As you’ve likely heard by now, Pat Neshek was claimed off waivers by the San Diego Padres. Ever since tearing a ligament in his arm and having Tommy John surgery, Neshek had been having trouble returning to the same form he had in 2006 and 2007 when he had a 2.68 ERA and an impressive 10.65 K/9 combined between the two seasons.
I’m willing to bet that part of the reason the Twins let Neshek go was that he had allowed 3 home runs in only 6 innings thus far this spring. While his velocity was starting to climb again and his slider was biting more than it had in past years, it seemed like he had fallen down the depth chart for relievers. While the bullpen is a question mark, I did show that there were 15 pitches competing for 5 spots at one time. Since then, we could probably say that it’s now 9 pitchers for 4 spots (Manship, Diamond, Hoey, Hughes, Slama, Perkins, Waldrop, Slowey, and Baker, whom I had forgotten to place on the list), and arguments could be made for all those guys on why they should start the season in the bullpen.
The reason I’m bothered by Neshek’s departure is threefold. First, I felt that he never got a chance to pitch while fully healthy. Part of the reason he spent so much of 2010 in Rochester was because of a hand injury that was misdiagnosed, and it was his first year back from Tommy John surgery. So while critics may argue that Neshek only had “one good year” (in actuality, more like 1 1/2 or 2), he was hurt for every year since 2007. Second, he seemed to be showing more promise this spring than last year. Like I mentioned before, his stuff had returned and even with the lower velocity, he still was pretty decent in the major leagues last year, minus the number of walks he had. And finally, Neshek was my favorite player. Nobody wants to see their favorite player leave their favorite team.
I know some people are claiming that our negative reactions to this news is based more on our hearts than heads, and that’s likely true. But for someone like me, I usually want to see a player get a full chance to prove (or prove again) that he belongs on the Twins (exceptions: Eric Hacker and the like). Also, Neshek had a delivery unlike just about anyone else. His quirky delivery would lead to some mistaking it as a submarine-style, and Neshek seemed like he had just finished 4 Red Bulls in succession before taking the mound. Along with his ability to be approachable with all fans, it was no question why he became a fan favorite. I could see a similar backlash happening if Michael Cuddyer ever leaves the Twins.
In response to his removal from the 40-man roster, I’ve seen two moves that make sense for the Twins. The first may be to clear some space for Kyle Waldrop or Carlos Gutierrez, two sinkerball pitchers that have impressed the team far more than Neshek this spring. The second is for Jeff Bailey, a first baseman and corner outfielder that could provide insurance for Justin Morneau, which would allow the Twins to keep Michael Cuddyer in right field and have another righthanded bat on the roster.
Finally, this move may work out best for Neshek. While Target Field appeared to be a pitcher’s park in 2010, Petco Park (Neshek’s new home) is quite possibly the best pitcher’s park in the major leagues. If Neshek returns to full strength, he would have a great chance of becoming a dominant reliever alongside Heath Bell, Luke Gregerson, and Mike Adams. So while this move is very unpopular among Twins fans, this could very well work out for all parties involve.