The Minnesota Twins Should Target Ricky Nolasco in Free Agency

Nolasco Comes With a Reasonable Price Tag, Will Eat Up Innings, and Has Ties to Ace Pitcher Josh Johnson

Yahoo Contributor Network

COMMENTARY | According to Darren Wolfson of ESPN1500 (via Brandon Warne), the Minnesota Twins are targeting three pitchers in free agency: right-handers Ubaldo Jimenez and Ricky Nolasco, and lefty Jason Vargas.

Nolasco is the guy they need to land.

Jimenez probably has the most upside. He was a star in the Colorado Rockies' rotation and was so desired by the Cleveland Indians that the Tribe gave up four players to get him in 2011. The trade did not work out for Cleveland, however, not so much because of what they gave up -- Drew Pomeranz and Alex White, the two biggest prospects they traded to Colorado, have been mediocre major leaguers -- but because Jimenez was not an anchor in the rotation.

Jimenez posted a sub-100 ERA+, which is adjusted to the player's ballpark, for the rest of 2011 and in the 2012 season. When he hit former teammate Troy Tulowitzki with a pitch in the elbow in April of 2012, he appeared bitter that Tulowitzki got a lucrative contract extension while he did not. Sadly, and perhaps more pertinently, the Rockies looked justified in their decision at that point.

Jimenez bounced back in 2013, posting a 114 ERA+, while improving his record from 9-17 to 13-9. His numbers weren't anywhere near as close as the 161 ERA+ he had in 2010 or even the 136 ERA+ he put up the year before. ESPN's David Schoenfield tracked Jimenez's rise and fall more in-depth in his SweetSpot blog, but the skinny is that Jimenez has not been the same player he once was since leaving Colorado.

While the Twins need an ace and might be willing to gamble, they do not need any more uncertainty in the rotation. Scott Diamond was great two years ago but was sent to the minors in 2013; catchers don't even know where Sam Deduno's funky fastball is going; and there is a question as to how well Kyle Gibson will play after an inconsistent rookie debut.

Jason Vargas, on the other hand, does not seem to have any more upside than anyone else on the current staff. If Minnesota was aiming to fill out a rotation by adding a fourth or fifth starter, Vargas would be its guy, but it's hard to see a guy that tops out in the high-80s be an ace of any rotation. They already have a pitcher like Vargas -- Andrew Albers -- and the Canadian sensation is both left-handed and younger than him.

Ricky Nolasco will be the same age as Vargas on opening day, 31, and does not have the stuff or possess the upside of Jimenez, but he does come with a couple perks.

First of all, he split last season between the Miami Marlins and the Los Angeles Dodgers, so he is ineligible for a qualifying offer. That means that Minnesota won't have to give up a draft pick to get him.

Secondly, Nolasco has consistently posted a strong strikeout-to-walk ratio, usually throws around 200 innings a year, and does not come with a high price tag. While the Twins probably won't be adding an ace, they will get a guy that won't cause a game to spin out of control in the third inning and can feel comfortable that they'll get good value for him.

Finally, Nolasco's agent is Scott Sosnick, who negotiated deals for Josh Willingham and Ryan Doumit when they came to the Twin Cities. He also represents Josh Johnson.

Johnson is a 6-7, 250-pound righty that played with Nolasco in Southern Florida and was packaged with Jose Reyes and Mark Buehrle as part of that blockbuster trade between the Marlins and the Toronto Blue Jays in November of 2012. Johnson, 29, is in the prime of his career, is ace material, and -- wait for it -- was born in Minneapolis.

Landing Johnson would be a pipe dream of sorts. Not only would he fill a much-needed spot in the rotation, but getting him and Nolasco in a sort of "two-for-one signing" would also fill out the rotation. Johnson would be the ace, Gibson the No. 2, Diamond can probably handle being a No. 3 and Nolasco and Kevin Correia would chew through innings. Albers and Deduno, who are kind of wild cards, could do spot starts and earn their way into the rotation with consistency.

On top of that, three of the team's biggest names would have ties to the Twin Cities: Joe Mauer (St. Paul), the preeminent hitter; Glen Perkins (Stillwater), the closer; and Johnson (Minneapolis), the ace of the rotation.

This is akin to what the Minnesota Wild did with Zach Parise and Ryan Suter. Both had ties to the area -- Parise is from Minneapolis, Suter from across the border in Madison -- and instantly joined Mikko Koivu as the three faces of the team and, more important, breathed life into a dormant franchise.

Similarly, Mauer, Perkins and Johnson could be just that, taking the pressure off of blue-chip prospects Miguel Sano and Byron Buxton to perform right away, and help make Target Field the attraction it was during its inaugural season.

Tom Schreier has been credentialed to Twins games for the past three years. He previously covered Minnesota sports for Bleacher Report. Followed him on Twitter @tschreier3.

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