The news came across shortly after noon on Sunday. On his Twitter account, Pat Neshek wrote, “I just got news that I am now a member of the San Diego Padres, packing up & heading west.”
Immediately the Twitter discussions were traveling in several directions. The prevailing theme of most comments was that the Twins are evil. There was a lot of confusion, predictions and even a lot of anger. Understandably, there are a lot of dueling emotions that all Twins fans feel due to this transaction.
Where does it start?
Twins fans feel a connection to Pat Neshek in many ways and for many reasons. Although he was born in Madison, Wisconsin, he grew up in Minnesota and attended Park Center High school. He’s one of us. The Twins drafted him out of high school and then again in the 6th round of the 2002 draft out of Butler University. He moved all over the place for the next two seasons, but after a 2005 season in which he posted a 2.19 ERA, a 1.09 WHIP and 10.4 strikeouts per nine innings at Double-A New Britain, he was added to the 40 man roster. He began the 2006 season at Triple-A Rochester. He went 6-2 with 14 saves, a 1.95 ERA, a 0.92 WHIP and 13.1 strikeouts per nine innings. Thanks to a large and loyal blog following, he easily won an internet vote and was named the Triple-A All-Star relief pitcher that year. Unfortunately he was not able to pitch in the game because he was promoted to the Twins, and on July 7, 2006, he made his big league debut in Texas against the Rangers. In 32 games with the Twins, he was 4-2 with a 2.19 ERA and a 0.78 WHIP. He struck out nearly 13 batters per nine innings. In 2007, he was 7-2 with a 2.94 ERA, a 1.01 WHIP and more than a strikeout per inning.
Beyond the playing field, there has never been a professional athlete better with the fans. He was always willing to do a Q&A at SethSpeaks.net, or join a podcast. He wrote regularly of his travails through the minor leagues at his blog, On the Road with Pat Neshek. He has a great message board there, and his willingness to exchange sports memorabilia and willingness to sign autographs for all fans. In 2007, you may recall, there was the “Vote for Pat” campaign when Neshek was one of five players on the internet ballot for the final spot on the All-Star roster.
We like the person. We liked the statistics. We like the side-arm delivery, the bounce in his step, and the finger point toward the hitter on his arms recoil. With players like Johan Santana, Torii Hunter, Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau on the roster, a case could be made that Pat Neshek was as popular as any of them.
Then in early May of 2008 while on the mound in Chicago, Neshek left the mound after hearing a pop in his elbow. The Twins decided rest and rehab was the right course of action, but a setback in October of that year led to Tommy John surgery in November. He missed all of the 2009 season and worked really hard in Ft. Myers. So hard, in fact, that he made the Twins opening day roster. And, as you know, there was the hand injury and the option to Rochester.
Where are we now?
Neshek came to camp this year after signing a $625,000 contract in the offseason. All of the talk this spring has been about his velocity. When I saw him pitch in Ft. Myers last week, his fastball topped out at 84-85 mph. His slider was around 78 mph and his changeup was around 69 mph. Depending upon the radar gun, he was anywhere from 84 to 89 mph.
He was in a competition for a bullpen spot this spring. When camp started, he was competing with Jim Hoey, Jeff Manship, Eric Hacker, Anthony Swarzak, a starting pitcher and a slew of left-handers for three or four spots. The assumption was that Neshek would have a real chance to make the team this year, but even if he didn’t, he has an option left, so he could head to Rochester and move back and forth between AAA and the Twins throughout the season.
That the Twins were willing Designate Neshek for Assignment now, with a full option year left, leads to one conclusion. They do not believe that he will ever get back to what he was in 2006 and 2007. And because of that, they are not worried about that option year or losing him. That is the business side of baseball.
Beyond that, it is easy to see that the Twins now view Kyle Waldrop and Carlos Gutierrez ahead of Neshek. Waldrop, who has been terrific the last two seasons after coming back from shoulder surgery, is pitching well again this spring. He is a major ground ball pitcher who, at 25 years old, is ready. Carlos Gutierrez, who has yet to give up a run this spring, is going to be a major contributor to the Twins bullpen for years to come. I don’t think he would start the season with the Twins as he has pitched just two games in AAA and was a starting pitcher during the first half of last year again. Both appear to be ahead of Neshek in the eyes of the organization at this point. Both are not on the 40 man roster right now, and if they were to make the opening day roster, they would first need to be added to the 40 man roster.
By taking Neshek off the 40 man roster, a spot is open up for Waldrop or Gutierrez. They could be added next week. Could Jeff Bailey be added to the 40 man roster and be on the opening day roster as protection if Justin Morneau can’t play every day and Michael Cuddyer isn’t ready right away? Other teams will also be making roster cuts and other players will be available to claim. And, of course, there have been plenty of trade rumors. Or, there could be something in the works that will surprise us.
Some have said that the Twins did Neshek a favor by letting him go at this time. That may be true if they knew that he would be claimed by the Padres, but the Twins likely would have been very happy if he had cleared waivers and they could have sent him to the minor leagues. However, the opportunity with the Padres could be great for Neshek. Pitching in pitcher-friendly Petco Park is never a bad thing. The Padres should be a solid team. He does still have that option year so he can continue to work. All things considered, it could be a good opportunity for him.
Hopefully this turns into a Craig Breslow thing and Neshek regains his form with the Padres. We all want to see that. But the Twins were not wrong in the decision either. It is a business, and in their minds there are several pitchers ahead of Neshek on the depth chart including a couple who are not currently on the 40 man roster.
Twins fans will miss Pat Neshek, but we will all continue to cheer for him!
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