Ricky Nolasco signed a four-year, $49 million dollar contract with the Twins on November 27 of last season, he blew out of the water all previous free agent contracts handed out by the organization in franchise history. It was a move that was seen as perhaps a bit frivolous, but also entirely necessary for a team that was desperate for starting pitching that could be classified as merely decent. As it turns out, for Nolasco that wasn't so much the case in 2014.
Nolasco came out of the gate in April colder than Prince Hans' nefarious scheme to take Arendelle. He had a 6.67 ERA in April and hit the disabled list in July following news that he'd been pitching through pain the entire season. When he returned in mid-August, Nolasco compiled a 4.39 ERA through his final nine starts - a number far closer to the pitcher the Twins expected he'd be when he signed on the dotted line.
On the season, the areas where Nolasco's game differed from his career trajectory came in three discernible points. First, batters were hitting the ball harder in general, even if his batted ball tendencies didn't change much. That led to batters hitting .311 off of him in 2014, thanks to a .351 batting average on balls in play.
Second, he got worse versus left-handed hitters as his walk rates went up and his strikeout rates went down markedly. At home, lefties posted an OPS 80 points higher than righties; on the road that grew to 83 points on the road. I'd also advise you not to look at Nolasco's home/road splits, but I have to tell you two things: lefties tallied a .964 OPS on the road, and righties only posted a .293 on-base percentage versus Nolasco at home. Bizarre.
Finally, now that I'm getting past that train wreck of a distraction, we can talk about individual pitches. Nolasco's slider has, in years past, been a pretty fair out pitch. Opponents hit .195 and slugged .307 off of it in 2013; change that to .301 and .491 this season. Versus two-seamers in 2013? .243 and .372. In 2014? .361 and .558. Essentially - pitches that Nolasco has historically counted on as his plus offerings. He only threw 36 changeups this year, a pitch that in his career hitters have batted .240 and slugged .350 against. That says a great deal about how much Nolasco trusted his stuff this season.
Rotation: Phil Hughes, Kyle Gibson, Trevor May, Tommy Milone, Alex Meyer
The Twins have a selection of six pitchers already in-house, and the 2013 version of the Twins would love to have those options. Yet the team is supposedly still focused on finding more pitchers, which you can't blame them for. Milone feels wholly replaceable and no doubt the Twins would shift Nolasco's contract if they could. (Note: they can't.) Can any of those pitchers displace Nolasco? Rather: can all of those pitchers displace Nolasco? No.
Three years and $36 million remaining on the contract, plus a $1 million buyout of the 2018 team option.
What's his role for the 2015 team?
Some people won't like the answer but it's true: Nolasco will be a member of the 2015 rotation from the word "Go." Just the money alone is going to guarantee Nolasco a spot in the starting five, but even looking at talent level it's likely that we're looking at a decent bounce-back campaign. If he's healthy, 200 innings of 4.30 - 4.40 ERA baseball is well within the realms of possibilities.
That's worth mentioning, if only for the purposes of clarity. As Gleeman notes:
In fairness, Nolasco is from California and the Dodgers are going to the playoffs while the Twins lost 90-plus games for the fourth consecutive season, but still. When you pitched terribly while hiding an injury in the first season of a big contract you chose to sign and play in a state that has a bit of an inferiority complex at times anyway perhaps keep the "wish I wasn’t here" thoughts private. Or at least leave out the multiple exclamation points.
Also, if the Dodgers want the rest of Nolasco’s contract the Twins would surely be happy to give it to them.
UPDATE: Nolasco deleted the tweet, about nine hours later.
Regardless of that largely meaningless lapse in judgement, it's hard to see the Twins moving Nolasco. As a result he's a shoe-in for the rotation out of spring training, and it will be down to the front office to determine how they find innings for all of the candidates already on the roster.