The market for right-hander Hector Neris may be picking up steam, as MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand reports that the Yankees and Rangers have emerged as potential frontrunners for the veteran’s services.
After spending the first eight seasons of his career in Philadelphia, Neris hit the open market and landed with the Astros on a two-year deal prior to the 2022 campaign. The deal featured an $8.5MM vesting option ($1MM buyout) for the 2024 campaign, but Neris met the appearance thresholds stipulated in the deal to vest it into a player option and declined it earlier this winter, allowing him to depart Houston and test the open market. It’s easy to see why Neris declined the option. The 34-year-old is coming off a dominant season in Houston where he posted a sterling 1.71 ERA (246 ERA+) with a 28.2% strikeout rate in 68 1/3 innings of work across 71 appearances.
While an elevated 11.4% walk rate and an unbelievable 90.5% strand rate both cast doubt on that fantastic performance, as does his 3.83 FIP, looking at the righty’s time in Houston as a whole highlights Neris as one of the more consistent relievers in the game over the past two seasons. In 133 2/3 innings of work since the start of the 2022 campaign, Neris has posted a 2.69 ERA and 3.10 FIP with a 29.1% strikeout rate against a 9% walk rate. That ERA ranks tenth among all relievers with at least 120 innings of work over the past two seasons, while his strikeout rate ranks 14th.
That strong performance during his time in Houston led MLBTR to predict a two-year $15MM contract for Neris on our annual Top 50 MLB free agents list, where Neris was ranked 46th. His market has been fairly quiet this winter, however. While the Astros and Cardinals have both received passing mentions as possible landing spots for the righty this winter, much of the conversation on the right-handed relief market has been focused on Jordan Hicks this winter. With that said, yesterday’s news of a four-year deal between Hicks and the Giants takes the top right-handed reliever off the board and leaves Neris as perhaps the second best righty reliever remaining after Robert Stephenson.
It’s hardly a surprise that the Rangers would have interest in Neris’s services. The reigning World Series champions’ bullpen woes are well-established at this point, as a relief corps that struggled to a 4.77 ERA last year has lost the likes of Aroldis Chapman, Will Smith, and Chris Stratton to free agency. That leaves closer Jose Leclerc as the only reliable, late-inning holdover for the Rangers headed into 2024. While the addition of Kirby Yates earlier this winter should help, Texas will surely need more relief reinforcements this winter if they hope to emerge atop a competitive AL West in 2024 much less return to the World Series. While the club has occasionally been linked to relief ace Josh Hader this winter, the club’s reported budgetary issues could leave the lefty out of their price range, making Neris a more affordable alternative.
By contrast, the Yankees are something of a surprising suitor for the veteran righty. The club’s 3.34 bullpen ERA in 2023 was the best among all major league clubs last year, and while the relief corps lost a key piece in Michael King to the Padres as part of the return for Juan Soto the Bronx bullpen still features the likes of Clay Holmes, Jonathan Loasigia, and Tommy Kahnle as high-leverage arms with Ian Hamilton, Scott Effross, and Victor Gonzalez among those expected to handle the middle innings. Given the strength of that group, it’s fair to wonder if the club’s resources would be better allocated elsewhere, particularly given the question marks remaining in the rotation even after landing Marcus Stroman.
Nonetheless, Andy Martino of SNY confirms that the Yankees are engaged in the relief market at this point in the winter and suggests that a reunion with left-hander Wandy Peralta, who posted a 2.83 ERA despite a 5.05 FIP in 54 innings with the club last year, could be another possible avenue for the team to explore in its search for bullpen upgrades. Martino also notes that the team was heavily involved in the sweepstakes for Hicks before he ultimately settled on heading to San Francisco for a chance to start. With the likes of Blake Snell and Jordan Montgomery expected to secure hefty guarantees in free agency and the asking price on trade candidates such as Dylan Cease seemingly out of New York’s comfort zone, it’s possible GM Brian Cashman and his front office have pivoted to bolstering the club’s bullpen as an alternative route to upgrading the club’s pitching staff after focusing on rotation upgrades for much of the winter.