Phillies

Happy to be out of Houston and with Phillies, Pat Neshek expects to be traded at some point

Happy to be out of Houston and with Phillies, Pat Neshek expects to be traded at some point

ATLANTA — Pat Neshek is not only a baseball player, he is also a baseball fan.

"I read the box scores," he said.

When Neshek checks out the standings these days, he sees that his old team, the Houston Astros, is the best in baseball, and his current team, the Phillies, is the worst.

Does it make the 36-year-old relief pitcher long to be back in Houston?

"God, no," Neshek said with a look of mild horror crossing his face.

Neshek joined the Phillies in a November cash deal. Essentially, it was a salary dump for the Astros. The Phillies assumed Neshek's $6.5 million salary for 2017 and bought themselves some bullpen stability, not to mention a potential July trade chip that has recently added some shine.

"It was a great trade for both of us," Neshek said. "They got to shed some salary. I got to get out of there and do more."

Neshek had an All-Star season with the St. Louis Cardinals in 2014 and signed a three-year deal with the improving Astros before the 2015 season. He pitched in 66 games in 2015 and 60 last season but did not enjoy his role.

"I kind of became a bit player there," he said. "In '15, I did a lot of eighth-inning stuff and I think I was second or third in the league in holds, but I had a bad final month where they kind of just gave up on me. In '16, I just became a sixth-inning righty specialist guy and it was awful. I knew I could do a lot more. So when the trade (to the Phillies) happened I was thrilled. This was the best thing that happened to me in a few years.

"I can understand why (the Astros) did it. They have a bullpen that’s pretty well-stocked over there. So I'm real happy to be out — if not I would rather have been a free agent than gone back there, which may sound crazy but it gets to the point where you just want to do more. I would almost rather retire than do a role like I was doing for them. It was miserable."

Neshek is anything but miserable with the Phillies.

He's enjoyed his time with the club immensely and would like to hang around and see where the team's rebuild goes.

But that's probably not going to happen. He is pitching his way out of a Phillies uniform. When Hector Neris wobbled in the ninth inning Tuesday night, manager Pete Mackanin summoned Neshek for a two-out save. Neshek got that save — his first in two years — on five pitches. The performance left him at 22 innings for the season. He'd allowed just 13 hits and two runs while walking just four and striking out 21.

"Relieving is a really tough business," Neshek said. "Confidence and getting on a roll is a big part of it."

Contending teams are always looking for veteran bullpen help at the trade deadline. General manager Matt Klentak knew that when he acquired Neshek. Ditto for Clay Buchholz, Howie Kendrick, Michael Saunders and Joaquin Benoit, all veteran offseason pickups who were seen as potential mid-season trade chips.

Buchholz is out for the season with an elbow injury, Kendrick missed more than a month with an abdominal injury, Saunders has struggled offensively and Benoit, currently on the disabled list, has had ups and downs. Of the group of players added over the winter, Neshek has emerged as the best trade chip.

Does he expect to be moved?

"I would say yes," he said. "It would be really cool to stay around here. I like it here. I feel very comfortable here. But if that happens …"

He paused.

"I'm sure it will happen," he said with a laugh.

It's unclear what Neshek will bring back, but his value will only rise if he continues to pitch well. His role with the Phillies is evolving. While Mackanin would like to eventually see Neris lock down the closer's job, Neshek was set to fill the role on Wednesday night — the Phils lost 14-1 to the Braves and did not need a closer — and could get the call in the coming days if a need arises.

"People make a big deal about who the closer is," Neshek said. "You kind of pitch into those roles.

"I'm just out there competing. It's me against that hitter. I'll go over the hitters' weaknesses and try to attack."

For now, that'll be with the Phillies.

Recent Manny Machado-centric moves made by Yankees and White Sox are meaningless

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Recent Manny Machado-centric moves made by Yankees and White Sox are meaningless

Baseball, basketball, football, no matter the sport, rarely does a star free agent’s decision come down to anything other than money and winning. 

Manny Machado is making visits this week. He was in Chicago with the White Sox on Monday and will also visit Yankee Stadium before coming to Philly for a visit Thursday. 

