Written by Patrick Mooney, Ken Rosenthal, and Sahadev Sharma
The Chicago Cubs are finalizing a one-year, $9 million contract with Hector Neres, adding to their roster an experienced player who helped the Houston Astros win the 2022 World Series, a league source confirmed Saturday.
The bullpen has been the focus of Jed Hoyer's baseball operations group since the Cubs collapsed last September and missed the playoffs by one game. Among many misfires, the Cubs did not arrive into October with a relatively new crop of reliable relievers. Whether it fell to the front office, coaching staff or player development, David Ross ultimately took the blame.
Firing Ross and hiring Craig Counsell would give the Cubs a skilled tactician in the dugout. Counsell also had some exceptionally talented relievers alongside him while managing the Milwaukee Brewers. Neress, 34, represents exactly what the Cubs wanted to add this winter — a reliever with knowledge in big games and late innings.
Neres also won't work on a long-term deal, which fits Hoyer's bullpen philosophy. The contract includes a team option for 2025 that converts to a player option if Neres appears in 60 games this season. ESPN first reported the agreement.
By including a look-based option, Hoyer gives the team some security in case Nerys is injured or is so ineffective that he can't be used whenever needed. Hoyer has been reluctant to hand out multi-year deals to relievers these past winters, but with a major relief reliever in need for the team, he admitted he would likely have to step out of his comfort zone to lure a veteran arm to join this bullpen.
But in a market that saw veterans like Aroldis Chapman and David Robertson earn $10 million on their one-year deals, it seemed like getting someone like Neres – who was thought to be in the hunt for many years – on terms that Hoyer might find palatable was a tall order. shot. Hoyer's patience has proven to pay off.
Although his fastball velocity dropped to 93 mph, Neres was still as potent as he was last season. He appeared in 71 games for the Astros, posting a 1.71 ERA with 77 strikeouts over 68 innings. His splitter, the second most widely used pitch after his four-seamer, was one of the most powerful pitches in baseball. Among relievers who played most of the 2023 season, only six had a better whiff rate on the splitter than Neris' 42.2 percent.
Neres has been remarkably durable and reliable lately. He is one of only two relievers (along with Cleveland Guardians closer Emmanuel Class) to have played in at least 70 games in each of the past three seasons. During that time, Neris also struck out 30 percent of the batters he faced and posted a solid 3.03 ERA. He made 84 of his 89 career saves with the Philadelphia Phillies, the organization that originally drafted him out of the Dominican Republic.
The Cubs have had recent success by signing veteran relievers to relatively bargain deals and having them lead a group of inexperienced and/or younger talent. That didn't work either in 2023, and Neress filled that veteran void the Cubs desperately needed last summer. A point of frustration among some has been the lack of a true vocal leader among the group — Michael Fulmer struggled early, while Brad Bocksberger was injured for most of the year — who could show young talents like Daniel Palencia and Luke Little how to prepare and thrive. Over a season of 162 games.
Between signing Neris and trading for Yency Almonte, the Cubs are methodically collecting more options for Counsell. The bullpen already includes Adbert Alzolay, who emerged as a dominant player when healthy last season, Julian Meriwether and Mark Leiter Jr. Drew Smelley is likely to end up as the veteran left-back in the group with players who could be optioned such as Valencia, Little and Jose Coas. Fighting for the last few spots alongside non-rotation pitchers.
In an effort to take the next step in the playoffs, the Cubs plan to rely on a resilient pitching staff, young talent emerging through their farm system and a manager known for pressing the right buttons in-game.
(Top photo by Hector Neres: Alex Bierens de Haan/MLB Images via Getty Images)
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