Minnesota Twins Rumors
Fresh off a season in which they deployed the worst rotation in the Majors, the Twins have aggressively targeted arms to improve their starting five. The first step in that plan was made official today, as the Twins have announced the signing of Ricky Nolasco to a four-year, $49MM contract. Nolasco will be paid $12MM annually from 2014-17, and the Twins have a club option that could vest for a fifth year.
Nolasco reportedly obtains a small, three-team no-trade clause. His option, valued at $13MM, will reportedly vest if he totals 400 innings from 2016-17. If not, the Twins can instead elect to pay a $1MM buyout.
Nolasco split the 2013 season between the Marlins and Dodgers, totaling a 3.70 ERA with 7.4 K/9, 2.1 BB/9 and a 43 percent ground-ball rate. The soon-to-be 31-year-old was one of the earliest players to be moved this July, as the Dodgers sent a trio of minor leaguers (Josh Wall, Steve Ames and Angel Sanchez) and paid the roughly $6MM remaining in Nolasco's salary.
Nolasco figures to provide a serious jolt in the arm to a Twins' pitching staff that was sorely lacking reliable arms in the rotation. Twins starters ranked last in baseball in terms of ERA (5.26) and K/9 (4.9) -- both marks which Nolasco should aid considerably. The longtime Marlin and brief Dodger figures to join a rotation that will also include Kevin Correia and perhaps Samuel Deduno, but beyond that there are no true locks in the rotation. Top prospect Kyle Gibson struggled in his debut season but figures to receive another chance in 2014, and Alex Meyer, who ranks as MLB.com's No. 31 overall prospect, could have a chance as well. However, the Twins have voiced a desire to add a pair of veteran arms to their rotation this offseason, so I'd expect them to continue being active at next week's Winter Meetings.
While terms of the deal haven't surfaced at this time, Nolasco figures to shatter Josh Willingham's three-year, $21MM contract -- the Twins' previous record contract for a free agent. MLBTR's Tim Dierkes' most recent projection for Nolasco's contract was in the range of Edwin Jackson's four-year, $52MM deal.
MLBTR's Tim Dierkes first reported that the Twins were on the verge of a significant free agent signing. Chris Cotillo of MLB Daily Dish reported the agreement (Twitter link), while Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports reported the terms of the deal (Twitter links). Mike Berardino of the St. Paul Pioneer Press reported Nolasco's limited no-trade clause and details on his option (Twitter links).
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
The Twins agreed to sign Phil Hughes to a three-year, $24MM deal on Saturday, which would have been the largest free agent expenditure in their history had they not committed $49MM to Ricky Nolasco a few days prior. I don't think anyone would argue that the Twins needed to add a pitcher or two like Hughes, who has shown promise in his career and has yet to turn 28. We know Hughes will be better away from Yankee Stadium, but it's hard to say how much better, as he's an extreme flyball pitcher no matter where he goes.
Hughes had a serious bout of shoulder inflammation in a lost 2011 season, but he's otherwise shown good health even if he's not an innings guy. Left alone to take his turn every fifth day in a smaller market, with the security of the first multiyear deal of his career, it's feasible that Hughes could put up 180 innings of 4.25 ball. That would be good value for $8MM a season in today's market. I found Hughes' decision to go for a three-year deal coming off a bad season to be an interesting one. Prior to free agency, we've seen more and more young players choose multiyear security over maximizing their dollars going year to year. I'm guessing Hughes would have signed one of those types of arbitration-year extensions after 2010 had he been with a more willing team. Some pitchers will bet on their talent with a straight one-year deal and get right back out on the market, accepting the added pressure of having free agency looming again. Others, like Francisco Liriano last offseason, hedge their bets with a two-year deal. Hughes went for the comfort of three years, made possible in part by his youth compared to the typical free agent.
