This is an exercise in seeing if the possibility exists for the Twins to flip Ricky Nolasco and his contract to another club. Instead of trying to package him with a prospect or instead of offering to pay a part of his salary, surely there's another team out there somewhere who is just as desperate to rid themselves of their contract as the Twins might be to rid themselves of Nolasco's.
I made a few very loose rules for myself. These kept me from forming a list that was too long (there are a shocking number of bad contracts sitting around), and that focus comes in handy when a 3,500-word opus isn't the desired result.
- Contracts must be of a similar commitment to the two years and $24 million remaining on Nolasco's deal.
- There should be a high probability that the other team would have reason to want to shift their own player.
- In cases where the financial or yearly commitments do not match up, the player must have been rumored to have been on the trade block in the last 12 months.
- Both players must serve a purpose on their new team, rather than just swapping just for swapping's sake.
Maybe I stuck to those rules, maybe I didn't. Here's what I came up with.
Jose Reyes, Rockies, SS
Contract: 2 years, $44 million (plus $4 million buyout)
This has been one of the more popular conspiracy theories since Reyes arrived in what's become known in Colorado as "The [redacted] [redacted] Troy Tulowitzki [redacted] joke of a [redacted] trade." We discussed the notion of trading for Reyes when the Twins were in the market for a shortstop at the trade deadline this year.
To make this idea halfway palatable, at the very least Colorado would need to assume the portion of Reyes' contract equal to what Nolasco is getting paid. That would leave Reyes in Minnesota for the next two years at $12 million per. For his age 33 and 34 seasons that's still asking a lot, considering the way his offense and defense have been trending. Sure, he accumulated 3.5 fWAR in 2014, but 2015 saw him "hit" .274/.310/.378 with 24 steals and an anemic 5% walk rate. His range in the field was sapped this season. As much fun as it would be to just chalk that up to lingering minor ailments, age plays a big factor here.
Would the Twins even be interested in this kind of a shortstop right now? Eduardo Escobar seems like a superior option at this juncture.
James Shields, Padres, RHP
Contract: 3 years, $63 million (plus $2 million buyout)
This was another trade that was rumored leading up to the July deadline. If there was any smoke here to begin with, there's potential for the fires to be re-started. I wasn't a fan of the idea even in August, when Shields' acquisition may have been easier due to the waiver process and his salary. We also know that the Twins have liked Shields for a while.
Based on Shields' current talent level and Nolasco's recent history, I'm not convinced that the Padres would take a straight up swap at this point - even if they'd reduce their payroll commitments by $41 million. And for the Twins, you'd have to think that to even make it worth considering San Diego would need to not just pay Nolasco's salary but $7 or $8 million per year of Shield's as well. And that's just not going to happen.
A Nolasco-Shields based trade, even with other parts involved, is a tough sell. Minnesota might have some financial flexibility to play with here, but to use most or all if it on a pitcher under contract for his age 34 to 36 seasons isn't responsible.
Alex Rodriguez, Yankees, DH
Contract: 2 years, $20 million
The rage, oh the rage! I can feel it. Use your anger, and strike me down with it. No, seriously, before I actually consider this idea.
New York couldn't have given A-Rod away for a bucket of golf balls in April, but the now 40-year old hit .250/.356/.486 with 33 home runs and 84 walks in 2015. A trade like this would require a couple of things, the first of which would be for the Yankees to absorb some of Rodriguez's contract. The second would be for the Twins to free up third base for Miguel Sano, since A-Rod is mostly a designated hitter at this point in his career; maybe that would mean trading Trevor Plouffe, perhaps including him in the trade, or it might mean doing what Terry Ryan said he wouldn't do which would be to turn him into a super-utility player.
If a lot of that sounds far-fetched, that's because it is. I'm not sure how Minnesota would react to Rodriguez in a Twins uniform, but at first blush it sounds like a terrible idea. This is a match made in hell, it's a deal with the devil, but if you had to ask which player would provide more on-field value in 2016 between Rodriguez and Nolasco, you're lying if you say Nolasco.
