Ricky Nolasco Rumors
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.
Now that Tim Hudson has signed with the Giants, executives around baseball think the pitching market will begin to open up, Yahoo Sports' Jeff Passan tweets. One GM predicts Josh Johnson will be the next hurler to sign, and there has been no shortage of interest in the right-hander, as agent Matt Sosnick claimed that he'd spoken to nearly every team about his client. The Rangers and Royals have both been linked to Johnson, and the pitcher himself reached out to the Padres and Giants to express his interest.
Here's the latest about some of the offseason's available starters...
- One team that doesn't appear to be in the mix for Johnson are the Blue Jays, his most recent club. The Jays haven't made any progress with Johnson, MLB.com's Gregor Chisholm reports, and there aren't any signs that they're even continuing negotiations. Johnson was open to returning to Toronto though his contract demands seem to be higher than the Jays are willing to pay.
- Bronson Arroyo listed the Giants, Twins, Phillies, Angels, Dodgers and "maybe" the Orioles as teams he thinks have called to express their interest in his services, the veteran righty said during an interview with Casey Stern and Jim Bowden on MLB Network Radio on SiriusXM. Arroyo discussed what he's looking for in a team and what his contract expectations are during the interview; MLB.com's Mark Sheldon has a partial transcript and an audio link to the full interview.
- The Braves offered Hudson a two-year contract earlier this week but it wasn't enough, David O'Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports. The Braves' previous offer to Hudson was a one-year deal worth less than $9MM (his annual salary in each of the previous four seasons) which clearly wasn't enough with so many other teams in the mix. O'Brien says the Braves could add another veteran to replace Hudson.
- The Athletics were second in the Hudson race behind the Giants, ESPN's Buster Olney reports (Twitter link). That's a bit of a surprise for the low-payroll A's but Hudson would've made sense on a short-term deal, plus he has long-time ties to the franchise.
- If the A's had signed Hudson, they would've ended their pursuit of Bartolo Colon, FOX Sports' Ken Rosenthal reports (Twitter links). Hudson would "probably more trustworthy" an option than Colon in the Oakland rotation, though the A's still have interest in re-signing Colon at a "price they deem reasonable."
- In an interview with Jim Duquette on MLB Network Radio on SiriusXM, Scott Feldman said his agent had heard from "15 teams or so" but "it's been a slow-developing market so far" (Twitter links).
- The Twins still haven't made a formal offer to Ricky Nolasco, 1500 ESPN's Darren Wolfson tweets. This is no change from the last update about Nolasco and the Twins, though the club is definitely interested in the free agent righty.
The Giants' two-year, $23MM deal with Tim Hudson is drawing praise from several pundits. MLBTR's Steve Adams, Fangraphs' Dave Cameron and ESPN's Keith Law all see the contract as a possible steal for the Giants since even coming off a fractured ankle, Hudson doesn't carry as many question marks as other starters who may command much larger deals. Here's some more on the Giants...
- The Giants don't like any of the free agent options to fill their hole in left field and will look to trade for outfield help at the Winter Meetings, CSNBayArea.com's Andrew Baggarly reports. The club could end up settling for a left-handed hitter to platoon with Gregor Blanco in left.
- Also from Baggarly, the Giants have made some progress in talks with Javier Lopez.
- The Giants are still looking for a left fielder and one more starting pitcher, ESPN's Buster Olney reports. Olney guesses that Bronson Arroyo or Ryan Vogelsong could be that pitcher, depending on which contract is the better fit (Twitter links). Vogelsong would obviously come at a much lower price than Arroyo, though if San Francisco could cheaply address their left field situation, I could see them spending extra to acquire Arroyo.
- The Giants checked in on Dan Haren, Hank Schulman of the San Francisco Chronicle reports (Twitter link) but "other teams [were] far more aggressive," according to a source. The Twins and Yankees have been linked to Haren so far this offseason.
- Also from Schulman, it seems as if the Giants aren't going to offer any starter more than three guaranteed years. This could keep them from landing Ricky Nolasco, who is looking for a four-year contract.
SUNDAY, 8:25am: Nolasco to the Padres is "not happening," tweets Corey Brock of MLB.com.
FRIDAY, 8:07pm: Add the Giants to the list of teams tabbed by an unnamed GM as possible suitors for Nolasco, Berardino tweets. Word yesterday was that San Francisco was not terribly motivated to pursue Nolasco since the club wasn't interested in giving him a fourth year.
7:34pm: The club has yet to make a formal offer to Nolasco, tweets ESPN.com's Jerry Crasnick, who says that the Twins are "not as far along with Ricky Nolasco as multiple reports have indicated."
6:35pm: Minnesota is "on [Nolasco] hard," a rival GM tells Mike Berardino of the St. Paul Pioneer Press. Competitors for Nolasco's services include the Padres, that same GM noted.
