It certainly qualifies as a busy weekend in Twins territory, as Terry Ryan and company spent their Thanksgiving putting the finishing touches on a pair of deals which, when viewed independently, would both qualify as the biggest free agent contract handed out in club history.
On Wednesday evening the news broke that the Twins were nearing a deal with right-hander Ricky Nolasco, a sturdy right-hander whose four-year deal was actually double the biggest deal the club had handed out to that point. And while there are plenty of fans still upset the Twins haven't made a 'big move', make no mistake, this one qualifies.
The Twins went out and got a strikeout pitcher and did so without compromising some of their core values. For one, Nolasco is durable. Nolasco became a full-time mainstay in the Marlins rotation in 2008, and from then on averaged just under 192 innings per season.
The last Twin to throw more than 190 innings was Carl Pavano in 2011, and before him, Francisco Liriano in 2010. Quite frankly, Nolasco represented the marriage of two ideals the Twins were trying to find: Innings and (vast) Improvement.
And if that wasn't enough, the Star Tribune's Lavelle E. Neal dropped a bombshell on Saturday night. Former Yankee right-hander Phil Hughes -- someone yours truly has openly stumped for as a rotation addition -- had agreed to terms with the club on a three-year, $24 million deal which includes innings pitched incentives.
Hughes' deal is cheaper than Nolasco for a number of reasons. While the pitchers have a similar strikeout profile (Hughes 7.6 per 9 in his career, Nolasco 7.4), Nolasco has relied on his innings totals and offspeed offerings to accrue his value. A lot of Hughes' value, it would seem, is tied at least in part to his future.
Hughes is still only 27.
Hughes has been a beautiful disaster in the Bronx. He's teased, taunted, and titillated at different points with an 18 win season. One year he fanned 10.0 per 9. Twice he's thrown over 170 innings. But there's virtually no overlap on any of those superlatives; twice in the past five years he's had seasons that are tremendously worrisome, and that's not even considering last year's debacle. In 2009, Hughes worked almost solely out of the bullpen, something detractors of the deal warn may happen if Hughes doesn't develop another out pitch or something to keep left-handed hitters off his scarily straight four-seam fastball. In 2011 Hughes bombed even worse than last year. He made only 14 starts, with a 5.79 ERA, 5.7 K/9, and a 1.49 WHIP -- all career worsts.
But Hughes won't have to pitch in the Bronx next year; well, maybe just once. The Twins have a three-game set beginning in late May that's the club's only trip to Yankee Stadium in 2014.
And if it sounds as though there's only negatives to signing Hughes well, that isn't the case. $8 million doesn't buy a whole lot pitching-wise on the free agent market, and the Twins not only got a guy who still is not only young enough to improve, but has shown at times in the past that he's capable of being much more than just an $8 million a year guy.
In 2013 alone -- Hughes' worst full season as a pro -- he had a road ERA of 3.88. And while it's foolhardy to say he'll simply just be better because it'll be like he's pitching all road games in 2014, it does seem to suggest that this alone should be a sizable step forward.
But none of this is to suggest that Hughes as he was in 2013 can simply move out of New York and become the guy he was supposed to be; the onus will be on him and the Twins staff to make the necessary adjustments for him to ward off the next wave of Twins starters coming up behind him in the farm system.
All told, that seems like a good gamble.
One potential catching prospect for the Twins came off the table early Monday, as the Toronto Blue Jays and Dioner Navarro agreed to a deal reportedly worth $8 million over two years. Navarro, a switch hitter, was coming off a resurgent season on the north side of Chicago, where he hit .300/.365/.492 while sharing catching duties with Wellington Castillo. Navarro's reputation is as an enigma. He's a former all star and top-100 prospect, but he's burned through five organizations while garnering a reputation as a not particularly ambitious defensive backstop.
Had he signed with the Twins, it would have likely been to help bring along Josmil Pinto. This writer has maintained throughout the offseason that whatever move the club makes at catcher will reveal their true feelings about Pinto's future as a backstop.
Should the Twins take the plunge and do a three-year dance with Jarrod Saltalamacchia, it probably means the Twins aren't confident Pinto's receiving skills and polish will come along enough for him to take over the job permanently. On the complete opposite side of the token, if the Twins sign a late-30s guy like A.J. Pierzynski, it's likely the club is just hoping to buy some time while giving the collective group a nice clubhouse boost.
Somewhere in the middle would have been someone like Navarro, a grizzled vet who's still actually not going to be 30 until just before pitchers and catchers report and has the 'been there, done that' point of view on his resume. Navarro is a definite wildcard -- he's had OPS' of .528 and .856 in the last three years alone -- but the upside and financial commitment required make him a good gamble for a club who can use catching help.
What Navarro's deal does provide is another catcher to the marketplace, however. And whether or not the Twins are interested in J.P. Arencibia -- he of the career .258 OBP -- remains to be seen. Arencibia has massive power -- averaging over 20 home runs the past three seasons with a career ISO of .196 -- but it's unclear what roles his less-than-stellar defense and OBP will play in a potential acquisition. It would be surprising to see the Twins jump into the fray there.
If the Twins do make another non-catcher move, it wouldn't be surprising to see the Twins hone in on a corner type. That is, either someone who can play the outfield or maybe third base, but wouldn't embarrass themselves in the DH role from time to time. A lot will hinge on what the Twins decide to do with Ryan Doumit -- whose name never comes up catching discussions, it seems -- and Josh Willingham, whom the club may decide is better off DH'ing in his walk year.
There are plenty of players like this available in this year's market, with only David Murphy ($12/2 with Cleveland) off the board at this point. If the Twins decide to go with an upside-type hitter, a guy like Mike Morse could make a lot of sense. Morse isn't a good fielder, but has a career line of .281/.334/.473 and is coming off a poor season in 2013. As a result, he should come cheaply. He'll be 32 on opening day.
Another option should the Twins go the utility route -- and right now I'd projected Eduardo Escobar as the club's top utility guy -- would be Jeff Baker. Baker has a little bit of a stick -- .267/.321/.440 career | .279/.360/.545 in '13 -- and can play pretty much everywhere but right up the middle. He's a good insurance policy on Trevor Plouffe, Brian Dozier, and the corner outfield guys, and shouldn't need much more than a cheap one-year deal to secure his services. He's a nice fit.