Scott Kazmir is an example of a pitcher who hedged his bet, by signing a two-year, $22MM deal with the Athletics. It seems likely that one year at $12-13MM was available to him. But as someone who hadn't had big league success since 2008 prior to 2013, it would have been very difficult for Kazmir to eschew multiple years in an attempt to maximize his career earnings. As it stands, Kazmir did much better than the two-year, $16MM contract I guessed in September. As a relatively young southpaw who returned to throwing hard and missing bats this year, Kazmir was a free agent you could dream on. And teams love to dream in free agency, where in a limited market certain players start looking better and better. Only in free agency can a team wipe out three or four years of data suggesting Kazmir was no longer an MLB-caliber pitcher, pointing only to his last 158 innings to project what he'll do in the next few seasons. Kazmir still seems like a wild card for 2014-15, but $22MM is not a huge commitment for an MLB team these days.
As many of the same teams appear to be in on both A.J. Pierzynski and Jarrod Saltalamacchia, and several signings having left these two at the top of this year's remaining free agent catching crop, let's look at a few notes on the two backstops:
- The Twins are no longer pursuing Pierzynski, a major league official told Mike Berardino of the St. Paul Pioneer Press (Twitter link). Minnesota has been heavily rumored to be chasing a veteran backstop after deciding to shift Joe Mauer to first. Recently, we had heard that the Twins were "making progress" on bringing Pierzynski back to Minnesota, but that appears no longer to be the case.
- Minnesota has also been rumored to be looking at Saltalamacchia, and Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald reports that they are still in the mix. The other two front-runners for Salty are the Marlins and Red Sox, according to Jackson.
- Indeed, Miami recently made an offer to Saltalamacchia, reports Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports (via Twitter). The terms of the offer are not known. As Rosenthal notes, Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com previously reported that the Red Sox offered Saltalamacchia a two-year deal to return to Boston.
The Twins agreed to the largest free agent contract in franchise history last week, inking Ricky Nolasco to a four-year, $49MM deal with a fifth-year vesting option. Nolasco, 31 in December, projects as the team's Opening Day starter in 2014. What did the Twins get for their investment?
FanGraphs' standard wins above replacement metric is not a great one to use for Nolasco. By FanGraphs WAR, Nolasco has been solid over the last three years, accumulating about 2.9 per year. FanGraphs WAR, however, uses Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP), and Nolasco is notorious for posting an ERA above his FIP. He's done so in every season since 2009. In those five seasons, his ERA has been more than half a run higher than his FIP every time except for 2013.
The important questions for the Twins are why Nolasco's ERA has been consistently higher than his strikeout, walk, and home run rates suggest, and if that will remain the case over most of the next four years. From 2009-13, the typical NL starter has stranded around 72% of his baserunners. Nolasco's strand rate in that time is a bit shy of 68%, worst in MLB among those with at least 700 innings. Perhaps that's unfair, as it's roping in some really low strand rates from 2009 and '11. If we look at just 2012-13, Nolasco is at 70.1%, 16th worst in MLB among those with 300 innings. Nolasco has a 4.08 ERA in that time, versus a 3.60 FIP. A metric that treats Nolasco as a 3.60 ERA pitcher is overstating his value.
Nolasco's strand rate problems stem from his performance with men on base. His strikeout rate falls below six per nine innings and his walks jump up to around three, even in his successful 2013 campaign. If the Twins don't find a way to address this, they might have a 4.50 ERA pitcher on their hands from the start. FanGraphs has another version of WAR called RA9-WAR, which essentially uses a pitcher's actual runs allowed instead of his FIP. That metric suggests Nolasco was a two-win pitcher in 2013, his best season in years. If Nolasco begins at two wins, this contract is not good value even if a win on the 2013-14 free agent market costs $6.2MM. I'm not comfortable valuing a pitcher based on ERA or FIP, however. The valuation changes drastically if we split the difference and project Nolasco as a 2.5 win pitcher in 2014. In that case, I think this can be an even money deal, though I don't have a lot of confidence in predicting the annual inflation of the free agent market.
Nolasco's contract clearly resembles Edwin Jackson's four-year, $52MM deal from the Cubs last winter. Jackson pitched the first year of his deal at age 29 as opposed to 31 for Nolasco. While Jackson got about 6% more than Nolasco in guaranteed money, Nolasco's 2018 vesting option adds value even if he's a long shot to trigger it. Another similarity is that the Cubs did not seem primed for contention in the first year of Jackson's deal, nor will the Twins be picked as division favorites for 2014. Labeling certain teams non-contenders prior to the season often proves wrong, to be fair. Nolasco must be viewed as a win-now signing for the Twins, since he'll likely provide the most return in the first few years of the deal. A few weeks ago, Cubs president Theo Epstein said of the Jackson signing, "Given the situation, I think we could have been more patient." The same may prove true of the Twins and Nolasco.