Starlin Castro, Chicago Cubs, SS
Contract: 4 years, $37 million (plus $1 million buyout)
If you had tried to trade for Starlin Castro back at the trade deadline, you might have gotten a decent deal. His hot September and the Cubs' trip to the post-season may have driven his price up a bit (as would the .297/.336/.425 he hit from 2010 to 2012, and his age - 26), but he was still a .265/.296/.375 hitter in 2015 with a history of mental mistakes in the field.
The attraction in Castro is his athletic ability, his relative youth, and the promise that he still holds as a baseball player. These last few years haven't been as bright as his first three, but he did post a .777 OPS in 2014. If the Cubs are as desperate to rid themselves of Castro as they at times appeared over the summer, trying to buy low with Nolasco isn't a terrible idea.
Chicago may not be as interested in Nolasco. Jake Arrieta, Jon Lester, Kyle Hendriks, and Jason Hammel can all be controlled through at least 2016. Trevor Cahill has an option year, Travis Wood is capable of starting, and the Cubs have a choice in how they want to handle younger pitchers like Carlos Pimentel.
Chris Johnson. Cleveland Indians, UT
Contract: 2 years, $16.5 million (plus $1 million buyout)
When Cleveland and Atlanta made their trade in August, it was essentially a mutual salary dump. Atlanta got Michael Bourn and Nick Swisher plus $10 million to cover a portion of their expiring contracts, and Cleveland got Johnson and a manageable salary over the next couple of seasons.
Johnson posted an .818 OPS in 2010, a .777 mark in 2012, and a very good .816 OPS in 2013. Every other year it's been a bit of a disaster though, and he didn't respond well after the trade. Perhaps there's a bit of hope for a bounceback season from Johnson this year but hopes can't be pinned on it. His ability to play both corner infield spots could make him an alternative bench option for the Twins if Plouffe is traded and Eduardo Nunez is non-tendered. To make any sense at all, Johnson would have to be on a bench with a fourth outfielder, a backup catcher, and perhaps Danny Santana as a middle infield/utility option.
Perhaps Cleveland could be interested in a veteran arm for their rotation. Corey Kluber, Danny Salazar, Carlos Carrasco, and Trevor Bauer make up an initial foursome, but Cody Anderson had a nice year and there are a couple of minor league arms who could vie for a rotation spot at some point in 2016 as well. There isn't a natural fit here, but these kind of trades rarely are. Both Minnesota and Cleveland would have to make other plans before the shoe could drop on a move like this.
Matt Garza, Milwaukee Brewers, RHP
Contract: 2 years, $25 million
The Twins are all about getting the band back together. A.J. Pierzynski already appears to be in the team's crosshairs, so why not go back for another player known by some as a malcontent?
Garza had a tough year for the Brewers, making 25 starts and posting a career-worst 5.63 ERA. He'll be 32 in 2016, meaning his age isn't as big of a factor to overcome as other cases on this list. The salary is comparable. Both Garza and Nolasco could benefit from that old cliche' about a change of environment. It's not like Milwaukee is overloaded with quality rotation options, either.
While those aspects pass the smell test, bringing in Garza does one thing that the rest of this list doesn't: it doesn't make it easier for talented, young pitchers to gain a foothold in the Minnesota starting five. There could be room here to expand the trade, though. Would the Twins be willing to part with another starting pitcher - perhaps Kyle Gibson or Trevor May - to go partway towards a Jonathan Lucroy deal?
* * * * *
None of these options look like great fits...at least not without some work. That's part of the riddle when it comes to finding suitors for undesirable contracts. There are other players due large sums of cash that could come into play; perhaps C.J. Wilson, who has one year and $20 million remaining, could be an option. Maybe the Twins could send Nolasco back to his beloved Los Angeles in return for a reduced-rate Carl Crawford or Brandon McCarthy.
Have a look through salary data on the Cots Contracts pages at Baseball Prospectus. Is there another deadweight salary that you could see being flipped for Nolasco? Do any of the options I've already covered strike you as even plausible?