Twins sign Nolasco to team’s largest free-agent deal

MINNEAPOLIS — The Minnesota Twins knew they had to address

their starting pitching issues after another woeful season in 2013. To help fix

the problem, they signed right-hander Ricky Nolasco to the biggest free agent

contract in team history.

The Twins officially announced the signing Tuesday, a

four-year, $48 million deal that will pay Nolasco $12 million each season.

There’s a chance the contract could vest for a fifth year in 2018 with innings

incentives.

With the addition of Nolasco, the Twins believe they have a

durable starting pitcher who can give them plenty of innings as well as

productivity.

“This is a good day for the Minnesota Twins,” said

general manager Terry Ryan. “As everybody knows, we’ve had some issues on

the mound, particularly in the starting rotation. We set out this fall to

improve our ability to compete with this club. When Ricky filed for free agency

about Nov. 2 or so, I think he was one of the guys that we had pinpointed that

we wanted to bring over here and we did just that.”

The 30-year-old Nolasco spent most of his career with the

Marlins before he was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers this past July. He went

8-3 with a 3.52 ERA down the stretch with the Dodgers and pitched for Los

Angeles in the playoffs.

Nolasco comes to the Twins with a career record of 89-75 and

a 4.37 ERA in 229 career games. What appealed the most to Minnesota, though,

was his durability. He topped 191 innings in each of the last three seasons,

including 199.1 innings this past year with the Marlins and Dodgers.

“First, you’ve just got to be thankful for the

opportunity you’re given and the talents you have,” Nolasco said of his

ability to stay healthy. “The big thing is routine. A starting pitcher’s

routine is huge to know when to kind of tone it down or turn it up. Your

throwing program is very important, knowing not to burn all your bullets in

spring training and be ready to go in August and September because the season

does get long.”

The veteran right-hander has had a solid strikeout-to-walk

ratio over his career. This past season he fanned 165 batters while walking 46,

a ratio of 3.59 strikeouts per walk — a number that would have been the best

among Twins starters a year ago and was 12th among National League pitchers

last season.

When Nolasco declared for free agency, the Twins

expressed interest right away with the hope that Nolasco could help bolster

Minnesota’s rotation. Their early interest helped land the right-hander, who

appreciated the Twins’ commitment to him.

“I was interested in whoever was interested in

me,” Nolasco said of his free agency process. “The level that they

showed from Day 1 was big for me. It was probably the most deciding factor in

this process.”

The Twins had the worst starting rotation in baseball last

year with a combined ERA of 5.26 — nearly half a run higher than the

second-worst rotation, the Blue Jays. With Nolasco already inked, Minnesota has

also reportedly agreed to a deal with free agent Phil Hughes, who should also

help solidify the rotation.

It’s the second year in a row Minnesota has gone out and

signed a pair of veteran starting pitchers as the Twins signed Mike Pelfrey and

Kevin Correia last offseason. Ryan wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s a change

in the philosophy of the Twins’ front office, but it’s clear that Minnesota is

showing a commitment to improving its pitching via free agency.

“We need starting pitching badly, and about anybody

that was out on that market we certainly explored,” Ryan said. “He

gives (us) innings. He can strike people out. He doesn’t walk anybody. That’s

kind of what you’re looking for in a guy in the rotation.”

Nolasco, a southern California native, arrived at a snowy

Target Field for Tuesday’s press conference, tweeting on Monday that “I

like how the snow looks!!” He spent his entire eight seasons in sunnier

states — Florida and California — but is looking forward to a new environment

in Minnesota.

He also feels prepared for a transition from the National

League to the American League for the first time in his career.

“I’m not really concerned about the adjustments you

need to make. I’m just worried about what I have to do to continue to make

quality pitches,” Nolasco said. “I think as long as you do that and

you make quality pitches consistently, whether it’s the American League or

National League, you’re still going to get guys out.”

Nolasco was joined at Tuesday’s press conference by his

agent, Matt Sosnick, who also represents Twins outfielder Josh Willingham and

catcher Ryan Doumit. Sosnick said the relationship he’s built over the years

with Minnesota’s front office, especially assistant general manager Ron Antony,

helped in the latest negotiation process.

Sosnick also revealed that Nolasco is an avid car collector

and loves to drive muscle cars, including a Lamborghini Gallardo that serves as

the background image on his Twitter account. Nolasco said he currently has

eight cars back home in California.

Luckily for him, he didn’t bring any of them with him this

week to drive on the snowy Minneapolis roads.

“I’m going to have to get something else, maybe a

little SUV or something for that first month,” Nolasco said. “I

definitely enjoy cars, and once that sun comes out I’ll definitely have them

here.”

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