The Pittsburgh Pirates announced on Thursday evening that they signed free agent right-handed pitcher Juan Nicasio to a one-year deal. The 29-year-old pitched in relief for the Los Angeles Dodgers and it looks like that could be his role with the Pirates in 2016, though he has started in the past. He posted a 3.86 ERA in 58.1 innings over 53 appearances in 2015, with 65 strikeouts and a 1.56 WHIP. Prior to 2015, he spent four years with the Rockies, where he had a 5.03 ERA in 69 starts and 19 relief appearances. According to Ken Rosenthal, Nicasio will get $3M next season.

Neal Huntington had the following comment on Nicasio’s role with the team:

“Juan Nicasio is an experienced pitcher with the pitcher repertoire and versatility to fill a variety of roles on our pitching staff. He had a strong season pitching primarily as a relief pitcher and we look forward to Juan’s impact on our Major League club.”

UPDATE 5:01 PM: Analysis from Tim Williams…

Nicasio had some decent numbers last year in his move to the bullpen, posting a 3.87 xFIP. The downside was his high walk rate, which sat at 12.3%. Putting that in perspective, no Pirates reliever last year went over 11.3%, and only Radhames Liz, Rob Scahill, and Antonio Bastardo were over 10%. Some of his walks were intentional, but his rate is still pretty high at 10.2% without the intentional walks.

Nicasio is a hard thrower, averaging 95 MPH last year, and topping out at 98.9 MPH. His slider was his primary out pitch, and was very effective, with a .533 OPS against.

It’s easy to draw comparisons to Arquimedes Caminero with this move. You’ve got a hard thrower with a very effective slider and control problems. Nicasio comes to the Pirates a bit more polished, but as a guy who could still use a drop in walks. He also looks like he could be a really great late inning reliever if that drop takes place. If it doesn’t take place, they’ve got a hard throwing middle reliever who has a history of being a starter, and could cover multiple innings.

The Pirates would have Nicasio under team control through the 2017 season, making him arbitration eligible one more time after the 2016 season. If he has a good year and cuts down the walks (which has been a specialty for the Pirates with their reclamation guys), then tendering him would be an easy decision to make.

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  1. Is Rob Scahill in the mix for the bullpen for next season? I seem to remember him pitching pretty well last season before getting hurt.

  2. This looks to be a good move, although it would have looked even better if Nicasio was a LH reliever, which is the bigger need. But, you can never have too much pitching and pitching depth, and although with flaws, Nicasio looks like he has some upside and can become a pretty effective bullpen arm.

  3. Have to ask this question – knowing we need a lefty for the pen anyway, why not take a shot on a Rule 5 LHP add for Spring Training. You have your choice of power arms, finesse guys, whatever, for almost nothing… seems like an easy opportunity missed here.
    And hopefully enough people realize the finds that have come from the rule 5 draft – and in the pen, all you need is 1 or 2 pitches as a lefty guy… I mean even the Cardinals took a shot on a guy that should be all the proof needed that it’s a smart play.

  4. I wonder do they just work with this guy to cut down walks and keep it simple, or do they try to develop a third pitch to help him against lefties?

  5. I really like Nicasio, especially the plus one year and 98. This bullpen is starting to look like the Royals, Caminero 99, Juan 98, Tony LH97, Holdzcom 97, Hughes (DP guy), LaFramboise (Lefty specialist… although I have a sneaky feeling that Brault or Dickson may sneak into the bullpen picture this year.

  6. I’m not doubting our ability to transform this guy over the year but … Interesting to note that we spent $3 million on a reclamation guy that will likely pitch 50-60 innings. Based on dollars per innings, I would rather spend $10-$12 million on a 200 inning starter.

  7. Meh? Snarky?

    Life is short. The Pirates have made the playoffs 3 straight years after 20 straight years of losing, They have a lot of really wonderful, dynamic players who are also admirable off the field as well.

    So why should the glass be half-full.

    Maybe, just maybe, the track record shows that NH knows something about what he ‘s doing.

    This seems like a typicla Pirates’ signing. Live arm, Plus fastball. Reasonable cost. 1 year deal – so small risk.

    And it’s “meh”?

    Maybe people who want to complain should remember the Beatles song: “Money can’t buy me love”!

    Like J Happ being every bit as good as David Price after the trade deadline.

    Like AJ Burnett leading the team to revival.

    Like Russell Martin! Like Franciso Cervelli.

    Do I need to go on?

    Nutting is “cheap” – so who would you rather have: Cutch, or Stanton on his $325 million contract. Is Stanton the better player because he’s getting paid more?

