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Mariners finalize two-year deal with Nicasio

MLB.com @gregjohnsmlb

SEATTLE -- There are bigger-name closers still on the free-agent market and some well-known starters who would satisfy fans' desires to flush out the rotation. But general manager Jerry Dipoto says the Mariners got the man they wanted when the signing of setup man Juan Nicasio was finalized Wednesday.

Nicasio agreed to a two-year, $17 million deal last week at the Winter Meetings in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., but couldn't sign the deal until flying from his home in the Dominican Republic to complete his physical exam in Seattle.

SEATTLE -- There are bigger-name closers still on the free-agent market and some well-known starters who would satisfy fans' desires to flush out the rotation. But general manager Jerry Dipoto says the Mariners got the man they wanted when the signing of setup man Juan Nicasio was finalized Wednesday.

Nicasio agreed to a two-year, $17 million deal last week at the Winter Meetings in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., but couldn't sign the deal until flying from his home in the Dominican Republic to complete his physical exam in Seattle.

"We had targeted a very small group of late-game relievers we felt were good fits for us," Dipoto said. "All of them came off the board in the last few days [at the Winter Meetings] and [Nicasio] was at or near the top for most of our offseason just because of the versatility.

Video: STL@PIT: Nicasio retires Mercer to earn the save

"He made more sense for us than the ninth-inning guys or one-inning guys that might be more famous. It just makes more sense for the way our team is built."

The Mariners outbid the Cardinals, who were hoping to bring Nicasio back to compete for their closer's role, to land the 31-year-old right-hander after he posted a 2.61 ERA in 72 1/3 innings in a National League-leading 76 outings last year with three different teams.

Dipoto has a closer in 23-year-old Edwin Diaz, but he envisions Nicasio joining his "wolfpack" of versatile relievers who can take pressure off the rotation and control the back end of games.

"I don't know of anybody in the American League, outside of maybe the Indians and Yankees right now, who could line up a deeper bullpen," Dipoto said. "You might line up more famous names, but we're pretty confident in the depth in our 'pen.

"We're going to have real Major League arms that can pitch toward the back end of Major League games who are going to struggle to make our club. And that's something to get excited about because it gives you a layer of depth that we just didn't have before."

Nicasio is a former starter who has blossomed the past year and a half in a bullpen role. His career ERA as a starter is 5.11 in 82 games, much of that coming with the Rockies, compared to 3.38 in 187 relief appearances.

Dipoto believes Nicasio took a big step forward last season when he gained better command over his hard slider, in conjunction with a 96-mph fastball, that made him far more effective against left-handed hitters.

Nicasio held opposing batters to a .217/.277/.333 line last year with 72 strikeouts and 20 walks in 72 1/3 innings and lefties hit just .208 off him, well below his career mark of .276.

Dipoto says Nicasio joins David Phelps (acquired last July from the Marlins), Nick Rumbelow (acquired this offseason from the Yankees) and Dan Altavilla as hard-throwing, multi-inning weapons to go along with Nick Vincent, lefty specialist Marc Rzepczynski and Diaz at the back of the 'pen.

"He gives us the versatility of having now what we think are at least three multi-inning power arms, which is kind of unique in the game today," Dipoto said. "And maybe four, depending how our bullpen is built. Between Phelps, Nicasio, Altavilla and Rumbelow, these are guys with big arms that can throw multiple innings.

"This group is so multi-dimensional. Each can do something a little bit different, but they're all multi-inning capable, with the exception of [Rzepczynski], who is more of a situational-type guy. And with the improvement Nick Vincent made last year against left-handed hitters, it gives us a really effective group."

Greg Johns has covered the Mariners since 1997, and for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB.

Seattle Mariners, Juan Nicasio