The Phillies acquired Pat Neshek from Houston in a trade Friday that brought them a veteran reliever for $6.5 million who could become a trade chip this summer.
In exchange for Neshek, the Phillies will send the Astros cash or a player to be named later. Houston was not likely to exercise Neshek's $6.5 million option and looked to dump his contract. But the Phillies saw value in Neshek, a righthanded specialist with a funky delivery.
The Phillies have money to spend, and they would prefer to spend it through short-term commitments.
"It's a goal of ours this year to really try to be competitive with the entire bullpen," Phillies general manager Matt Klentak said. "We really think Pat Neshek will help us in those efforts. Pat has a had a really strong three-year run. He controls the strike zone on the mound, which is something we talk about a lot. He is outstanding against righthanded hitters. We think he'll be a good fit."
Neshek, 36, appeared in 60 games for Houston last season with a 3.06 ERA in 47 innings. He struck out 43 and walked 11. But he is limited to a specialist role. Righties hit .172 with a .463 OPS in 130 plate appearances while lefties batted .250 with a .967 OPS in 55 plate appearances. His career splits follow the same trends.
He has pitched for five teams in a 10-year career and was an all star in 2014 with St. Louis. In his last three seasons, Neshek has struck out 162 batters with just 32 walks in 169 innings.
With teams prioritizing bullpen arms and the cost of relievers soaring, the Phillies will bet on Neshek repeating his success from 2016. If he does, he could interest some contenders in July.
"As far as his age is concerned, the relevance of that is tempered somewhat by the fact that it's a one-year commitment," Klentak said. "The recent track record of his performance has been pretty good. The core of our team is likely to be fairly young next year. This is not unlike what we did a year ago with Jeremy Hellickson or Charlie Morton, acquiring a player via a trade on a shorter-term commitment. We're hopeful that this one will work out as well as Hellickson did last year."
The Phillies will have seven whole weeks to prepare for the 2017 season. Next spring is a longer one, with the World Baseball Classic scheduled, so Phillies pitchers and catchers will report on Feb. 13 to Clearwater, Fla.
The first game is Feb. 23 vs. the University of Tampa, with the Grapefruit League opener in Tampa against the Yankees on Feb. 24. The spring schedule ends March 31 in Clearwater against Tampa Bay.
The Phillies, for the first time in more than a decade, are not scheduled to play exhibition games in Philadelphia at the end of spring training. Opening day is in Cincinnati on April 3.