2013 was Nolasco's first season with a sub-4.00 ERA since '08, and the timing was excellent for the pitcher and agent Matt Sosnick. The early July trade to the Dodgers was a big boost to Nolasco's value, removing the possibility of draft pick compensation and giving him a bigger spotlight. For the Twins, the Nolasco contract has little upside, and represented the market price for mid-to-back rotation innings.
Several teams have now called on free agent pitcher Bronson Arroyo, but none of them have made an offer yet, tweets Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe. The Mets may or may not have plans to meet with the veteran, depending on who you ask. The Giants could be interested as well, even after re-signing Ryan Vogelsong to a one-year deal. Here's more from around baseball..
- The Mariners are hesitant to deal their young arms and they prefer to upgrade their offense with free agent bats, according to Bob Dutton of the Kansas City Star (via Twitter).
- Despite agreements with Phil Hughes and Ricky Nolasco, the Twins could still add one more veteran to their rotation, tweets Jon Paul Morosi of FOX Sports. Prospects Alex Meyer and Trevor May are still in the minors and Minnesota is looking to keep up with the arms of the Royals and Tigers (link).
- The Indians' outfield has gotten a little more crowded, but the club is still expected to tender a contract to Drew Stubbs, writes MLB.com's Jordan Bastian.
The Twins are "making progress" in their push to reunite with catcher A.J. Pierzynski, LaVelle E. Neal III of the Star Tribune reports, citing an anonymous source. Neal reported the news in his article on the Twins' three-year, $24MM deal agreement with Phil Hughes.
Pierzynski hit .272/.297/.425 in 2013 with the Rangers, a line that featured his typical solid power but a career-low in OBP. The Twins, however, are said to value the catcher for his winning background and the edge he'd bring to a team that has lost an average of 97 games over the past three seasons. Perzynski's also durable, appearing in at least 128 games every year since 2002.
In the same article, Neal relates that the Twins may also try to re-sign Mike Pelfrey, who struggled to the tune of a 5.19 ERA in 152 2/3 innings in 2013 in his first campaign after Tommy John surgery. The club reportedly offered a two-year deal in the $10MM range to the 29-year-old righty, who's previously indicated interest in re-upping with Minnesota, though Neal says it's not clear if that deal is still on offer.
9:14pm: A source tells Newsday's David Lennon (via Twitter) that the Mets do not have plans to meet with Arroyo. The Mets appear to be "on the fence" about the durable starter, Lennon says.
4:22pm: Mets GM Sandy Alderson will meet with free-agent starting pitcher Bronson Arroyo in Florida this week, ESPN New York's Adam Rubin reports. Arroyo reportedly wants a three-year deal, but might ultimately settle for two years and a vesting option, a source tells Rubin. Earlier in the offseason, Alderson met with shortstop Jhonny Peralta and outfielder Chris Young. Peralta ended up signing with the Cardinals, but the Mets landed Young on a one-year deal.
Earlier this week, Chris Cotillo of MLB Daily Dish reported that the Mets were in hot pursuit of Arroyo. The Twins also remain heavily interested, even after reaching a four-year agreement with Ricky Nolasco, and the Angels might also be a possibility. Arroyo, who in 2013 pitched at least 199 innings for the ninth consecutive season, should be able to help stabilize some team's shaky rotation.
The Royals are very interested in Carlos Beltran, but the Yankees remain the favorites to sign him, Joel Sherman of the New York Post reports. "I think at this point it would be an upset if he didn’t end up there," one executive tells Sherman. The Yankees have thus far been unwilling to give Beltran a three-year deal, but they could eventually land him by giving him three years or by paying heavily for two. Regardless of the Yankees' current issues, the perception of the Yanks as a winning organization matters to Beltran, even though they won fewer games than Kansas City did last year. Here are more notes from around the Majors.
- Sherman writes that the Mets are no longer interested in free agent shortstop Rafael Furcal, who missed last season with Tommy John surgery, because of concerns about his health. The Mets are looking for an upgrade over Ruben Tejada at shortstop.