And while Machado makes the rounds, speculation is rampant that his other suitors are making moves to entice him. 

First, there was the White Sox trading for first baseman Yonder Alonso, whose sister is Machado's wife and who lives in the same complex as him in Florida.

Then, there was the Yankees’ adding outfielder and future Hall of Famer Carlos Beltran to their front office. Beltran shares an agent with Machado. 

Let’s be real. Neither development matters. Machado is not going to turn down extra money or extra years under contract because the White Sox now employ his brother-in-law, or because Beltran is now consulting with the Yankees. 

This is Machado’s chance at a historic, life-changing payday. The money, realism of contending and position he’ll play are what matter most. 

If Machado picks the Yankees, it will be because that’s where he’s always wanted to play. If he picks the White Sox, it will be because he’s a crazy person.

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Michael Brantley's contract makes Andrew McCutchen's look like an overpay, but here's why it made sense for Phillies

Michael Brantley's contract makes Andrew McCutchen's look like an overpay, but here's why it made sense for Phillies

Michael Brantley was still on the board last week when the Phillies agreed to a deal with Andrew McCutchen at the winter meetings.

The Phils had interest in Brantley as well, but they valued McCutchen's durability over Brantley's solid left-handed bat.

The Phillies, as you know, signed McCutchen to a three-year, $50 million contract.

Brantley, on Monday, agreed to a two-year, $32 million deal with the Astros.

The first reaction was some surprise that McCutchen's deal not only beat the overall value of Brantley's but that McCutchen also got slightly more per year. These are similar players. McCutchen is seven months older, and Brantley is coming off the better season.

Seeing the deal Brantley received, some will say the Phillies overpaid McCutchen. They may have, but in this case, it's acceptable for a couple of reasons:

1. McCutchen unquestionably improves the Phillies

2. It's a three-year deal that won't prevent the Phils from making any future moves

Don't lose sight of that second point. The Phillies have a ton of money and did not weigh themselves down with this move. They also wouldn't really have weighed themselves down by beating the Nationals' six-year offer for Patrick Corbin, but there is a substantial difference between giving a 29-year-old pitcher with past injuries $150 million and giving a 32-year-old outfielder with no injury history half the years and one-third the price.

Back to McCutchen vs. Brantley.

McCutchen has a few distinct advantages over Brantley. The most obvious one is durability. McCutchen has missed a total of 65 games in the last nine seasons. Brantley has missed 242 the last three years alone.

The defensive metrics peg McCutchen and Brantley as equals when playing the corner outfield. Eye-test, I'm still giving McCutchen the advantage because of his instincts, ability to glide to the ball and his versatility. You must also factor in that the last two places McCutchen played the corner outfield most — AT&T Park and PNC Park — are among the most spacious and challenging outfields in baseball.

Brantley is a solid outfielder, too, but you can't put him in center field in a pinch at this point like you can with McCutchen. Brantley hasn't played center since 2015. 

Brantley gets the slight baserunning advantage, and he's obviously the better bet to hit .290 or .300. Yet the last two years, despite the fact that Brantley has out-hit McCutchen .305 to .267, McCutchen has the higher OBP — .366 to Brantley's .362.

Brantley strikes out less. McCutchen has more power. Brantley's left-handed bat may have balanced the Phils' lineup better. But McCutchen hits righties better than Brantley hits lefties.

Add up all these tiny advantages for McCutchen and you get a player the Phillies just felt more comfortable with. Then comes the "adult in the room" aspect of what McCutchen will bring the Phillies. He gives them an experienced voice in the clubhouse and another source of leadership they badly needed. It had gotten to the point the last year and a half where every game, good or bad, Rhys Hoskins was basically left to speak on behalf of his teammates. He won't have to do it alone in 2019.

If the Phillies were in the position of a mid-market team like the Rockies, Pirates, Reds or Royals, giving McCutchen $50 million over three years would have been a bad move because it swallows up so many of your resources. But on this team, in this city, with this future payroll and in an offseason when the Phillies are clearly shifting to win-now mode, paying a slightly higher price to get the guy they wanted made sense.

Boiled down to its simplest form, that $16.7 million per year the next three years won't stop the Phillies from improving elsewhere.

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