The Twins were in the market for some pitching this off season. I proposed some trades in which the Twins acquired some inning eating pitchers to bridge the gap until their top prospects made it to the majors. The Twins had a different idea, instead going after free agents and signing Ricky Nolasco an Phil Hughes even before the winter meetings.
I am, as a general rule, concerned about signing pitchers as free agents. The ones teams lock up are seen as reliable because they have a lot of innings on their arms, and when they reach free agency, they are just about on the downward slope of their career. It’s often a wasted investment. For the Twins organization, concerned with diminishing attendance ahead of an All Star year and a pitching rotation that has been one of the worst of all time, some exceptions had to be made. That said, let’s take a look at Nolasco and Hughes on an individual basis.
Nolasco has always underperformed against expectations. He has a decent strikeout rate (amazing by Twins standards), isn’t crazy with his command and is all right at keeping balls in parks. His problem has always been balls in play. His worst years are the ones with the highest BABIP. Oh, and he spent most of his career with a crummy Marlins outfield. If the Twins go with a Mastroianni-Presley outfield, with Hicks coming back, then Nolasco isn’t a back of the rotation starter. He could qualify as a top end starter for the Twins going forward if he meets his peripherals, and that would make the Twins deal look pretty good.
Nolasco has always been on my radar as a guy the team should go after because he had talent that I thought the Twins could acquire at a discount. If Minnesota has a a good year on defense, Nolasco will look even better, assuming he can maintain about a 7 K/9 rate.
Phil Hughes is someone the Twins have had their eye on for years. They wanted him in return for Johan Santana about 6 years ago. Just because the Twins had their eye on him, however, doesn’t mean that Hughes has matched expectations. He has a similar K rate as Nolasco, but also allows more walks and more home runs. There isn’t much a defense can do about that.
However, there is quite a bit that can be done by a cold weather, spacious ball park. Hughes allowed a full home run per 9 innings more at Yankee Stadium as he did elsewhere. The Stadium is something of a hitters park, so it makes sense, and this kind of split has to be encouraging for Twins fans. Not only will the park dimensions and playability factor into any potential for success for Hughes, but so will his age. Hughes is only 27 years old, and will only get better as he figures out how to leverage his natural skill set. Still, it’s easy to question the deal he received given the raw data available, and since there isn’t anything tangible to prove Hughes potential at Target Field, I can’t say that I’m completely on board with his addition.
Still, the Twins added two pitchers to a rotation in dire need of the help. It remains to be seen whether or not in house candidates can fill the other three spots in the rotation. Kevin Correia will almost certainly be back, and Vance Worley might be well served as a fourth starter. There is no pressure for Kyle Gibson to come around and be the franchise savior, and there is no need to rush Alex Meyer or Trevor May or any of the teams’ prospects.
The Twins aren’t going to compete for much more than 2nd place in the AL Central this year, so I don’t think that it’s important for the team to invest heavily for the 2014 season. Nolasco and Hughes are both signed on for at least 3 years (4 maybe 5 for Nolasco), so they should be here when the team sees the fruits of the farm system. I think the Twins don’t see this solely as a “win now” move, but a chip for the future. I can get behind that.