Trade Target: Ricky Nolasco?


Game 6 of the World Series was delayed by rain yesterday, which means that it will be at least one more day before trade and free agency rumors become a full-time hobby for MLB fans. But there has been plenty of early speculation already. And it’s still the point in the year where even the smallest throwaway comment about a trade is a great source of speculation.

With that in mind, I am going to devote these paragraphs to one name that appeared in the latest “Twins Inbox” feature on the team’s website: Ricky Nolasco. Twins writer Rhett Bollinger mentioned Nolasco along with Wandy Rodriguez and Jonathan Sanchez as a player the Twins could potentially make an offer for.

According to MLB Trade Rumors, the Marlins might be willing to trade Nolasco for a peanuts, as long as the other team is willing to pick up his salary. According to Nolasco‘s Baseball Reference page, he is owed $9 million for 2012 and $11.5 million for 2013. That’s a fairly large salary as far as starting pitchers go, but it should be well within the Twins’ budget, given that they have $30 to $35 million to spend this year. What they don’t have is top-tier prospects to trade, which means it’s crucial that the Marlins’ asking price is not too high. But then again, the Marlins are the same organization that traded Luis Castillo to the Twins for Scott Tyler and Travis Bowyer, so they aren’t always very demanding negotiators.

The real question is: would Nolasco benefit the Twins?

A quick look at his stats is not encouraging. He had an ERA of 4.67 last year. In 2010 it was 4.51, and in 2009 a hideous 5.06. And last year he gave up 244 hits. But the more advanced numbers look nicer. Nolasco‘s FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) has been at or below 3.85 in each of those seasons, which means his ERA is inflated by either shoddy fielding or plain bad luck. He has 7.67 strikeouts per nine innings for his career. That number would be a boost for the Twins, who struck out fewer batters than any other AL team in 2011. Nolasco also had a WAR of 3.5 last year, and he’s averaged just over 3.5 for the last four seasons. That puts him on par with Mark Buehrle (3.4 WAR in 2011) and Edwin Jackson (3.8), who will be two of the most coveted free agents this offseason

Even if you don’t like the sabermetric stats, there are plenty of other numbers to like about Nolasco. He has pitched at least 185 innings in three of the last four seasons, including 206 last year. His durability would be a huge plus to a Twins team that has juggled starting pitchers for several years. And he has double digit wins and at least 147 strikeouts in each of those seasons, including 2008 when he won 15, struck out 185, and had an ERA of 3.52.

Nolasco doesn’t throw very hard – his fastball averaged 90.5 mph last year – but he has a slider, a curveball, and a splitter in his arsenal. The splitter seems to be his most effective pitch. Despite the lack of velocity, Nolasco is definitely not a typical “pitch to contact” guy. His strikeout numbers make him much more than that. But his other strength is the same as the strength of a pitch to contact pitcher: he avoids walks. Nolasco has stayed under 2.0 walks per nine innings in each of the last two seasons.

Overall, it’s hard to say whether Nolasco would be a positive addition to the Twins. On one hand, he gives up a lot of hits and doesn’t have a track record of dominance. But the positives probably outweigh the negatives, and Nolasco could be a diamond in the rough. He’s a pitcher with good “stuff” and the potential to strike out and hold down opposing hitters. If you think that the Twins need a starting pitcher more than anything else, Nolasco could be the guy to fill that role. He certainly is not an ace, but he could be a decent #2 or #3 type starter if things go right. And at age 28, he still has several productive seasons ahead of him.

Is Nolasco worth a prospect or two plus $20 million? Maybe.