2024 Cubs Bullpen Target: Hector Neris
Troy Taormina - USA Today Sports

2024 Cubs Bullpen Target: Hector Neris

by - Senior Writer -

In a world where bullpen depth makes a massive difference in the postseason, the Chicago Cubs entered free agency with some holes that needed to be filled. A lot of those holes came in the starting lineup, but when you looked at the overall nature of the Cubs pitching staff, there were also holes that needed to be addressed.

After being down a starter following Marcus Stroman's departure, the Cubs signed Japanese left-hander Shota Imanaga to replace him but will run out virtually the same starting rotation as last season. Then comes the bullpen, where you have guys like Adbert Alzolay, Mark Leiter Jr, and Julian Merryweather set to return, but a bunch more question marks after that.

Javier Assad, Hayden Wesneski, Luke Little, Jose Cuas, and Drew Smyly are all options for Craig Counsell to consider, but most are unproven bullpen options at this point in their career. With Josh Hader, Matt Moore, and Robert Stephenson coming off the board, several big ticket relief options are off the market, leaving the Cubs scrambling to add to their pen should they choose to.

However, one player is remaining who is coming off a great season and has been one of the more consistent relievers in recent seasons in right-hander Hector Neris. With spring training right around the corner, the Cubs will have to do something to bolster their bullpen, and adding Neris would be the perfect move to do that.

For the most part, Neris has had a quiet offseason and hasn't heard his name linked to many teams apart from the New York Yankees. Whether or not there are more teams in the mix is something we would have to discuss on a different day, but the Cubs haven't been linked to him at all, and it makes you question why, when you look at the need, he would fill.

Neris has been a very reliable relief pitcher over the past decade, breaking into the league with the Philadelphia Phillies in 2014, but it has been the back end of his career where he has thrived, especially with the Houston Astros the past few seasons. Across his 546 career games in 10 seasons, Neris has gone 33-36 while posting a 3.24 ERA. He's walked 199 men compared to 676 strikeouts across 541 1/3 innings of work.

What started as a middle relief role for Neris has transformed into one of the better closers in the game, as Neris is the definition of a lockdown guy. He has registered 89 career saves, with 28 coming in 2019 and 26 in 2017. Those were his two best years saves-wise, but he is far more than that, as you could make the case for him being the best setup man in the game.

Despite Alzolay turning himself into one of the better closers last season, the Cubs sometimes had trouble getting the ball to him as Merryweather and Leiter Jr were the only other guys David Ross trusted. Neris would erase any trust issues in the back end and would immediately step in as the eighth-inning man for this team. Although he is approaching 35 years old, which could be considered a risk, the numbers don't lie, and Neris is not only coming off his best season to date but has several strong years left.

Take this past season in Houston, for example. Neris was about as lights out as possible, as he posted a 1.71 ERA across 68 innings this season. He held batters to a putrid .174 average and racked up 77 strikeouts, 31 walks, and a 10.1 K/9 ratio. He also placed in at least the 90th percentile in pitching run value, fastball run value, expected batting average, average exit velocity, and hard-hit percentage.

Those are all things you look for in a high-leverage reliever, and Neris knows what it is like to pitch in high-leverage situations, especially in big games. Primarily a two-pitch pitcher, Neris relies on his heater better than 50% of the time, as that pitch sits in the 93-94 MPH range but can touch 96. The rest of the time, Neris adds a splitter, sinker, and slider to his repertoire as those pitches range in the 85-91 MPH range.

When you look at what Stephenson, Aroldis Chapman, and some of the other relievers on the market have gotten, Neris' numbers would indicate that he would be in line for a massive payday. Although deserving of one, the initial reports suggest he is seeking a two-year deal with an annual figure in the 7-11 million range. That would be a steal to get him at the bottom end of that spectrum, but in any essence that price tag is a bargain.

Should the Cubs decide to take a chance on Neris, it would only bolster a crucial area that needed reinforcements while solidifying a role that was an issue at times in 2023. Add in the wild card that is Tommy Hottovy’s pitch lab and newly hired manager Craig Counsell’s expertise in bullpen management, and Neris could be an exciting addition to the Cubs relief corps in 2024.

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