The day before Thanksgiving is usually the busiest bar night of the year. This year, Twins fans had another reason to be out celebrating Wednesday night.
In the wake of a season that was as dismal as the previous two years, the Twins needed to make a splash in the Free Agent market to improve their below average pitching staff. On Wednesday, the team did just that by signing Ricky Nolasco to a 4 yr/$49 million contract, with an option for a 5th year. He has been on the radar for the Twins since the Free Agent market started, and the team ended up pulling through on signing him long term. He may not have been the biggest FA pitcher name available, he is a giant step in the right direction for our struggling starting staff. With his signing on Wednesday, Nolasco has already put his name in the Twins history books for becoming the biggest Free Agent signing in Twins history! WOO!!!
Now, realistically speaking, it did not take much to kick Josh Willingham from that reign, who was signed two offseasons ago to a 3 yr/$21 million. Looking ahead after the signing of Nolasco, the Twins payroll is only at $72 million if the season were to start today. This means there is still plenty of room for the Twins to go out and sign another pitcher or two before the winter meetings even take place. I know it may sound extremely optimistic, but the Twins knew they needed to take a different approach this offseason and land some big name Free Agents, and they did just that by signing Nolasco. Enough about the payroll, Twins history, and Thanksgiving, as it is making me hungry. Let’s talk about Ricky, himself.
Nolasco will turn 31 this offseason while coming off one of his best seasons in his 8 year career. He was drafted by the Chicago Cubs back in 2001 right out of high school, but never made a professional appearance with them. He got as high as the AAA system with the Cubs before being dealt in a deal to the Marlins in 2005. He made the opening day roster in 2006 and has logged over 140 innings in every season but one, 2007. He is 89-75 in his career with a 4.37 ERA while averaging around 166 strikeouts per season. His numbers may not be extremely flashy, but he’s consistent and logs innings every season and will hopefully continue that trend in 2014 as a Minnesota Twin.
We may not be getting an ace pitcher in Nolasco, but what we are getting is a starting pitcher that is, without question, an improvement to our starting staff. Just look at what he did last year, 13-11 with a 3.70 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, and 165 Ks in 199.1 innings. Think about that for a while if you can, and imagine if you can think of the leader in any of those categories for the Twins staff last year. Did a single starter have any stat better than those? The answer…no. Not one. He would have led the team in Wins, ERA, Innings Pitched, Strikeouts, and WHIP. Oh, and would have had fewer losses than our “best” starter, Kevin Correia, who had 13. It goes to show the difference in what our starting staff was throwing out there on a given day and what the LA Dodgers were throwing out there with Nolasco as their 5th starter.
In my opinion, this signing is exactly what the Twins needed to do and who they needed to sign to get their feet wet in the Free Agent market. It gives us a reason to have hope they will continue to make moves to strengthen our weak, pitiful staff we sent out there to the rubber for far too many games last season. As we cross off one pitcher off of our Christmas Free Agent Wish List, maybe we will see another one checked off in the coming days or weeks.
Regardless, Happy Thanksgiving to you all! I know one more person I will be giving thanks for this holiday season at the dinner table, and his name just happens to be Ricky Nolasco.