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December 2, 2013

Transaction Analysis

Nolasco Heads North

by R.J. Anderson and Rob McQuown

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IN THIS ISSUE

American League
National League

MINNESOTA TWINS
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Reportedly agreed to sign RHP Ricky Nolasco to a four-year deal worth $49 million with a club option worth $13 million. [11/27]

The Twins are not expected to compete for a playoff spot in 2014. Even so, this is a defensible signing on a few levels.

No matter the metric, Minnesota's rotation last season was miserable. Samuel Deduno and Andrew Albers were their only pitchers with 10-plus starts and an ERA+ exceeding 100. To take it a step further, the Twins' five most-used starters accumulated 0.9 WARP; Nolasco tallied 2.2. That's not to suggest that Nolasco should be used as a front-of-the-rotation starter. He's suited best as the third- or fourth-best starter on a good team, as he was in Los Angeles. Still, he's a reliable starter with a deep arsenal and the ability to give Minnesota six innings every fifth day.

There's always a philosophical debate when non-contending teams sign veteran players, yet Minnesota is as well-positioned as any team to make this deal. The biggest point of contention is that a mistimed veteran contract can limit a team's flexibility over the deal's final year or two. Not in this case. The Twins have three players owed guaranteed money after next season (Joe Mauer, Glen Perkins, and Jared Burton, who has a club option), and they have a few waves of talented, minimum-making youngsters on the way, who won't reach arbitration status until after the third year of this deal at the earliest. Neither the short- nor the long-term budget is much of a concern here.

The better argument against signing Nolasco is that it's not a big enough upgrade. Perhaps the Twins should have signed Matt Garza or Ervin Santana, but injuries and draft-pick compensation are sufficient reasons to settle for Nolasco. There's also the option of playing it safe, signing a few reclamation projections, and hoping things go their way. Terry Ryan took that route last winter, when he signed Kevin Correia and Mike Pelfrey, and understandably opted for an appreciable upgrade this go-around.

Nolasco should be a positive contributor during Minnesota's transition period from rebuilding to contending. And if the Twins aren't in the playoff race by the time Nolasco's deal ends, it won't be on him. —R.J. Anderson

Fantasy:

With the Morneau-less Twins, the level of offensive support Nolasco will receive in the near term is likely to seem depressingly familiar to his days in South Florida. And while he has maddeningly underperformed his peripherals on an annual basis, he's also been quite durable, topping 190 innings pitched each year since coming back from 2010 knee surgery. There's no reason to expect anything other than the slight uptick in ERA due to facing nine-hitter lineups instead of eight, and another 190-200 innings of innings eating. Expect also the tease of flashing peripherals that suggest better, and just enough run support to get into double-digit wins. —Rob McQuown

TEXAS RANGERS
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Claimed OF-L Rafael Ortega off waivers from the Rockies. [11/27]

Put a star next to this one, as it could look dandy in short order. Ortega has big-league experience—he appeared in two games for the Rockies in 2012—but readers with good memories will remember him as Colorado's 10th-best prospect entering the season. Jason Parks credited Ortega with plus-plus speed and a plus defensive profile in center field, including an above-average arm. On the debit side, Parks noted Ortega's lack of an offensive identity and overall rawness. The outfielder missed most of the season due to injury. Perhaps his original projected ceiling (solid-average regular) will prove too optimistic, but he could be an extra outfielder worth having, especially at the cost of a waiver claim.

CHICAGO CUBS
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Acquired C-L George Kottaras from the Royals for cash considerations. [11/26]

Everyone's favorite offensive-minded reserve catcher is on the move again. Kottaras joins his fourth organization since the start of the 2012 season, having spent time with the Brewers, Athletics, and Royals. While the Canadian native's defense is less than splendid, he does provide power and on-base skills against right-handed pitchers. The Cubs have Welington Castillo already, so Kottaras is likely to assume a traditional backup role.

CINCINNATI REDS
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Re-signed LHP Manny Parra to a two-year deal worth $5.5 million. [11/27]

Parra returns to the Queen City for a second tour of duty. Although Parra's splits indicate that he should be used mostly against left-handed batters, last season Dusty Baker used him against more righties. It's worth noting that the southpaw changed his pitch usage against same-handed batters, going about half-and-half with his fastball and breaking ball. How Bryan Price intends to use Parra is unclear, but he'll have him at his disposal for the next two seasons at a rate low enough to justify specialization.

R.J. Anderson is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see R.J.'s other articles. You can contact R.J. by clicking here
Rob McQuown is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Rob's other articles. You can contact Rob by clicking here

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