The story. It’s an interesting story there actually. The Pirates had Juan Nicasio just a week ago and after placing him on waivers to trade him earlier and being blocked by another team (reading between the lines of Pirates’ GM Neal Huntington’s quotes on the move leads me to believe it was another NL Central team, perhaps the Cardinals) and the blocking team low-balled them on their trade offer. So they pulled him back.
Then, late in August the Pirates tried to slip Nicasio through again, this time on “irrevocable” waivers since once you’ve been pulled back from waivers once you can’t be pulled back again. Their gamble was that either someone would claim him and they would save $600,000 or he would go unclaimed and they could then trade him to an American League club.
But the Phillies, with the NL’s worst record and first crack at claiming Nicasio, put in a claim. So the Pirates saved their $600,000 and the Phillies traded him to the Cardinals.
The numbers. Juan Nicasio, 31, joined the Pirates before the 2016 season and posted a 4.50 ERA over 12 starts and 40 relief appearances. In 2017, he signed a 1 year, $3.65 million deal in his final year of arbitration and has worked exclusively out of the bullpen for the first time. He has responded with a 2.79 ERA and 1.09 WHIP over 67 appearances and 61.1 innings of work between his two Philadelphia teams.
Eliezer Alvarez, 22, joined the Cardinals as an international free agent in 2012. This season, after being placed on the 40 man roster to protect him from the Rule 5 Draft, he has spent the bulk of his time with Double-A Springfield, posting a .247/.321/.382 slash line with 4 home runs in 54 Double-A games.
The impact. 6/10. This trade is typical John Mozeliak (will we ever call something typical Mike Girsch?) low hanging fruit. Nicasio, as a pending free agent, is a one month rental and he will not be eligible for the postseason with the Cardinals since he was not in the organization on August 31.
Nicasio’s 156 ERA+ puts him third in the Cardinals’ bullpen this season to Tyler Lyons (166 ERA+) and John Brebbia (191 ERA+) and gives manager Mike Matheny a proven late inning option as he has worked mostly in the 8th inning this season with a 1.87 ERA.
The fact that he will not be postseason eligible does made me scratch my head a bit, but he could still be an important part of this club getting to the postseason as they stand just three games out of a wild card spot.
As far as what the Cardinals gave up, I think it’s a fair cost. Alvarez is a good prospect, but still has plenty of questions too. Much of his early time in the Cardinals’ organization was spent injured or recovering from injury, so we very much don’t know what kind of player he could be.
He blew away A ball last year, batting .323 in 116 games in Peoria which got him protection from the Rule 5 Draft on the 40 man roster. But struggled on the promotion to Double-A and has missed significant time as well. He is generally considered a plus defender at second base with plus speed. The question, as it seems to be with most players, is will the bat develop into one that’s worth playing at the MLB level? He’s still young, so the Phillies have time to figure that out.
Also, with many 40 man questions to come for the Cardinals this winter, they needed roster space, so it’s probable that he was on their list of players they intended to remove in the winter, so why not get something for him now?
And in reality, the Cardinals minor league system is fairly deep right now, especially with the way Kolten Wong and Paul DeJong have played this season. Middle infield is not a massive need for the club right now.
The long game would have to be that they intend to resign Nicasio though, right? The Cardinals have been interested in him for awhile and he could be a good bullpen option for a club that has more questions than answers there when it comes to 2018. And generally much cheaper than a reliever with multiple years of setup or closing experience would be.