LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Pat Neshek stood at his locker last July, minutes after learning the Phillies had dealt him to Colorado. He had yet to even remove his pinstriped uniform and Neshek was already proclaiming that he yearned to wear it again.
The Phillies, Neshek said as he readied to pitch for the playoff-hunting Rockies, would be his top choice in free agency. It sounded like an empty promise for the 37-year-old reliever. But it was the truth. Neshek, according to a source, is close to signing a deal to return to the Phillies. The contract, a two-year deal worth $16 million, should be finalized within the week.
Neshek was excellent last season after joining the Phillies in the offseason as a salary dump from Houston. He was the team's lone all-star and had a 1.12 ERA in 43 games with the Phillies. The righthander struck out 45 batters and walked just five in 401/3 innings.
"It's bittersweet because I love the guys in here," Neshek said last season after being traded. "It's probably one of my favorite places that I've been and I would love to come back. It might sound weird with our record, but I see a lot of good things happening here. My family loved it and I felt comfortable."
A reunion with Neshek helps stabilize a young bullpen that showed promise toward the end of last season. The Phillies could still add another reliever. General manager Matt Klentak said Monday at the winter meetings that one of his team's goals is to improve its run prevention. Acquiring starting pitchers would help, but the price and risk associated with the current market does not fit with the team's thinking. Strengthening the bullpen is another way to address that.
"I think if we can run out a bullpen of seven or eight guys that are all high-leverage-type arms, then we can start matching up in the fifth or sixth inning," Klentak said. "If there are days when our young starters throw 100 pitches to get us through five or six innings, we shouldn't be in a position where that's taxing our bullpen because we have the ability to carry an eighth bullpen member next year. We shouldn't be in a position where we lose our competitiveness in the sixth inning because we should have a deep bullpen where we start throwing really good players out there early in the game. If it turns out that's the best way for us to improve our run prevention, then that's what we're going to do."