Free-agent starter Ricky Nolasco agreed on a four-year, $49 million deal with the Minnesota Twins, sources told Yahoo Sports, cashing in after his most productive season in five years and providing an immediate boost to the worst rotation in baseball.
From the start of free agency, Minnesota honed in on Nolasco, who finished last season with a 3.70 ERA over 199 1/3 innings. With commitments to only Joe Mauer and Glen Perkins beyond this season, the Twins lavished money on the right-handed Nolasco, with hopes they can add another veteran arm to their rotation in coming weeks.
Over the next four seasons, Nolasco will receive $12 million a year. The Twins own a $13 million option for the 2018 season with a $1 million buyout; Nolasco can turn it into a player option by hitting a target number of innings between the 2016-17 seasons.
Nolasco, who turns 31 in mid-December, embodies the Twins' ideal of throwing strikes. His career walk rate of 2.1 per nine innings is seventh among active starters with at least 1,000 innings, and his 3.52 strikeout-to-walk ratio ranks seventh as well, both ahead of Clayton Kershaw, Justin Verlander and CC Sabathia.
Never has Nolasco's production matched up with his peripherals, leaving him with an undefined market heading into the offseason. Despite the uncertainties, Nolasco cashed in half a hundred million, landing $17 million more than starter Jason Vargas fetched over four years from Kansas City despite a higher career ERA (4.37 to Vargas' 4.30). Because he was traded from Miami to Los Angeles midseason, Nolasco was not attached to draft-pick compensation like Ervin Santana and Ubaldo Jimenez, other starters Minnesota has considered.
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Following a year in which Twins starters put up a 5.26 ERA – nearly half a run worse than Houston's dreadful rotation – and completed a major league-low 871 innings, general manager Terry Ryan sought veterans with pedigrees for eating innings. Nolasco should fill that role capably: After missing most of 2007 with elbow issues, he has thrown 1,151 1/3 innings over the last six years, including five seasons of 185-plus innings.
Nolasco's four-year deal continues an aggressive bull market for pitchers this offseason. In addition to Vargas, Tim Hudson signed a two-year, $23 million deal coming off a broken ankle and Dan Haren ($10 million) and Josh Johnson ($8 million) each received strong money in spite of poor showings in 2013.
The Twins, sources said, still are pursuing right-handers Phil Hughes and Bronson Arroyo to join a wide-open rotation, and former Twin Matt Garza remains a possibility. Last year's only reliable starter, Kevin Correia, is the lone sure thing heading into spring training. Other options include Samuel Deduno (a likely back-end starter), Drew Albers, Scott Diamond, Vance Worley and Liam Hendriks, along with former first-round pick Kyle Gibson and top pitching prospect Alex Meyer.