Just five days after being claimed off waivers from the Pittsburgh Pirates, Juan Nicasio has been traded from the Phillies to the St. Louis Cardinals, his third team this season.
The Phillies claimed Nicasio in hopes of solidifying the bullpen that has struggled all season long, at least for the remainder of the season. In acquiring the right hander, the Phillies designated Brock Stassi for assignment. Stassi passed through waivers unclaimed and returned to AAA Lehigh Valley. Nicasio pitched in a league high 65 games for the Pittsburgh Pirates, posting a 2.85 ERA in 60 innings pitched, before the Phillies claimed him last week. He made two appearances out of the Phillies bullpen, tossing 1.1 scoreless innings. He also factored in a 2-1 win over Miami on September 1, getting the victory after pitching just a third of an inning.
I had hopes that the Phillies might try to offer a new contract to Nicasio at the end of the season when he hits the open market. I was fully expecting the Phillies to have to pay about 150 percent of face value for him, though. Effectively, if Nicasio was worth, let’s say, $4 million, the Phillies would have to give him roughly $6 million to hang around on a team that wasn’t competing. Money isn’t an issue for the Phillies though, as the team currently has the ninth lowest payroll, at just under $115 million dollars.
But, as the headlines all across Philadelphia have unoriginally stated over the last 24 hours, the Phillies got something for nothing. While I would have liked to have seen the Phillies bring back Nicasio as a stop gap to the new regime still learning in the minor leagues, it wasn’t very likely. In return for Nicasio, the Cardinals sent their 19th ranked prospect, infielder Eliezer Alvarez, to the Phillies.
Alvarez is a 22-year-old middle infieilder who has spent a majority of 2017 with the Cardinal’s AA affiliate in Springfield. Alvarez has seemingly struggled with the jump to AA this season, as he’s hitting just .247 with a .321 on base percentage. What’s worrisome about Alvarez this season is his high strikeout rate. He’s struckout 56 times in 186 at bats. That’s 30 percent of his at bats in 2017. His fielding percentage this season leaves little to be desired as well. He has 12 errors at second base in 2017, resulting in a .933 fielding percentage for the season.
2016 was significantly kinder to Alvarez, who played most of last year in Single A Peoria. There, he hit .323 with a .404 on base percentage. Alvarez drove in 59 runs last season and swiped 36 bags in 116 games for the Chiefs. His strikeout rate was also significantly better in Single A, as he struckout 96 times in 433 official at bats, giving him a strikeout percentage of just over 22 percent. His glove was better in Single A, as well, and his fielding percentage reflected that. He played to a near .950 percentage last season.
Alvarez is a young player still, and the pressure of advancing in the minor leagues may have gotten the better of him this season. A change of scenery and the end of the season may be all he needs to right his mind and give him the ability to start fresh in either Clearwater or Reading in 2018. He’s currently on the 40 man roster, having taken Nicasio’s spot after the trade. I’d expect the Phillies to keep him there in order to protect him from the Rule 5 Draft this offseason. While it does take up a space that will be much needed in the coming years, the Phillies have the luxury of moving a few players off the 40 man roster at the end of the season. Names such as Hyun-soo Kim, Cameron Perkins, Edubray Ramos, Cameron Rupp and Daniel Nava will all surely be looking for different employment at the end of the 2017 season.
While the move didn’t give the Phillies a massive haul in return, the team certainly isn’t the loser in this deal. Neither are the Cardinals. Despite Nicasio not being eligible for any postseason play should the Cardinals find themselves taking a Wild Card spot, the Cardinals got an arm that can solidify the back end of the bullpen for the remainder or September. While the Cardinals collectively have blown 17 saves this year, the bullpen ERA is actually ninth best in the league, coming in a shade under 4.00 for the season. Nicasio will certainly aid that for the last month.
So who, exactly, is the loser in all of this if neither the Phillies or the Cardinals “lost” the trade? That would be the Pittsburgh Pirates. While it was understood that the Pirates likely weren’t going to re-sign Nicasio next season at a price he was looking for, the Pirates effectively gave their biggest rival a top-tier closer for nothing. I’m sure this trade wasn’t on the mind of GM Neal Huntington when the team decided to put Nicasio on waivers, but the Pirates lose nonetheless.They lose because they got nothing in return in the latest installment of “Juan Nicasio Journeyman: Living Out of a Suit Case”. The Cardinals got Nicasio. The Phillies got another young prospect as they continue to rebuild. The Pirates got nothing?
The Pirates are now 5.5 games back of the Cardinals with the Milwaukee Brewers in between them. Wouldn’t it be poetic justice if the Cardinals clinched a playoff spot against the Pirates, in Pittsburgh, with Nicasio closing the door out of the ‘pen? September 22-24. Keep an eye out for it. I’m taking prophecy to a whole new level if this were to come to fruition.
Reminiscent shades of nostalgia likely won’t come to mind for Phillies fans when they think of Juan Nicasio. But at least he had a longer Philadelphia tenure than Frank Gore did with the Eagles.
Mandatory Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports