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Ricky Nolasco Rumors
Twins GM Terry Ryan announced today that starter Ricky Nolasco will undergo surgery on his right ankle, as MLB.com’s Rhett Bollinger was among those to report. Nolasco has missed the last five weeks with an ankle impingement, and had been attempting to avoid a procedure.
While Nolasco’s timeline remains unclear, Darren Wolfson of 1500 ESPN tweets that a six-to-eight week absence seems to be the best-case scenario. It’s not clear whether that estimate would include the necessary rehab period, but regardless, it seems that Nolasco won’t have much of an impact until the tail end of the year — if at all.
That’s obviously disappointing news for a Minnesota club that was expecting to get steady, if unspectacular, production out of Nolasco when they signed him to a four-year, $49MM deal before the 2014 campaign. Now 32, Nolasco has contributed 191 2/3 innings of 5.40 ERA pitching to the organization.
The Twins have lagged a bit over the last several weeks since peaking at 11 games over .500, but are very much still in the postseason picture as the trade deadline nears. Particularly with Nolasco down, the rotation contains some questions. Mike Pelfrey has faded of late, while hurlers such as Kyle Gibson and Tommy Milone have outperformed their peripherals by notable margins.
While there surely is some impetus for an addition, the club did just plug Ervin Santana back into the staff. The veteran returned from his PED suspension yesterday and turned in quite a strong outing.
In an effort to salvage some production from what would otherwise be a season lost to hip surgery, the Reds will try to work out injured catcher Devin Mesoraco in the outfield, reports C. Trent Rosecrans of the Cincinnati Enquirer. Manager Bryan Price said that the move is not a permanent one, and he’s been assured that the risks of delaying what appears to be inevitable surgery to relieve an impingement in Mesoraco’s hip are not significant. According to Price, doctors have said the Mesoraco can undergo the surgery this offseason and still expect to be ready for Opening Day 2016. “He’s on board,” said Price of Mesoraco. “He’s a huge part of it and I do believe that he’s seen a guy in New York as well that did a followup on his MRI results and test results. So we’re trying to make sure all the bases are covered that if we’re going to do something like this, that we’re doing it with enough time to make sure he’s ready to go on Opening Day 2016 behind the plate.” Price added that Mesoraco will not return to the club as only a pinch-hitter, so if he’s unable to work in the outfield, the timetable for surgery could be accelerated.
Here’s more from baseball’s Central divisions…
- Minor surgery on the ailing right ankle of Twins right-hander Ricky Nolasco cannot be ruled out, writes Mike Berardino of the St. Paul Pioneer Press. Nolasco underwent three-plus days of “aggressive” treatment on the injured joint, but Thursday’s bullpen session had to be cut short after eight to 10 pitches. Nolasco, who has been placed on the disabled list, told reporters: “It was still killing me. I can’t risk throwing with no lower body. I just got my elbow right for the first time in a long time. I can’t go out there and risk blowing that out or something.” Clearly, the four-year, $49MM contract given to Nolasco has not paid dividends for the Twins so far, but his work after apparently getting his elbow on track was encouraging. In 29 2/3 innings between his DL stints, Nolasco pitched to a 4.25 ERA with a 26-to-6 K/BB ratio. His ERA likely would’ve been lower had he not been plagued by a bloated .385 BABIP in that time.
- The Indians have four of the rarest and most valuable commodities in baseball, writes Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports. In Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, Danny Salazar and Trevor Bauer, Cleveland has four young, controllable, hard-throwing strikeout pitchers that can be built around for the foreseeable future. Passan’s article is a fascinating piece that examines Cleveland’s use of weighted-ball programs throughout the organization as one of multiple different ways to develop pitching. Bauer spoke to Passan about how exciting it is to be with an organization that is dedicated to and open-minded about finding new ways to develop pitching. “They actually believe you can develop players and that they don’t just develop by pitching in games and getting more reps,” said Bauer. “You can actually increase the development process. They’re always open and looking for new strategies, differing technologies, instead of shunning new ideas because that’s not how they did it 20 years ago.”
- Ryan Braun is away from the Brewers to undergo a second cryotherapy session on his right thumb, writes Todd Rosiak of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. Braun first experimented with this treatment, which uses a needle to introduce sub-zero temperatures to a troublesome nerve in the digit, last October, and he feels it helps get his hand back to 100 percent, per manager Craig Counsell. “And if we can keep him at close to 100 percent then we get the great Ryan Braun for 150 games,” said Counsell. “It apparently has a shelf life, I guess you could say, and we’re kind of getting up on that shelf life.” Brewers head athletic trainer Dan Wright says that the procedure will be effective for three to four months, but Braun may have to continue to go in for these sessions for the rest of his career, so long as it remains effective. Braun is expected to rejoin the team during its weekend series with the Twins.
Following yesterday’s MRI, the Twins will place right-hander Ricky Nolasco on the disabled list and recall prospect Trevor May to join the rotation, reports Mike Berardino of the St. Paul Pioneer Press. After signing a four-year, $49MM contract in the 2013-14 offseason, Nolasco’s first season was marred by an elbow injury that limited his time on the field and led to an ERA well north of 5.00. He improved upon returning from the DL, so both he and the team hoped to leave last season’s struggles in the past. Unfortunately, his elbow flared up again in an ugly first start, leading to the forthcoming decision to officially place him back on the DL. May, ranked as one of Minnesota’s best prospects by Baseball America (No. 9), MLB.com (No. 11) and Fangraphs (No. 9), notched an excellent 2.85 ERA with 8.6 K/9 and 3.6 BB/9 in 98 Triple-A innings last year. He was hit hard in his first taste of MLB action, registering a ghastly 7.88 ERA, but a sky-high .377 BABIP contributed heavily to those troubles. One would think that this could be an opportunity for May to seize a rotation spot for the long run if he performs well out of the gate.
Here’s more from the AL Central…
- The Indians announced today that they’ve purchased the contract of first baseman/outfielder Jerry Sands, optioned Austin Adams to the Minors and transferred Josh Tomlin to the 60-day DL. The addition of Sands may not be a long-term maneuver, however, as MLB.com’s Jordan Bastian tweets that Sands will serve as outfield insurance while Michael Brantley deals with a back issue. (Brantley is in the lineup for today’s home opener, though.)
- In a Royals mailbag, Andy McCullough of the Kansas City Star notes that while the team’s bullpen is excellent, its composition isn’t exactly ideal. The only Royals relievers with options remaining are Greg Holland, Wade Davis and Kelvin Herrera. The Royals lack the flexibility to option a lesser reliever to the Minors without first exposing them to waivers, thereby eliminating the possibility of making roster moves to bring in a fresh arm when necessary. McCullough opines, though, that a trade won’t be necessary upon Luke Hochevar‘s activation from the disabled list. McCullough also handicaps future rotation options and discusses Mike Moustakas‘ outlook in the piece.
- Joakim Soria is better equipped to be the Tigers‘ closer than Joe Nathan, writes MLive.com’s James Schmehl, and while Soria will indeed own the ninth inning while Nathan is on the disabled list, that transition in no way fixes the Detroit ‘pen, he opines. The Tigers lack a reliable option to step into the eighth inning on a consistent basis, and the move of Soria to the ninth inning only further exemplifies what a thin relief corps Detroit has on its hands. Manager Brad Ausmus called the bullpen “a little bit of a concern” but said he only expects Nathan to be sidelined for a few weeks. All this said, I doubt there’d be much surprise around the game if the Tigers were yet again seeking bullpen help on the trade market this season.
The opening series between the Tigers and Twins could hardly have been more lopsided, as Detroit finished off a three-game sweep with a 7-1 victory today. The only bright spot for the Twins was that they finally scored a run, after losing the first two games by a combined 15-0 score. Minnesota will have to turn things around to avoid getting into an early-season hole, as 23 of the Twins’ first 26 games are against division rivals. Let’s look at some AL Central news…
- Ricky Nolasco left the team on Thursday to return to Minneapolis and undergo an MRI on his right elbow. Twins skipper Paul Molitor told reporters (including Mike Berardino of the St. Paul Pioneer Press) that Nolasco “felt a little bit of a spike” in his elbow during Wednesday’s start, though it’s too early to tell if this injury is related to the flexor strain that sent Nolasco to the DL last season.
- In other injury news, Indians righty Josh Tomlin underwent shoulder surgery yesterday. The procedure will sideline Tomlin for approximately 3-4 months.
- The hiring of Terry Francona after the 2012 season has brought some much-needed stability to the Indians franchise, Terry Pluto of the Cleveland Plain Dealer writes. Not only has the Tribe improved on the field and locked up several young stars to long-term extensions, they’ve also looked to improve the fan experience (and improve attendance) at Progressive Field by upgrading the ballpark’s amenities.
- While recovering from his second Tommy John surgery, right-hander Kris Medlen “was intent on finding a team with a strong rehab staff and the patience not to rush him,” ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick writes. Medlen found a two-year deal with a mutual option from the Royals, and he’s received some advice regarding how hip weakness could be impacting his delivery. Crasnick’s piece includes several insightful comments from Medlen and his former Braves teammate Brandon Beachy (now a Dodger and also trying to recover from his second TJ operation) about their rehab process and some of the public misconceptions about Tommy John surgery as the procedure becomes more commonplace. For instance, Medlen and Beachy feel that 12 months is too short a realistic recovery time for Tommy John patients, and 16-20 months is a more reasonable estimate to return to full strength.
The Royals have yet to begin extension talks with manager Ned Yost, Andy McCullough of the Kansas City Star reports. “There’s a progression in the offseason. There’s a sequential way we’re doing things. Right now, we’re focused on other things,” GM Dayton Moore said, in reference to the team’s roster. Whenever negotiations take place, there’s no doubt Yost will eventually get a fresh new contract from the team in the wake of the Royals’ unexpected postseason performance. Here’s the latest from the AL Central…
- Also from McCullough (Twitter links), a group of Royals officials are en route from the GM Meetings to organizational meetings in the Dominican Republic where they could watch Yasmany Tomas work out. The Royals are a recently new addition to the list of teams interested in Tomas, though McCullough says K.C. has “scouted Tomas extensively, but quietly, leading up to this winter.”
- White Sox GM Rick Hahn will listen to other teams’ offers for Alexei Ramirez as he would for any player, though Hahn tells reporters (including Colleen Kane of the Chicago Tribune) that the Sox aren’t looking to trade their shortstop. “Being strong up the middle is the priority for any good club, and we don’t intend to take a step back there,” Hahn said. “We’re open-minded and we have depth in the area, so it’s reasonable to hear his name out there. I get that, but it’s certainly not something we’re pursuing on our end or are eager to convert on.”
- The Tigers have been talking to Joel Hanrahan about a minor league contract, ESPN’s Buster Olney reports (via Twitter). Hanrahan signed a one-year, $1MM Major League deal with Detroit in May but didn’t pitch at all last season as he suffered a setback in his recovery from May 2013 Tommy John surgery.
- Scott Bream is staying in his current position as the Tigers director of pro scouting, Turner Sports’ Scott Miller tweets. The Dodgers had reportedly been on the verge of hiring Bream to join their front office.
- Twins righty Ricky Nolasco‘s three-team no-trade clause has been updated for this offseason, Mike Berardino of the St. Paul Pioneer Press reports (Twitter link). All three teams are “big-market” AL clubs, so Berardino speculates that the Yankees and Red Sox are included.
- The Twins have hired Gene Glynn as their third base coach, USA Today’s Bob Nightengale reports (Twitter link).
- The Indians could look for small upgrades rather than a big splash in free agency, GM Chris Antonetti told reporters (including MLB.com’s Mark Bowman). “I think what we would look for from the free-agent market is something to complement our roster,” Antonetti said. “I don’t think we are going to be in the free-agent market to add a cornerstone player.”
It is not often that things line up quite so cleanly as this, but after a roller-coaster offseason, three of the market's top starters all landed quite similar overall guarantees. It would be too much, perhaps, to argue that the market valued them identically; after all, each signed at different points in an always-changing market, agreed to various terms that impact the overall value of their contracts, and had differing situations with regard to qualifying offers. Nevertheless, it seems fair to suggest that Ricky Nolasco, Matt Garza, and Ubaldo Jimenez were each valued in rough proportion to one another.
Yet each pitcher brings a very different set of risks and benefits to their new deals. (Player name links are to MLBTR's Free Agent profile series; deal links are to reported signing, which includes contract details.)
Ricky Nolasco (age 31; received four years, $49MM from Twins) — Nolasco is durable and solid, having made at least 31 starts in each of the last three regular seasons while consistently maintaining a walk rate hovering just above 2.0 BB/9. While his overall results have been less than stellar, Nolasco has tended to post much better ratings by advanced metrics than ERA, and finally saw the results to match last year. Has he been unlucky, or does he just give up a lot of solid contact? Either way, Minnesota has put its money into a pitcher who has about as good a record of durability as could be hoped.
RISK: disconnect between advanced metrics and results
Matt Garza (age 30; received four years, $50MM from Brewers) — Garza has been consistently above-average … when healthy. Striking out batters consistenly in the range of about eight per nine, and holding down walks to less than three per nine since maturing as a pitcher, Garza's results are hard to argue with. (He has not ended a season with an ERA above 4.00 since his rookie year.) But a string of injuries held him to 103 2/3 innings in 2012 and 155 1/3 in 2012. If healthy, there is every reason to believe that Garza will continue to be an excellent (albeit not dominant) starter, but therein lies the rub.
BENEFIT: reliably above-average performance
Ubaldo Jimenez (age 30; received four years, $50MM from Orioles) — Unlike either of the previous two hurlers, Jimenez has at times been amongst the most dominant starters in the game. He has been an unquestioned ace over complete seasons (earlier in his career, with Colorado) and parts of seasons (the second half of last year, with Cleveland). In between, however, Jimenez has posted some genuinely unsightly stat lines. While his 2011 campaign may have taken a downturn due to some bad luck, he was terrible in most respects over the entirety of 2012, as he lost both his control and his ability to register strikeouts. Like Nolasco, Jimenez has been supremely durable. But if his new club can count on at least 180 innings, of what quality will they be? Jimenez showed flashes of both good and bad last year, and it remains to be seen which side defines his tenure in Baltimore. [Note: Orioles also gave up a first-round draft choice to sign Jimenez.]
BENEFIT: durability, upside
So, MLBTR readers: putting aside the particulars of their new teams' situations, which of these three similarly-priced investments do you think was money best spent?
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 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.
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.
Other than Alex Rodriguez's legal matters, nothing has been handled worse this offseason than Robinson Cano's contract negotiations, opines Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe. The switch from Scott Boras to Jay-Z doesn't look like it's panning out and the $310MM figure that was floated out has done him a world of harm. In Cafardo's view, Yankees fans should be excited about the $85MM contract given to Brian McCann because it means that less money is available to spend on Cano. More from today's column..
- Jarrod Saltalamacchia is still very much on the Twins’ radar as they try to replace Joe Mauer after his move to first base. Now positioned as the best available catcher, Salty could get a three-year deal in the $30MM range. The teams who like the 28-year-old feel his throwing, right-handed hitting, and hitting approach have improved.
- Teams like the Twins and Blue Jays are circling Ricky Nolasco, but nobody has been able to seal a deal. However, Cafardo notes that the free agent pitching market has yet to fully develop as teams are trying to get help via trades. The Red Sox, for example, have received several inquiries about their starting pitchers.
- One talent evaluator says that he' would be cautious about signing switch-hitting catcher Dioner Navarro. “He’s great on a one-year or shorter-term deal. Problems are his weight, his work ethic, and flexibility behind the plate, so it gets a little scary on a multi-year deal. He can flat-out hit, so if you have the catch/throw guy, he’s not a bad complement to that,” he said.
- The Angels could still be a strong trade partner with the Red Sox even after the Peter Bourjos–David Freese deal. The Sox have an interest in first baseman Mike Trumbo and could be tempted on power reliever Kevin Jepsen while the Halos are in need of a starting pitcher.