The Phillies' offseason started in earnest Friday.
The team made its first addition by acquiring accomplished right-handed reliever Pat Neshek from the Houston Astros in exchange for a player to be named later or cash considerations.
Neshek, who had his club option for 2017 exercised by the Phillies, went 2-2 with a 3.06 ERA and 0.94 WHIP in 60 games (47 innings) with the Astros last season.
"Neshek's option decision was due [Saturday]. We began talking with the Astros about a week ago about the possibility of them trading him prior to exercising the option," Phillies general manager Matt Klentak said. "It came together today that we were able to reach an agreement."
Neshek will join a bullpen that faltered mightily outside of back-end options Edubray Ramos, Hector Neris and Jeanmar Gomez, all three of whom suffered their lumps, as well. Phillies relievers combined for baseball's third-worst ERA (5.05) in 2016 and allowed the fifth-most runs per game (4.91).
"One of our goals for the offseason is going to be to give [manager Pete Mackanin] a bullpen that can really compete from one through seven [pitchers]," Klentak said. "I think last year we saw for much of the season we were really competitive in save situations in the seventh, eighth and ninth [innings] with Ramos, Neris and Gomez. It's a goal of ours this year to really try to be competitive with the entire bullpen."
The Phillies will take on some money for a 36-year-old in the last season of his deal in which the club will pay him $6.5 million. Last offseason, the rebuilding Phillies added veteran arms in starters Jeremy Hellickson and Charlie Morton. Hellickson turned into a viable trade chip, while Morton suffered a season-ending hamstring injury in late April.
Just like Hellickson, Neshek could be of similar value to the Phillies, a team looking to get younger but more competitive at the same time.
It's a twofold approach.
"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'll be hopeful that this one will work out as well as Hellickson did last year."
Neshek uses an unconventional side delivery, relies heavily on a slider and sinker and was an All-Star with the Cardinals in 2014, when he went 7-2 with a 1.87 ERA, 0.79 WHIP and 68 strikeouts to just nine walks over 71 games. For his career, he owns a 2.93 ERA, 1.05 WHIP and a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 3.15, while right-handers have hit just .184 against him.
"Pat has had a really strong three-year run," Klentak said. "He controls the strike zone on the mound, which is something we talk about a lot. He is outstanding against right-handed hitters. We think he'll be a good fit."
In terms of roster spots, Neshek's addition doesn't change much.
"At this point, this acquisition by itself won't affect any of the other players in our bullpen or on our 40-man," Klentak said. "We entered the day at 31 and with this acquisition, we're at 32. So we're still in pretty good shape on that front."
Could the Phillies pursue more free-agent relief?
"We are open to exploring the best values in the market," Klentak said. "We know that we want to get better next year. We know there are a few areas where we can do so. Adding quality arms to our bullpen is one of those areas, for sure."