Cubs sign Hector Neris to one year 9M deal Source –

Cubs sign Hector Neris to one-year, $9M deal: Source – The Athletic

By Patrick Mooney, Ken Rosenthal and Sahadev Sharma

The Chicago Cubs are finalizing a one-year, $9 million contract with Hector Neris, a league source confirmed Saturday, bolstering their bullpen with a veteran reliever who helped the Houston Astros win the 2022 World Series.

The bullpen has been a focus of Jed Hoyer's baseball operations team since the Cubs collapsed last September and missed the playoffs by one game. Due to several mishaps, the Cubs didn't make it to October with a relatively fresh group of proven replacements. Whether this is more attributable to the front office, the coaching staff, or player development, David Ross ultimately took the blame.

By firing Ross and signing Craig Counsell, the Cubs have an experienced tactician in the dugout. Counsell also had some exceptionally talented backup players alongside him when he managed the Milwaukee Brewers. The 34-year-old Neris represents exactly what the Cubs wanted to add this winter – a reliever with expertise in big games and late innings.

Neris also won't be working on a long-term contract, which fits with Hoyer's bullpen-building philosophy. The contract includes a team option for 2025, which will convert to a player option if Neris appears in 60 games this season. ESPN first reported the agreement.

By adding a look-based option, Hoyer gives the team some security in case Neris gets injured or is so ineffective that he can't be used as often as needed. Hoyer has been hesitant to hand out multi-year contracts to relievers in recent winters, but with relief help being a major need for the team, he admitted he would likely have to step out of his comfort zone to lure a veteran arm to join that bullpen.

But in a market where older veterans like Aroldis Chapman and David Robertson were fetching more than $10 million on their one-year deals, getting someone like Neris – who was thought to be looking for multiple years – seemed like a long shot. to get a shot on terms that would find Hoyer palatable. Hoyer's patience paid off.

Even though his fastball velocity dropped to 93 mph, Neris was still as strong as ever last season. He appeared in 71 games with the Astros, posting a 1.71 ERA with 77 strikeouts in 68+ innings. His splitter, his second-most used pitch after his four-seamer, was one of the stronger offerings in baseball. Of the relievers who pitched most of the 2023 season, only six had a better whiff rate at the splitter than Neris' 42.2 percent.

Neris has been remarkably durable and reliable lately. He is one of only two reserve players (along with Cleveland Guardians closer Emmanuel Clase) to have made at least 70 appearances in each of the last three seasons. During this time, Neris also struck out 30 percent of the batters he faced and posted a strong 3.03 ERA. He made 84 of his 89 career saves with the Philadelphia Phillies, the organization that originally signed him from the Dominican Republic.

The Cubs have had success recently by signing veteran backups on relatively cheap terms and letting them lead a group of inexperienced and/or younger talent. That method didn't work as well in 2023, and Neris fills the veteran void the Cubs desperately needed last summer. Some were frustrated by the lack of a true vocal leader in the group – Michael Fulmer struggled early, while Brad Boxberger was injured for much of the year – who could show young talent like Daniel Palencia and Luke Little how to prepare and thrive can span a 162-game season.

Between signing Neris and moving to Yency Almonte, the Cubs are systematically collecting more options for Counsell. The bullpen group already includes Adbert Alzolay, who emerged as a dominant closer last season when healthy, as well as Julian Merryweather and Mark Leiter Jr. Drew Smlyly will likely end up as a veteran left-hander in the group with optioned players like Palencia, Little and Jose Cuas fighting for the last few spots, along with the pitchers who don't make it into the rotation.

To take the next step into the playoffs, the Cubs plan to rely on a flexible pitching staff, young talent rising through their farm system and a manager known for pushing the right buttons in the game.

Required reading

(Top photo by Hector Neris: Alex Bierens de Haan / MLB Photos via Getty Images)