager Bob Melvin and a move to Oakland would allow Aldrete to live closer to his home in Monterey. The A’s have a vacancy at bench coach since Chip Hale has been hired as the Diamondbacks’ new manager.
- It is generally considered a mistake to fix a roster problem by trading from the Major League roster, yet the Cardinals’ young depth has allowed them to twice make such moves, Joel Sherman of the New York Post writes. The Cards dealt Colby Rasmus for bullpen help in 2011 and ended up winning the World Series, while this past July saw Allen Craig and Joe Kelly traded to the Red Sox for John Lackey. “I understand the risk profile in doing what we did,” Mozeliak said. “But in both situations….I felt we had to do something different — I felt we had to pull from the club to improve.”
Over at The Hardball Times, Jon Roegele breaks down some interesting data on Tommy John surgeries. The number of UCL replacements was a big story this year, of course. Roegele’s research suggests that, while the overall rate of return for pitchers who have undergone the procedure has not improved much since it was invented, the recovery time has been shortened significantly.
Here’s the latest from out west:
- Referring to a report that Mariners ownership had killed a deal that would have brought in free agent Nelson Cruz, Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com reports that Seattle’s ownership had in fact determined before the offseason that it would not sign any players linked to PED use. The details of the situation remain hazy, but Heyman indicates that Cruz’s Biogenesis-related suspension was the root of the decision.
- The Rangers are looking for a manager in the mold of Terry Francona and Clint Hurdle, writes Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News. Indeed, every one of the five external candidates under consideration have links to one of those two skippers, as does candidate and interim manager Tim Bogar. Texas is expected to whittle its search down to three finalists in the coming week, says Grant.
- Giants starter Jake Peavy thought at one point that he would be traded to the team he is now facing in the NLCS, the Cardinals, as Henry Schulman of the San Francisco Chronicle reports. The veteran righty could still end up in St. Louis next year, as Andrew Baggarly of CSNBayArea.com reports. Peavy speaks very highly of the club and city, and could make some sense for the Cards if the team decides another established arm is needed for 2015.