TWINS ADD VETERAN PITCHERS

With only 66 wins and nearly 100 losses in 2013, the Minnesota Twins appear to be far from contention. In the suddenly tough AL central, the Twins have a long way to go to get as good as the division kingpins, the Tigers, as well as the rising powers in Cleveland and Kansas City. The trending is all working against the Twins, who won the division in 2010 with a 94-win campaign, but have finished with win totals in the 60’s for three straight seasons.

That being the case, there are holes all over this team and the signings of right-handed pitchers Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes aren’t being received by some observers as moves that will turn the franchise into a contender. Nolasco and Hughes aren’t exactly Clayton Kershaw and David Price, and that’s not front-page news. They may not even measure up to Tim Hudson and Bronson Arroyo, two other pitchers that were available this offseason.

But these signings aren’t going to impede the Twins’ climb up the division ladder and they may prove to be solid moves over the durations of the two contracts.

Nolasco got four years and $49MM while Hughes came aboard for 3 years and $24MM. Obviously, there are financial incentives in there for both pitchers so the dollar amounts could be even bigger.  The two signings represent a big commitment for the Twins, a famously “small-market” team.

Could the money have been spent better on the flailing offense? Maybe, maybe not. The Twins struggled at the plate in 2013, finishing near the bottom in the 15-team American League in many key statistical categories. Batting average (13th), OBP (11th), Runs Scored (13th), Home Runs (11th) and SLG (11th) are all areas that need improvement. But help may be on the way for the weak Minnesota offense, namely in the big league arrivals of two super-prospects: 3B Miguel Sano and OF Byron Buxton.

Meanwhile, the pitching was every bit as bad this past season and the collective rankings of the Minnesota hurlers weren’t any better than those of the hitters that were supposed to be providing them with run support. Twins pitching gave up more hits than any other AL team and were next-to-last in WHIP with a 1.41 mark. They came in second to the woeful Astros in Runs Allowed and ERA and the relief corp recorded only 40 saves, ninth in the 15-team league.

Nolasco and Hughes may not be the answer but it is highly possible that they will both help the cause. In the WHIP department alone, Hughes was no worse last year (1.45 for Hughes vs. 1.41 for the Twins’ staff) and Nolasco was markedly better (1.209). Further, Hughes is a career 1.32 in the WHIP department and has posted a 1.26 as recently as 2012. Nolasco is at 1.29 for his career and went 1.195 over 15 starts with the Dodgers in 2013.

Hughes is more mercurial than Nolasco, as the former Yankee is coming off of a 4-14 season, immediately following a 16-win season in 2012. A highly-touted prospect in the Yankee master plan for years, Hughes checks in with a career mark of 56-50 over seven seasons with a perennially good New York club.

Nolasco has been  more consistent, notching double-digit wins for six-straight seasons while pitching all but a half-season with the all-over-the-map Marlins. He’s not an elite pitcher but he’s at, or around, 200 IP every year and in stretches he has been very, very good.

So what about the money? Are these two hurlers worth what the Twins have agreed to pay them?

This is the wildcard and it is the most important factor in understanding the terms that you are reading about this Hot Stove season. There is television money coming in to ALL major league teams and it is changing the landscape as we know it.

Forget about what you think is a $8MM/Yr player, a $15MM/Yr player, etc. Adjust your understanding of a player’s financial worth and factor that in when you read how many years are in the deal. Everything changed when the national TV contracts got renewed late in the 2012 season. ESPN was first and Fox and TBS also ante’d up and new terms were put in place to run through the 2021 season. Effective in 2014, all major league clubs have a LOT more money coming in and can spend it however they see fit.

In baseball, the local TV money is whatever a team can get for the rights to its local broadcasts. With these national TV deals, the money is split equally among all 30 MLB teams. Again, they can spend it however they want to. Teams have already adjusted their budgets accordingly.

The San Francisco Giants gave Tim Lincecum two years and $35MM despite the fact that he is clearly not the pitcher that won two Cy Young Awards earlier in his career. They then turned around and signed 38-year old Tim Hudson, coming off of a season-ending injury, to a two-year, $23MM contract. The Giants don’t throw around big bucks on the free agent market very often.

Meanwhile, the Kansas City Royals, ever-so-close in the AL central, added Jason Vargas to the rotation with a four-year, $32MM deal. Vargas is a third starter at best and fits well in the Kansas City rotation headed up by ace James Shields. But a fourth year at $8MM per…a little more than what most of us were expecting for the solid-but-not-spectacular lefty.

So what is wrong with the Twins, badly in need of solid starting pitching, going out and signing Nolasco and Hughes for the terms that they agreed on? Nothing. It’s not as much money as it looks like because we’re all so familiar with the matrix of years and dollars that were status quo before the new TV deals.

Things are different now.

Are Nolasco and Hughes going to lead the Twins to an AL central title? Who knows? It isn’t out of the question. These two veterans could log big innings, pitching deep into games and making the bullpen that much more effective. They’ve done it in their careers, it’s not like it would be a huge leap. The offense could get a shot in the arm from more offseason moves, Buxton could arrive sooner than expected, who knows? The Twins could have just taken the first couple of steps toward legitimacy in the AL central.

But the money paid to these two veteran pitchers, both known commodities, shouldn’t be cause for concern. GM Terry Ryan is taking a shot. He’s not betting the farm, not sticking the club’s neck out like the Phillies did with Ryan Howard or the Angels did with Albert Pujols. He’s just making a couple of moves to address a need on a team that has a lot of needs. Ryan’s got reason to believe he has offensive help in the minor leagues, not that far away. Here are a couple of arms that should help immediately and it isn’t costing as much as our trained minds think. There’s money out there we haven’t seen before. Serviceable arms are worth more than they used to be, as are all the skillsets in baseball going forward.

 

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