After move Neal Huntington calls 'unusual step,' Phillies claim Juan Nicasio off waivers
By giving away veteran reliever Juan Nicasio on Thursday, Pirates management conceded the NL Central race with four weeks left in the season and turned its focus toward 2018.
Nicasio was claimed by the Philadelphia Phillies, who are responsible for the roughly $600,000 remaining of his salary. The Pirates, who earlier this week put Nicasio on irrevocable waivers, got nothing in return for losing their second-best relief pitcher.
Nicasio, 31, leads the National League with 65 appearances and ranks third with 22 holds. Among NL relievers with at least 40 innings pitched, Nicasio ranks 23rd in ERA (2.85) and 16th in WHIP (1.12).
In a prepared statement released via email, general manager Neal Huntington admitted Nicasio's departure was an “unusual step.” Huntington said the Pirates will begin using “pitchers that may or will impact our 2018 club” in high-leverage situations,” which made Nicasio expendable.
“We acknowledge the minimal amount of money saved by making this move,” Huntington said. “However, as a result of our decision and Juan's pending free agency at the end of the season, we felt it appropriate to attempt to move Juan to a better situation for him.”
The Phillies (49-83) own the worst record in the majors and could try to trade Nicasio before the end of the season.
The Pirates (63-71) have lost four of their past six games. They are 10 games behind the first-place Chicago Cubs in the NL Central.
On Friday, clubs are allowed to expand their active rosters, which are capped at 25 players from April through August, to include anyone who is on the 40-man roster.
The Pirates are expected to call up several players from Triple-A Indianapolis. Rookies who are already with the club, such as Dovydas Neverauskas and Edgar Santana, will get more playing time.
A seven-year veteran, Nicasio, a right-hander, was the primary setup man for closer Felipe Rivero. On July 31, the Pirates traded lefty setup man Tony Watson to the Los Angeles Dodgers for two low-level minor leaguers.
Earlier this month, the Pirates requested revokable trade waivers on Nicasio. According to Huntington, that triggered that strange series of events.
“He was claimed by a playoff-caliber club that indicated to us their primary motivation was to block us from being able to trade Juan elsewhere,” Huntington said. “They were not willing to give us more than very marginal value in return if we chose to trade Juan to them.
“Rather than help a direct competitor and recognizing the difference in claiming order between trade and outright waivers, we chose to take the chance to see if by placing Juan on outright waivers he would end up with a different playoff contender, preferably one in the American League.”
The Pirates' $94 million payroll is about $6 million lower than last season. They are track to finish with 76 wins, which would be their lowest total since 2011.
Average attendance at PNC Park is 24,307, a decline of about 12 percent from last season.
Rob Biertempfel is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.