Cubs Sign Hector Neris

The Cubs have signed right-hander Hector Neris to a one-year, $9MM contract, ESPN’s Jeff Passan reports (via X).  There is a $9MM club option attached for the 2025 season, and that vests into a player option if Neris makes at least 60 appearances this season.  Between that option and additional incentive bonuses, the deal could be worth as much as $23.25 over the two seasons.  Neris is represented by Octagon.

Best known for his time as the Phillies’ closer, Neris has spent the last two seasons in Houston, and is coming off (technically) the best year of his decade-long Major League career.  Neris posted a 1.71 ERA over 68 1/3 innings out of the Astros’ bullpen, with an excellent 28.2% strikeout rate and some of the best soft-contact numbers of any pitcher in baseball.

There were a few red flags, however, which is likely why the righty landed what is officially just a one-year guarantee.  Neris’ fastball velocity dropped to 93mph in 2023, rather markedly down from the 94.3mph average of his first nine seasons.  He also had an 11.4% walk rate, marking the third time in the last four seasons that Neris’ walk rate has sat within the bottom 23rd percentile of all pitches.  With a tiny .219 BABIP and a big 90.5% strand rate also aiding his efforts, Neris’ 3.89 SIERA was over two runs higher than his real-world ERA.

It’s fair to assume that some regression is in order, and these troubling secondary metrics aren’t exactly a great sign for a pitcher who turns 35 in June.  However, even if Neris’ 2024 ERA is closer to that 3.89 figure, he still figures to bring value to Chicago’s relief corps in terms of both results and durability.  Neris has a league-best 307 appearances since the start of the 2019 season, and a stint on the COVID-related injury list in 2020 marks the only time Neris has ever appeared on the IL during his big league career.

This kind of durability holds particular appeal for a Cubs team that was hit hard with bullpen injuries down the stretch, which contributed to Chicago’s 12-16 record in September and subsequent near-miss of a wild card berth.  The Cubs were naturally known to be looking for relief help, though president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer has traditionally been wary about committing big money to the pen given the year-to-year volatility of many relievers.

In that sense, Neris’ contract represents more aggression even if it remains a one-year deal, considering that the Cubs haven’t gone beyond $5MM on a relief pitcher since signing Craig Kimbrel in June 2019.  Should Neris eat his usual amount of innings, hitting the 60-appearance threshold shouldn’t be too much of an issue, and thus he would top the two-year, $15MM deal that MLBTR projected for the reliever at the start of the offseason.  Neris ranked 46th on our list of the winter’s top 50 free agents.

Neris has a similar clause in his previous deal, a two-year/$17MM pact signed with Houston in the 2021-22 offseason.  The Astros held an $8.5MM club option ($1MM buyout) on Neris for 2024 that vested into a player option if Neris both passed a physical after the 2023 campaign, and if he made at least 110 appearances over the course of the two seasons.  Neris ended pitching in 141 games, and then opted to decline his player option to re-enter the market in search of a richer deal.

Adbert Alzolay blossomed as the Cubs’ closer in 2023, and Neris will now step right in as Wrigleyville’s top setup option.  Neris joins Yency Almonte as newcomers in the relief corps, and it can’t be assumed that the Cubs are now done with their bullpen shopping.  Adding another veteran on at least a minor league deal seems like a possibility, and if Neris represents a bit of a splashy spend, perhaps Chicago could look for another reliever on a guaranteed deal within that sub-$5MM comfort zone.

The Cubs’ payroll now sits at roughly $196.3MM, and there’s still plenty of room to go before Chicago hits the $237MM luxury tax threshold.  A big-ticket signing like Cody Bellinger could naturally absorb a lot of that remaining space, but there’s still plenty of flexibility for Hoyer during what has been a pretty quiet winter overall for the Cubs.  The Shohei Ohtani pursuit carried a lot of the team’s attention in the offseason’s first month, though the Cubs have since added Shota Imanaga and Neris in free agency, while also adding Almonte and Michael Busch in a trade with the Dodgers.

The Astros, Cardinals, Mets, Rangers, and Yankees were all linked to Neris at various points this offseason.  Earlier this month, it seemed as if the Rangers and Yankees were looking like the favorites to sign the right-hander, but Chicago ended up emerging to win the bidding.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images

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