GOOD LUCK JUAN, KEEP DODGING THOSE LINE DRIVES
Okay, just like the Cuddy move earlier this off-season, offering him the qualifying offer, there has to be more that new GM Jeff Bridich knows than we as fans. Juan Nicasio is a home-grown player, someone they have not only developed but walked through the near-tragedy when his neck was broken and was nearly killed. They stuck with him as a starter when most of us in fandom were frustrated. And then as a reliever his lack of a third pitch wasn’t an issue. His shorter outings allowed him to punch it up over 95 on his fastball. He was the kind of reliever this team needs, and his second pitch, the whipe-out slider, looked perfect to be a late-inning reliever, maybe, as I hard argued, a closer. With a team searching to re-make its bullpen, and with at least one spot (Matt Belisle) definitely open and a second (Nick Masset) probably open, they need quality arms. And, to add to the thinking, 2015 is his first arbitration eligible year (guessing around $2-3 million), and 2018 is his free agent year, the team still has a lot of control on Juan.
But not anymore. He has been taken off the 40 man and is essentially no longer a Rockie (some team will claim him, so the Rockies will make some sort of deal in the next few deals for cents on the dollar). With all the moves that had to be made in 2014 because injuries and the use of the 40 by using the 60-day DL moves, we all knew there was going to be some issues getting the 40 set for the Rule 5 draft. And…Juan is gone because of it. I am guessing that Jeff Bridich was probably cussing-out Bill Geivett for leaving him this issue (okay, Jeff is a great guy, but he probably was shaking his head about it).
Why was I was I so high on Juan as a reliver, maybe even a closer? Look at the splits for 2014 between starter and reliever:
S 5.92 ERA 1.589 WHIP SO/WW 1.77 OPS+ against 153
R 3.58 ERA 1.065 WHIP SO/WW 3.40 OPS+ against 96
Or in other words, Juan was a better than league average pitcher as a reliever. In his last 9 outings, covering the whole of September, he gave up only 1 run in that stretch, in 9.2 innings and 9 outings (he allowed only 2 walks in that period, with 8 KS). It took a little while for Juan to find his groove as a reliever (August was a bit up and down, but even there, he only gave up runs in3 outings, for a total of 3 ER, but that was over 9 outings, over 9 innings, with 2 BB and 7KK). This is the profile of a pretty good reliever who could be a potential 7-9th inning stud. After watching what happened with Wade Davis who was only slightly better than Nicasio as a starter but now is maybe the best reliever in baseball. How do you give up on Juan?
The message out there is it had to be done to bring in and save Tyler Anderson. But that doesn’t make sense. There are 40 spots, and any of the pre-existing player on the 40 could have been removed for Anderson. The team has made the decision to let Nicasio go over the following:
Yohan Flande (I think he will get one of the left-handed reliever spots in the bullpen)
Brooks Brown (who is the same age as Juan, but had his first taste of the MLB, is cheaper and his 2.77 ERA stands out, but in a short-sample)
Jorge Rondon (claimed off STL, with okay numbers in minors is cheap and only 26)
Kraig Sitton (a player at AA who I covered last season, good young arm, 3.68 ERA at AA, age 26)
Chris Russin (a player grabbed from Cubs, starter, decent #s in 2013 at AAS and Cubs, poor 2014, age 28)
These are all players who are Nicasio’s age or younger, who have had good to very good minor league numbers, but who haven’t yet established themselves at the bigs. They will all if they make the roster, by paid league minimum. Sitton and Russin are lefties (I would be surpised if Franklin Morales gets even an offer from the Rockies, though I remain in his camp as a fan). So, good reasons to keep them, but when compared to Nicasio, none of them has proven they can help the Rockies at the key positions in the bullpen, and only Russin has had any success as a starter (I am guessing they will give him ever chance possible to make the rotation, or he will sit at AAA as one of the next men up, since we know that this team can run through starters like win at an Ophra book club).
So, I have to say this, the move to remove Nicasio from the 40 must be based upon 1) expectation of decline in 2015 and 2) save money for usage elsewhere. Money has to be moved here and there. If you can get the same production as Nicasio might give you for $500K vs $3 million, is it still a salary dump (my bet is on Rondon being able to replicate Nicasio’s performance)? The Rockies were accused of doing a salary dump in 2014 with Dexter Fowler, but it was a re-allocation with addition. When a team is reducing overall payroll, it’s a dump. When they move it around, its not a dump but a chance for the GM to make a difference for the club.
My biggest concern is what Juan becomes. I guess I am afraid that we are going to see Juan go somewhere and be part of a 3-headed late-inning monster like the Royals had. I wish Juan success and cast my hopes and prayers that Bridich is brilliant in this move.