The Minnesota Twins needed starting pitching, and the addition of Ricky Nolasco will improve a rotation that struggled mightily in 2013. The Twins committed to the right-hander for four years with a franchise-record $49 million free agent deal.
2013 stats: 3.70 ERA, 199.1 innings, 165 strikeouts, 46 walks, 195 hits, 17 home runs, 1.8 wins above replacement
Draft implications: Not linked to draft pick compensation
Roster impact: Twins starters combined to post a 5.26 ERA in 2013 -- by far the worst mark among all 30 MLB teams. One way or another, general manager Terry Ryan had to add pitching this off-season.
Nolasco projects as the Twins' number one starter, not that he's a true staff ace. Kevin Correia, Samuel Deduno, Vance Worley, Scott Diamond and Andrew Albers are among the candidates to round out Minnesota’s starting five, though there’s a good chance Ryan continues shopping for arms between now and opening day.
It's not clear how much financial flexibility the Twins have remaining, though they still must add pitching and catching. The Nolasco deal establishes a new record for Twins free agent contracts, shattering the mark set by Josh Willingham's $21-million deal.
The Dodgers got 15 strong starts from Nolasco after trading for him this past summer, but they replaced him earlier this month. GM Ned Colletti made up for the loss of Nolasco by signing Dan Haren to a one-year contract.
Analysis: In Nolasco the Twins get a middle-of-the-rotation starter whose greatest skill is his ability to log league average innings. Paying $12 million per season for a mid-rotation pitcher is reasonable in today’s game, though it represents a major commitment for small-market teams such as the Twins.
Last off-season, Edwin Jackson signed a four-year, $52-million contract that resembles Nolasco’s four-year, $49-million deal in terms of years and value. While Jackson offered the Chicago Cubs more youth and velocity, his career numbers are extremely similar to those Nolasco has posted, yet slightly inferior in many respects (full comparison here via FanGraphs). Given the similarities between the two right-handers and the rate of inflation for MLB contracts, a four-year deal worth $52-56 million wouldn’t have been unreasonable for Nolasco. At $49 million the Twins aren’t overspending; they’re simply paying market value.
That said, the contract exceeded the expectations of many, particularly because of the four-year term. Like Carlos Ruiz, Jason Vargas and Jhonny Peralta, Nolasco obtained an additional guaranteed year at a reasonable average annual value.
Nolasco has struggled with home runs allowed in the past, and has allowed more than one hit per inning pitched throughout his eight-year career. He’s not a pitcher who dominates the opposition. But Target Field has suppressed home runs throughout its four-year existence, so it could prove to be a forgiving home park for Nolasco, who turns 31 in December.
This contract sets free agent pitchers Ervin Santana, Matt Garza and Ubaldo Jimenez up for even more lucrative long-term deals. Most of baseball’s 30 teams could use rotation help, so demand will remain strong with Nolasco now unavailable.
All things considered: The Twins addressed their biggest off-season need, and Nolasco turned his best season in years into nearly $50 million. While it's a franchise record commitment for the Twins, this represents a market value deal.
General manager: Terry Ryan
Agency: Sosnick Cobbe Sports (Matt Sosnick)