March 21, 2011

So long, Sideshow Pat: Padres claim Neshek off waivers

Pat Neshek has struggled to rediscover his velocity and overall effectiveness since undergoing Tommy John elbow surgery in November of 2008 and seemed destined for Triple-A following an unimpressive series of appearances this spring, but instead the Twins made a surprising move by deciding to simply let him go. They removed Neshek from the 40-man roster, which required placing him on the waiver wire, and the Padres claimed him yesterday.

In most cases a player is removed from the 40-man roster because the team needs their spot for another player, but that wasn't the case here. There was no follow-up move after Neshek was placed on waivers and general manager Bill Smith indicated that the 40-man roster spot might remain unfilled for a while. Beyond that, if the Twins did need to create an opening they could have cut Eric Hacker, who was a very questionable addition and is bound for Triple-A.

Had he been out of minor-league options Neshek being let go also would have been less of a surprise, but he does have an option remaining and could have been stashed at Triple-A while being called up or sent down at any point this year. In fact, that's likely what San Diego will do after claiming him. By allowing the Padres to take Neshek and his contract the Twins did save some money, but his $625,000 salary represents less than one percent of their total payroll.

This move wasn't made because the Twins needed a 40-man roster space or because Neshek couldn't be kept unless he was in the majors or because money was tight. No, this move was made because the Twins simply decided to give up on Neshek. He was a shell of his former self last season, which wasn't unexpected after missing all of 2009 following surgery, but Neshek's raw stuff wasn't much better this spring and he'd plummeted down the bullpen depth chart.

Clearly the Twins have zero faith in his ability to turn things around when they'd rather have $625,000 than another bullpen option at Triple-A and Neshek angering the team last year by going public about the handling of his finger injury perhaps made their decision even easier. Giving up on a 30-year-old reliever fighting to top the mid-80s with his fastball 28 months after elbow surgery is understandable, but the timing and motivation behind the move are odd.

Even before the surgery his fastball was typically in the high-80s, which along with a side-arm delivery made the Twins so skeptical of Neshek's dominance in the minors that they didn't give him an opportunity until 2006, shortly before his 26th birthday. Once in Minnesota the Brooklyn Park native showed that he belonged by quickly gaining Ron Gardenhire's trust as the primary setup man and throughout it all Neshek interracted with fans via his website and Twitter.

In other words, it was very easy to root for Neshek whether he was a standout minor leaguer deserving of a shot, a trusted member of the Twins' bullpen, a rehabbing Tommy John survivor, or a guy struggling to get back to where he was. I'm among the many Twins fans sad to see him go, but the Padres' unmatched success plucking relievers off the scrap heap for the past decade and baseball's most pitcher-friendly ballpark makes San Diego the ideal landing spot.

I'd love to see him turn things around, even for the Padres, but regardless of what happens with the rest of his career the excellent but short run Neshek had for the Twins should not be overlooked. From a call-up in July of 2006 to his elbow giving out in May of 2008 he had a 2.91 ERA and 142 strikeouts in 121 innings while opponents hit .188 with a .592 OPS. To put that in some context, Nick Punto's career OPS is .644.

He was death to right-handed batters, who couldn't square up a high-80s fastball coming out of nowhere from that crazy side-arm delivery and flailed away at his frisbee slider while hitting .176 with a strikeout in one-third of their plate appearances. Skeptics focused on his supposed vulnerability against left-handed batters and continued to bang that same drum long after it was proven inaccurate, as Neshek held them to a .211 batting average. He was great, period.

I'm not sure if Neshek will ever rediscover anything resembling his old level of effectiveness, let alone approach his previous dominance, and I'm not sure why the Twins weren't more willing to show a bit of additional patience when there was absolutely nothing or no one forcing them to reach that verdict quite yet, but it was an awful lot of fun to watch while it lasted and I'll be rooting for "Sideshow Pat" with the Padres.

  • Leon

    My brother and I caught a local news clip of him taking batting practice in Milwaukee a couple years back, and his swing had a hitch in it that somewhat matched the obvious hitch in his pitching motion. After that, we simply referred to him as ‘hitch’

  • Ian

    My guess is that the Twins are probably right that he’s done. They have a lot of arms they’ll need to send to AAA and they might not think he’s a good option even for Rochester.

    I enjoyed his 06-08 run but it’s part of the game. Good luck in SD.

  • chris

    i am dissappointed about this move…but in MLB….not a lot relief pitchers survive over years…most of them play great for 1…2…3 seasons and thats it…

  • Jon

    For a team who’s major weakness, at least according to popular thought, is a lack of bullpen depth this move is nothing short of a complete head-scratcher.

  • pk

    Twins helped Neshek out. Plus, why have him take a spot if they don’t want/ trust him. He probably doesn’t have a lot of positive things to say about the Twins FO or Gardenhire. Not necessarily the type of guy you want hanging around your young pitchers.

  • Andrew

    The way the Twins have been about players in the last couple of years has been downright mysterious. It seems to take nothing at all to put a player either in the manager’s doghouse or on the front office scrap heap.

    I suppose there pretty much has to be more going on behind the scenes but as a fan, there have been some serious head scratchers.

  • jbiowa

    I’m happy for Pat — a new venue should be good for him. Have to wonder if Perkins isn’t headed for the same fate (but maybe he’s been put on waivers and no one took the bait). As for the moves the Twins have made (and are making) — I just keep hoping that they will all make sense come October.

  • Jim

    My guess is they will put Waldrop on the 40 man, since he is doing well this spring, and then can bring him up and down as needed, like Manship the last couple of years

  • Josh

    I think it’s a classy move by the Twins to let Neshek go now, at this point in spring training when it will be easier for him to stick with another team if they’ve decided he’s not in their plans than keep him kicking around the roster for a few more weeks before eventually cutting him.

    I was rooting for Neshek to come back and be the righty set-up guy he used to be, but I think the Twins may be right about him and that he’s never going to get the kind of velocity and movement back that made him devastating before the injury.

  • http://thefobl.com Buddy Grant

    I’d prefer to believe the Twins did Pat a solid by allowing him a better chance to get back to the majors via San Diego. Good luck Pat!

  • David

    I suspect Neshek was let go because he made Twins management look bad. However, with the way the Twins handled Neshek’s injury, Twins management made themselves look bad.

  • Mr Hockey

    Can we do the same to Perkins?

  • mbrian

    I agree with Josh and Buddy. I think the Twins front office came to the conclusion that Neshek wouldn’t be able to contribute (the two homers allowed to righthanders last Thursday may have been the last straw) and they gave him a chance to get a fresh start elsewhere rather than bury him in AAA behind 4-5 other guys (Burnett, Slama, Gutierrez, Hoey, Waldrop, etc.) who would get called up before Pat.

  • TMW

    This is incredibly straight-forward. It boggles my mind why there would be any backlash about this move. Is it because he’s local?

    Thanks for 06-07 Pat, but 600k is a lot of money to be paying someone to serve up meatballs with no movement in AAA.

  • MNTicketInternKing

    I wish Pat all the well in San Diego with O-Dog and Bartlett.

  • Shaitan

    Neshek might’ve angered management, but that was a year ago. They would’ve cut him then if it was relevant.

  • frank

    dark star said he had an attitude and that as much as his poor pitching ousted him.

  • WalterSolbcheck

    Petco is a good place for Neshek to land.

  • Zach Morris

    As a Pat Neshek jersey shirt owner, I am upset! It seemed like this was somewhat of a long time coming, which is very unfortunate.

  • chris

    nice write up on a good guy.

  • LaBombo

    No more Neshek? Noooooooooo!!!! Gonna miss him.