Wow, what a game last night! What a finish! The pitching was incredible! The defense may have been better! In a year of disappointments, who would have thought the Pirates being no-hit through nine innings would be one of the best wins of the year?
So let ?s stop beating around the bush and get to what we all want to talk about: what should the Pirates do with Juan Nicasio?
Nicasio entered the year as a potential Andrew Miller-type before settling into the set-up role. For the most part, he ?s done a satisfactory job. But his efforts are being wasted on a sub-.500 team.
Even the most optimistic optimists admit that this season is over. Traditionally, that means the Pirates should trade off any players on the cusp of free agency. Doing so brings back a prospect and gives youngsters some major league experience.
Trading Juan Nicasio at this point of the season would not yield much. What could you hope for from a guy who will only pitch 10-15 more innings this regular season? Perhaps a fringe prospect or a reclamation project, if you ?re lucky? That ?s assuming of course that he has/can clear waivers. If a team claims him, that return will be next to nothing. But then again, next to nothing for a couple years where you hope to compete is probably an upgrade compared to getting a handful of good innings in a season that doesn ?t matter.
The only reason why they would not deal him is either, A. they don ?t have anyone to replace him, or B. they hope to sign him this offseason. It very clearly isn ?t A, with Edgar Santana and Dovydas Neverauskas currently in AAA.
So that would indicate there is some interest in bringing him back for next season. Neal Huntington poo-pooed any word on if they would extend him back in July, but it wouldn ?t be surprising to see him take a 180 this offseason. He ?s been the second best reliever this year behind Felipe Rivero. The bullpen needs addressed this winter. Letting him walk would just make the rebuild harder.
So would that be a good idea?
As we all know, the Pirates are in love with fastball velocity when looking for potential relievers. I wrote last week that they should start relying on breaking balls instead, but hey, gun chasing got them Nicasio. If you can ?t have the bullpen ideology you love, love the one you ?re with.
Nicasio ?s fastball velocity rose a tick when he transitioned into the bullpen. That was expected. In April, he was throwing even harder. Again, with an offseason ?s worth of preparation to be a reliever, that was expected. What wasn ?t expected is he has been throwing even harder as the season progressed. Considering he is leading baseball with 63 appearances, that is a bit of a head-scratcher.
Is this velocity maintainable? For the short term, probably. For the long term, probably not. We saw Tony Watson and Mark Melancon ?s fastballs dip towards the end of their time in Pittsburgh, and they were under similar workloads. And those two didn ?t have the tax of being a major league starter for years on their arms.
Juan Nicasio is a pure fastball guy. His slider is average at best, and his changeup is a step behind that. If he loses some zip and doesn ?t develop his offspeed stuff, he ?s in trouble. So when he has one of his ?dead arm ? stretches (like he did in June), you have to get concerned.
Plus, you have to wonder if Nicasio is in the eighth inning guy out of merit or necessity. Yes, he ?s had a great season, but it probably would not have unseat Tony Watson or Daniel Hudson if they were pitching to their potential.
Nicasio has bit it a few more times than you would like to see from a late inning reliever. It ?s a steep learning curve, especially for a guy who is in his first full season as a bullpen guy. Still, his -0.33 Win Probability Added is a bit concerning. If you ?re pitching with the game on the line, you want the team to be in a better spot than when you came in. Statistically speaking, he hasn ?t done that enough.
Despite all that, Juan Nicasio is still pitching his way to a multi-year deal, thriving under a heavy workload, striking out over 12 a year with an enticing ERA. He is the type of guy who could slide into just about every major league bullpen, ranging anywhere from a closer to a middle reliever. He ?s going to get contract offers. The question is for how much and for how long?
His new contract will probably fall in the two to three year range. Daniel Hudson and Marc Rzepczynski both snagged multi-year deals worth $11 million this offseason. Mike Dunn got 3 years and $19 million. Nicasio is a much more appealing option than any of those three, so it ?s safe to assume this is his salary floor.
That potential third year will probably be a breaking point in the theoretical efforts to re-sign him. Huntington has never signed a reliever for more than two seasons. It ?s hard to blame him. Relievers are by far the most volatile asset in baseball. Aroldis Chapman and Mark Melancon both signed record-setting contracts last offseason and one year in it looks like the Yankees and Giants may learn to regret it. Nicasio will not make nearly as much as those two, but he ?ll be 31 when he hits free agency.
So should the Pirates trade Nicasio? Probably. Santana and Neverauskas should both be promoted in the next week or two, but giving them an extra outing or two would probably be beneficial for their development. Both of them have a legitimate chance of making the opening day bullpen in 2018. Give them an early chance to prove they belong.
But for the real question: should the Pirates give Nicasio that two or three year deal this offseason? If the price is right, sure, but they shouldn ?t give him a long term deal. He probably won ?t be able to give 70-something outings a season for three years. There ?s going to be some wear and tear, regardless of how well he is conditioned.
Juan Nicasio deserves credit for being a good arm in a bullpen that didn ?t have a lot of good arms. He ?ll get paid this December for his efforts. But unless his market pulls a rug out from under him, it shouldn ?t be the Pirates writing the check.