LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Jerry Dipoto's search for a quality veteran setup man to bolster his team's bullpen came to fruition on Wednesday as the Mariners landed free-agent right-hander Juan Nicasio with a two-year deal, according to multiple sources.
The Mariners haven't confirmed the signing, which will require Nicasio to fly from the Dominican Republic and pass a physical early next week before any team announcement. But assuming that goes well, Dipoto will have upgraded his relief crew with the addition of a hard-throwing 31-year-old who led the National League with 76 outings last season while posting a 2.61 ERA with the Pirates, Phillies and Cardinals.
MLB Network's Bob Nightengale said the two-year deal is for $17 million.
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The Cardinals pushed hard to bring Nicasio back to contend for their closer's role, but the Mariners will use him as one of their setup men to young closer Edwin Diaz.
Dipoto declined to comment on Nicasio's pursuit when meeting with the media on Wednesday evening at the conclusion of the third day of the Winter Meetings, other than to acknowledge that he felt a deal was close to fruition.
But Dipoto acknowledged the importance of quality bullpen depth in the game, a growing trend for contending Major League clubs.
"You don't have to be a rocket scientist to hang around the [Winter Meetings] to see what's happening in baseball today," he said. "Watch the postseason, watch the way the game is being played, look at the innings pitched leaders in the league. Minimally, we're going to line up with a bullpen that has at least two and maybe three upper-90s arms that have multiple-inning capability, and that's a great asset in today's game."
With many of the top free-agent setup men coming off the board in the last few days, the Mariners zeroed in on Nicasio before preparing to return to Seattle on Thursday.
The veteran right-hander owns a 96-mph fastball and hard slider. He spent most of the season with the Pirates, recording a 2.85 ERA in 65 appearances before Pittsburgh made the unusual move of putting him on outright waivers and allowing him to be claimed by the Phillies on Aug. 31.
The move saved the Pirates about $600,000 on Nicasio's $3.6 million salary, though Pirates GM Neal Huntington said at the time he was primarily trying to allow the veteran to land with an American League playoff contender before hitting free agency once Pittsburgh had fallen out of contention.
The Phillies grabbed Nicasio, and he pitched twice for them before being flipped a week later to St. Louis, where he made nine appearances and picked up four saves while allowing just two runs in 11 innings.
Nicasio struggled as a starter early in his career in Colorado, but he began emerging when the Pirates switched him to a relief role midway through the 2016 season. He blossomed last year as a durable setup man, with his ERA and 1.08 WHIP the lowest of his seven-year Major League career.
The Mariners are looking to beef up a relief crew that will be used to shorten games for a starting rotation that Dipoto wants to use in a different way next year, relying more on shorter outings from his starters to help keep them healthier and more effective.
Seattle already has the 23-year-old Diaz at closer and veteran setup men Nick Vincent and David Phelps, along with lefties Marc Rzepczynski and James Pazos returning. But Dipoto would like to add another quality veteran to that mix, with Dan Altavilla, Tony Zych and recently acquired Nick Rumbelow, Shawn Armstrong and Mike Morin competing for the final spots in what figures to be an eight-man 'pen.
Armstrong was added Wednesday in a trade from the Indians for $500,000 in international slot money, while Rumbelow came in a trade with the Yankees last month and Morin was claimed off waivers.
Once the Mariners finalize Nicasio's deal, their bullpen should be a deep and talented group.
"In a world where bullpen is going off the board like you're seeing right now, that is a wildly valuable asset," Dipoto said. "So as much as the critics would like to complain about the way we're thinning out the system, that is not an area where we're thin. That's an area of depth."