7:55am: The Twins are making a strong push for Ricky Nolasco, tweets Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports. Yesterday afternoon, it was reported that Nolasco had a pair of four-year offers, although as recently as last night, reports out of the Twin Cities indicated that Minnesota had yet to make an offer.
ESPN's Buster Olney wrote yesterday that the Twins are highly active on the market for pitching this offseason and plan to add at least two solid veteran starters. They've also been one of the most aggressive teams in pursuit of Bronson Arroyo to this point.
Nolasco, 31 in December, finished the season with a 3.70 ERA, 7.5 K/9, 2.1 BB/9 and a 43 percent ground-ball rate in 199 1/3 innings. He's not an ace, but he would be a boost to a Twins rotation that posted the worst ERA (5.26), K/9 (4.9) and innings total (871) in all of Major League Baseball last season. Nolasco comes with the added benefit of having been traded midseason, meaning he was ineligible to receive a qualifying offer and therefore won't cost a draft pick. His agent, Matt Sosnick, recently explained his strong relationship with the Twins and GM Terry Ryan to Parker Hageman of Twins Daily.
Jeff Todd contributed to this post.
Matt Garza is open to a return to the Twins, Darren Wolfson of 1500 ESPN reports. Wolfson offers more on Garza, via Twitter, stating that he hears the Twins are more interested in Garza than Ricky Nolasco, despite earlier reports that the Twins are making a "strong push" for Nolasco.
The Twins met with Garza's agent, Nez Balelo of CAA Sports, at this week's GM Meetings in Orlando, Wolfson writes. However, as of this morning, Minnesota hasn't made a formal offer to any of its free agent targets.
Garza has worn three different uniforms since last donning a Twins jersey in 2007. Minnesota selected him in the first round of the 2005 draft and ultimately traded him to the Rays along with Jason Bartlett in an ill-fated deal that netted Delmon Young and Brendan Harris. It's worth pointing out that current GM Terry Ryan was in the GM's chair when Garza was drafted, but had stepped away from the position when Garza was traded. Bill Smith was the Twins' GM at the time of the Garza trade, but he's since been fired, and Ryan has reprised his role as Twins GM.
Garza turned in his seventh straight season of a sub-4.00 ERA in 2013, hurling 155 1/3 innings of 3.82 ERA ball with 7.9 K/9 and 2.4 BB/9. He opened the season on the disabled list but made all of his starts upon returning. Like Nolasco, he was traded midseason and therefore won't require a draft pick to sign.
Clayton Kershaw told Jim Bowden and Casey Stern on MLB Network Radio on SiriusXM (on Twitter) his contract negotiations with the Dodgers aren't on hold, but they've haven't resumed since the season ended. Kershaw reportedly turned down a $300MM extension offer from the Dodgers earlier this year due to concerns about the length and size of the deal. While it has been assumed that Kershaw will extend his deal with the Dodgers, the baseball world will surely be paying attention to what will likely be the largest contract ever issued to a pitcher.
Here's the latest from both Los Angeles teams...
- "I think, for us, it wouldn't surprise me if we went [through] the winter without a huge move; not that it couldn't happen," Dodgers president Stan Kasten tells MLB.com's Ken Gurnick. "We are looking more at deepening the organization, to fine-tune it and get into the season and see what we need. Having said that, I'm not ruling anything out. But those people who attach us to every free agent out there are making it up." With Kasten prioritizing the Dodgers' farm system, Gurnick finds it unlikely that the club would move what few top prospects it has in a trade for David Price.
- Also from Gurnick, the Dodgers "are kicking the tires" on such free agent pitchers as Ervin Santana, Matt Garza, Hiroki Kuroda, Ubaldo Jimenez, Bartolo Colon and Bronson Arroyo. Given the big salaries some of these pitchers are demanding, you wonder if L.A. would really make a move to sign any given Kasten's earlier comments, though Kuroda, Colon and Arroyo could be had on less expensive, shorter-term deals.
- The Angels aren't one of the teams who have made an offer to Ricky Nolasco, MLB.com's Alden Gonzalez reports (via Twitter). Nolasco is reportedly juggling several three- or four-year contracts offers.
- The rumored discord between Jerry Dipoto and Mike Scioscia could have led to one or both men being fired following the Angels' disappointing season, but Dipoto tells FOX Sports' Jon Paul Morosi and he and the long-time Halos manager have improved their communication and are on the same page.
- From that same piece, Dipoto reiterated that pitching will be the central focus of the Angels' offseason: "Frankly, we’ve been focused on [pitching] for a couple years and it’s eluded us. We plan on putting our resources toward improving those areas. On the field, that’s where our biggest changes are going to come.”
- The Angels' defense took a sharp decline from 2012 to 2013, and ESPN's David Schoenfeld thinks that the club should hold onto Peter Bourjos as a way of improving their fielding. Schoenfeld also suggests signing Jhonny Peralta, trading Mark Trumbo and acquiring Felix Doubront from the Red Sox.
MLBTR's Zach Links contributed to this post