    I will take Cutch over him 365 days of the year.

    How about trying to find the positive in life. Money isn’t everything and guess what – in MLB, $$$ do not equal winning!

  8. Tim, as a media guy- can you explain why most everyone outside of Pittsburgh can recognize that we have one of the best organizations now in sports let alone baseball… But local media begins articles with “pirates jettison player that never wanted to leave” and fans are insane with the desire for the team to “spend”?

    • I am not a media guy, but I have seen this in every city I have lived. If the local team isn’t winning titles, the fans are always much more critical than the “objective” observers.

      I was in the Bay Area the last three years, and you wouldn’t believe the abuse the Warriors took on local sports talk for roster decisions in the 12/13 and 13/14 seasons. But coincidentally many of those choices whether additions or non-additions (ex: why didn’t they trade half the roster for Kevin Love???) are exactly the moves that put them in position for the success they have now.

      Outside observers saw shrewd moves one after the other. Local fans screamed about not trading one of the splash brothers for Kevin Love.

      It’s not a Pittsburgh thing…

    • Negative news sells. I see the traffic numbers on this site. When you complain about something or post something negative, it gets much more attention and much more reach than something positive.

      There’s also this trend in all media today where you have to hold people “accountable” and where you’re always looking for the next big conspiracy or foul play.

      As an outsider to Pittsburgh, it seems that this approach is very popular in the city. All of the big columnists follow that approach, and I think it spreads from there. Every time someone becomes a columnist or gets a column, it follows the same format. It’s like when you get a column, you suddenly have to find things to complain about or else you’re not doing your job.

      At the same time, I don’t think it’s a coincidence that every big writer in Pittsburgh takes this approach and sticks around in their role. It sells.

  9. I love this move. Love it.

    His stats as a starter from 2011-2014 are inflated by the Coors effect. His xFIP numbers in those years were all about a run better, and he has the same crazy home/road splits that all Rockies not named De La Rosa have. He has a nice slider that wasn’t playing well in the altitude at Coors but really showed itself as a plus pitch last year. His velocity on it has increased four years in a row. And he’s missing bats at a bigger clip the last three years as well.

    Sounds like the Pirates got him cheap, and he has both the stuff and the career momentum to be better for the Pirates than he was last year.

    • get overly excited over a pitcher who will pitch 60-70 innings out of 1400+. Good move yes. Diference maker no.

  10. Read on a Dodgers blog the slider can be erratic, flat somedays. But I like it.

    On the way home, David Todd was remarking how strange these big market teams spend. No problem spending hundreds of millions on a 30 year old they aren’t familiar with, but balk at paying 900k more in arbitration to a guy making 2 million. He mentioned the Wilson trade to the Tigers….they appear to be useful guys to me.

  11. $3 Mill – he basically is a righty specialist (lefties destroyed him last year) and he was left off the Dodgers post season roster…….the Dodgers DFA the guy and we give him 3 Mil???

  12. Second great bullpen pickup so far this winter.

    Webster, Nicasio, Caminero, and Holdzkom are a super high beta core of middle relief arms. If they kept Melancon and push Locke to the pen I’d be comfortable saying they’ll end up with a hell of a pen without doing anything else this winter.

    • Should hedge my bets on the Melancon and Locke portions of my post, now that I see he Nicasio was signed for $3m….

      I can’t see the Pirates going with a $25m pen.

    • Might have no choice but to keep Melancon…getting harder and harder to find a fit for him.

      Funny, of the three going into their last season…Melancon was the one I was sure would be traded and the other two I felt there were legitimate reasons to keep.

      • Thanks to Royals the cost of bull pen help went up, but only for FA and ones with years of control left. Its tough to get value on a player with one year of control left.

      • The Dodgers will take him, they have to do something! We’ll do it for Puig, Seager, Urias, JGone plus cash,,,,,,,,,,,

    • I have a feeling just a feeling that Holdzkom was a one hit wonder. Nothing but a gut feeling. I would really like them to keep Melancon.

      • Perfect world he’s your pseudo-6th starter until some of the AAA depth is ready, at which point I’d see if his stuff played up enough to be effective in single inning roles, a la Travis Wood. He *should* be a non-tender next year as a starter with as many pre-arb arms look poised to break in, but you might be able to squeak an additional, albeit costly year out of him as a leverage lefty who can also get RHB out when needed.

  13. Ok so we’ve signed a FA. Happy now?

    Not a bad signing if you want a RH setup guy. Started a lot w Rockies but not well. LA got good innings from him HUGE guy who can hammer out strikeouts but walks a lot too. Joel Hanrahan v.3

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