Employment is not difficult to find if you are a moderately successfully and young starting pitcher in major league baseball. As an example, Ricky Nolasco has several four-year offers in discussion and, as Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal pointed out this morning, the Twins are making a strong push for his services.
In conversation with his agent Matt Sosnick last week, Nolasco is seeking a five-year deal. While multiple teams are levying the four-year offers, it may be the team who submits a fifth year options that lands the free agent.
“I look at options more about breaking a stalemate at the end of negotiation,” Sosnick said. “We’re talking to a lot of teams and we’re hoping to get five years on Nolasco. We’re talking with a lot of teams about deal in the four-year range and what ends up happening is that if no one is willing to go to five year, people will use a club option for a fifth year.”
The option year, Sosnick said, basically gives the pitcher some extra money in the form of a buyout but also provides the team an option to retain that pitcher’s services if they so desire. Based on the reports that the Twins are making the “strong push” for Nolasco, it would be reasonable to assume the two sides are looking at the four-year plus option deal.
Nolasco, who will be 31 in 2014, has been decisively average over his career but is coming off perhaps his best season since his age-25 season in 2008.
Over his career, Nolasco’s actual numbers have performed worse than his projected numbers. His career ERA of 4.37 is significantly higher than what his 3.75 expected Fielding Independent rates would suggest. While his peripherals have been strong, his ability to strand runners once they reach base has been sub-par: His 69.2% left-on-base rate has been the sixth-lowest among starters since 2010 (minimum 500 innings pitched). Part of the reason behind this is that, with runners on, Nolasco has a .288 average against (10th highest) in that time.
To his credit, Nolasco’s seen a steady decline in his home run rate in each of the past three years, resulting in a career-low of 0.77 HR/9 this last season. One of his biggest changes in 2013 that may have played a role in this decrease was going inside with his fastball more.
In general Nolasco eschews the fastball (just 47% vs 50% league average frequency) for his secondary offerings, namely his slider. The slider has been a very good pitch for him despite somescouts suggesting it has not been as sharp as it had been earlier in his career. This past season, he was able to incite more swing-and-misses on it but, judging by the drop in chases out of the zone, does not have the same bite it once did.
Durability-wise, he is almost as stalwart as they come. Dating back to 2008, Nolasco has accumulated 1,151.1 innings – the 24th most in baseball over that time – and placing him alongside other workhorses. In that stretch, he has no arms issues whatsoever, but a tear in his meniscus took him out from 46 days in 2010.
Naturally, the argument could be made that all of that was before he turned thirty and the mileage compiled early in his career could eventually catch up on the wrong side of 30. As Twins general manager Terry Ryan said of signing thirty-year-old pitchers last month “I’d be very careful. I’d be careful,” he said reflecting on the free agent market, “Because you know what happens with 30-year-olds.”
Ryan’s concern is merited, both because of injury and increasing ineffectiveness. Nolasco’s contract would extend him in Minnesota from his age-31 to age-35 season and while he has not shown any signs of arm problems, there are plenty of examples of breakdown from even the biggest workhorses in the stable. The Twins recently requested Johan Santana’s medical records but Santana, who had been a perennial 200-inning hurler, started to suffer a multitude of ailments which have kept his innings total from his age-32 to age-34 seasons to just 117 innings.
Likewise, effectiveness wanes noticeably too as well as starting pitchers begin approach their mid-life crisis. According to the research produced by Fangraph.com’s Bill Petti and Jeff Zimmerman, a starting pitcher’s skills begin diminishing after the age of thirty and continue to regress from that point forward:
To be clear, this not meant as an indictment of a potential Nolasco signing, simply a warning of the price of doing business in the free agent market. As Ryan mentioned before, his ideal process of team building would be to avoid the aging talent for the younger arms.
“In our position I’d rather go after an Alex Meyer, because we are more than one ace away,” Ryan said recently. “We’ve got a lot of work to do. You give me a No. 1 starting pitcher I’ll take him, but we finished 27 games behind the Tigers.”
Obviously Nolasco does not project as an ‘ace’ or a number one starter (well, outside of the Twins rotation anyways) but he does provide the team with a valuable upgrade that can be filled in around him moving forward. Alex Meyer, who has impressed during his time in Arizona this fall, could develop into the front-of-the-rotation type. With progress, Kyle Gibson has the potential of being a two or three in the rotation. A rotation of Meyer-Gibson-Nolasco plus others in 2015 does not sound too bad.
Like Ryan said, the Twins have work to do and beginning with Nolasco is a decent start.