- Furcal himself says that the Mets, Red Sox, Marlins, Pirates, Nationals, Rockies and other teams have shown interest in him, reports Enrique Rojas of ESPNDeportes.com (link in Spanish).
- After failing to find common ground on a contract extension, the Padres would listen to offers for Chase Headley, Sherman reports. The question is how he should be valued -- Headley hit .286/.376/.498 in a terrific 2012 season, then came back to earth with a .250/.347/.400 season in 2013.
- Even after landing Ricky Nolasco, the Twins will continue to strongly pursue free agents and trade possibilities, Darren Wolfson of 1500ESPN tweets. The Twins have been connected to any number of starting pitchers, including Bronson Arroyo, Phil Hughes and trade targets Homer Bailey and Jeremy Hellickson. They've also been tied to catchers like Jarrod Saltalamacchia and A.J. Pierzynski.
- The Twins aren't the only suitors for Hughes, tweets Mike Berardino of the St. Paul Pioneer Press. The Royals are also making "a strong push" for the former Yankees righty. Hughes is expected to receive a two-year deal, with the Mariners and Angels potentially being involved along with the Royals and Twins. Berardino also points out that Hughes' agent, Nez Balelo of CAA Sports, also represents Jason Vargas, who recently signed a four-year deal with Kansas City.
- The Royals need a second baseman, and a team official recently told the Kansas City Star's Bob Dutton that the Royals think Mark Ellis "has something left" (via Twitter). Ellis, 36, hit just .270/.323/.351 last season with the Dodgers, but he's a consistently-above-average defensive player.
- Carlos Santana of the Indians would like to play in the field more, but the Indians already have good options at catcher in Yan Gomes and at first base in Nick Swisher. Instead, then, Santana would like to try third base, and Terry Pluto of the Cleveland Plain Dealer writes that the Indians are interested in the possibility, in part because Santana is taking initiative rather than complaining. (He's working out at third at the Indians' Dominican facility.) Whether Santana can field at third base is an open question -- he hasn't played more than a handful of games at the position since 2006, when he was in the Dodgers' minor-league system. If the Indians have any confidence he can play there, though, they might be less inclined to pursue a righty-hitting third-base type this offseason. Lefty-hitting Lonnie Chisenhall, who struggled last season, currently sits atop the Indians' depth chart at third.
Last night, the Twins inked Ricky Nolasco to a four-year, $49MM deal after weeks of being linked to the free agent hurler. The pact eclipses Josh Willingham's three-year, $21MM contract, the Twins' previous record contract for a free agent. Here's the latest reactions and fallout to Nolasco's deal..
- Ben Nicholson-Smith of Sportsnet breaks down the Nolasco signing and what it means for the Twins. Nolasco may not be a true ace, but he does project as Minnesota's top starter. The price tag (and years) may have surprised some, but ultimately, Minnesota addressed their biggest need.
- The Twins are still in on other starting pitchers, tweets LaVelle E. Neal III of the Star Tribune. It'll be interesting to see what Minnesota's next move will be, because one in not going to cut it in Neal's opinion.
- A source close to a couple free agent pitchers, including Matt Garza, doesn't think that the Twins are done with bolstering the rotation, tweets Darren Wolfson of 1500 ESPN. The Twins still have the money to make that happen.
- Mike Berardino of the Pioneer Press (on Twitter) spoke with Willingham, Nolasco's teammate of three years. The outfielder is happy to be reunited with the hurler, but he didn't give him a recruiting pitch before he signed.
4:20pm: Saltalamacchia is not close with the Twins, an industry source tells Ben Nicholson-Smith of Sportsnet.ca (Twitter link).
3:53pm: The Twins are on the verge of finalizing a major free agent signing, a source from a rival team tells MLBTR's Tim Dierkes (Twitter link).
The player is unclear at this time, but as Tim points out in a second tweet, recent reports have connected the Twins to the likes of Matt Garza, Bronson Arroyo, Ricky Nolasco and Jarrod Saltalamacchia. A contract for any of those three would figure to easily surpass the Twins' franchise-record free agent signing, which is currently just $21MM over three years to Josh Willingham.