The Mariners bolstered their bullpen with the signing of Nicasio, first reported at last week's MLB Winter Meetings and finalized Wednesday after passing his physical.
The Mariners have officially strengthened their bullpen for the 2018 season. After the news of a deal being reached was reported last week during the Major League Baseball Winter Meetings, general manager Jerry Dipoto announced the signing of free agent reliever Juan Nicasio to a two-year contract. While the Mariners don’t make salary information public, sources confirmed it was for a total of $17 million over the two years.
Nicasio was one of several free agent relievers that got multi-year deals in the last 10 days.
“This was a target for us,” Dipoto said. “We had targeted a very small group of late-game relievers that we thought were good fits for us. All of them have come off the board and Juan Nicasio was at or near the top of our list for most of our offseason because of his versatility. He made more sense for us than some of the ninth inning guys that might be a little more famous. He just makes more sense for how our team is built.”
Nicasio, 31, posted 5-5 record with six saves and a 2.61 ERA in 76 appearances — the most in baseball — spread out with three teams: Pittsburgh (65 games), Philadelphia (2 games) and St. Louis (9 games). He spent the bulk of the year with the Pirates, going 2-5 with 2.85 and two saves. He picked up a win and didn’t allow a run in his two appearance with the Phillies. After being traded to the Cardinals on Sept. 6, Nicasio was dominant, posting a 2-0, 1.64 with four saves.
“Juan is coming off consecutive really solid years,” Dipoto said. “Last year, he was outstanding for three different teams and he wound up closing at the end for a team making a push for the playoffs. He’s got one of the highest average velocities for a fastball in the big leagues. The biggest jump for him last year was the consistency and location of his breaking ball, which is also hard. He throws about a 90-mph slider. Whereas left-handed hitters were problematic for him in early years, he mastered the location of his breaking ball to a greater degree and just throttled left-handed hitters.”
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Nicasio took and passed his physical in Seattle on Monday to finalize the deal.
“He throws strikes,” Dipoto said. “He’s very resilient. He can start. He can relieve. He’s been incredibly durable in his career. He had one incredibly unique injury that you wouldn’t want to wish on anybody. But otherwise, he’s been very healthy. He’s no issues with his arm.”
That injury was a fractured vertebrae in his neck, which he suffered after getting hit with a line drive while pitching for the Rockies in 2011. It required surgery.
Nicasio gives Seattle another power arm to pitch out of the back of their expected eight-man bullpen, which could project to be:
Right-handers: Edwin Diaz, Juan Nicasio, David Phelps, Nick Vincent, Tony Zych, Shawn Armstrong.
Left-handers: Marc Rzepczynski, James Pazos
Right-handers Dan Altavilla and Nick Rumbelow could also slide into one of those spots.
“I don’t know of anyone in the American League outside of the Yankees and Indians who can line up deeper bullpen,” Dipoto said. “You might line up more famous names, but we are pretty confident in the depth of our ‘pen. We are going to have a real Major League arms that are capable of pitching in the back of Major League games that are going to struggle to make our club with the depth that we’ve put together.”
Because of his past life as a starter and later spot starter and swing reliever, Nicasio capable of pitching multiple innings and carry the velocity. But with his recent experience in high leverage situations, he can also fill in at closer on days when Edwin Diaz needs a day off.
“He’s a guy we’ve know for many years just through past connections with the Colorado Rockies, which is where he was signed and developed,” Dipoto said. “He gives us the versatility of what we think are at least three multi-inning power arms, which is kind of unique in the game today. Between Phelps, (Dan) Altavilla, (Nick Rumbelow) and Nicasio, these are guys with big arms that can throw multiple innings. And I would even count Edwin Diaz in that group. Our group is multi-dimensional and each brings something a little different and they are all multi-inning capable with the exception of Marc Rzepczynski, who is more of a situational type of guy. It gives us a really effective group.”
How did Nicasio come to pitch for three teams in one season despite being so effective?
Like teams do with many veterans, the Pirates placed Nicasio on revocable trade waivers after the July 31 trade deadline. At the time, Nicasio had a 2.85 ERA in 65 appearances. According to what Pirates general manager Neal Huntington told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, a playoff caliber team claimed Nicasio with the purpose of acquiring him or blocking him from being claimed by another team. Most people baseball believe that team was the Cardinals.
Not wanting to help a division rival, Huntington pulled Nicasio back off waivers and then later placed him on outright waivers, which are irrevocable. Unlike trade waiver claims where the order is prioritized by worst winning percentage of the players’ league (NL( and then followed by a similar order of the opposing league (AL), outright waivers don’t prioritize one league over the other.
“We chose to take the chance to see if by placing Juan on outright waivers he would end up with a different playoff contender, preferably one in the American League,” Huntington told the Gazette.
Instead, the Phillies claimed him off waivers, pitched him in two games and then traded him to the Cardinals for a minor league outfielder. St. Louis tried to sign Nicasio to a new deal while he was still with the team. It never came to fruition, but they were competing with the Mariners on the free agent market to sign Nicasio.