Before the season even began, Miami Marlins right-hander Ricky Nolasco stood out as a virtual lock to be traded.
Here we are a couple of months into 2013, and the word "virtual" no longer applies. We can go ahead and say that Nolasco is a lock to be traded.
Last week, Joe Frisaro of MLB.com reported that the Marlins were open to trading Nolasco, a free-agent-to-be whose $11.5 million salary is by far the biggest on the club's payroll. Now we're starting to hear about potential suitors.
ESPN's Jayson Stark says the Baltimore Orioles and New York Yankees have their eyes on Nolasco. Danny Knobler of CBSSports.com says that the San Francisco Giants are looking at Nolasco as a potential elixir for their uncharacteristic starting pitching woes.
With the buzz building, here's a primer on all the trade-y goodness surrounding Nolasco.
Trade Value: Better Than You Probably Think
There are sexier pitchers on the baseball landscape than Nolasco. He's no Cliff Lee, Matt Garza or Josh Johnson, each of whom could find his way to the trade block before long.
If there's a word to describe Nolasco, it would be "solid." Not great. Not even good. But solid, and he's been even more solid this year than usual.
The one thing Nolasco has always been able to do is eat innings. He's topped 200 innings twice since 2008, and last year he topped 190 innings. Of his 31 starts, 14 were of the quality variety.
Nolasco is already up to eight quality starts in 14 outings this year. Quality starts are hardly gospel, but in this case they do reflect how well Nolasco has pitched this season.
Nolasco came into 2013 with a 4.42 ERA over the previous five seasons. Anybody who checks out his showings in the FIP and xFIP departments over at FanGraphs, however, would notice that he deserved better. His FIPs and xFIPs tend to be lower than his ERAs.
The story is different this year. Nolasco's 3.80 ERA is right about where his FIP (3.65) and his xFIP (3.87) say it should be. He also owns a 102 ERA-plus, giving him a shot to finish the year as an above-average pitcher for the first time since 2008.
It helps that Nolasco has his highest strikeout rate since 2010. After striking out under 17 percent of the batters he faced in 2011 and 2012, he's striking out close to 20 percent of batters this year.
An increased swinging-strike percentage has helped as well. Another thing that's easy to notice is the increasing use and effectiveness of Nolasco's sinker. Here's some data from BrooksBaseball.net that are equal parts juicy and telling:
|Year||Sinker%||Sinker BAA||Sinker K|
Nolasco told ESPN's Jim Bowden back in 2011 that he was looking to improve his sinker. If these data are any indication, he finally has improved it to a point where it's become one of his better pitches. He's keeping the hits from falling with his sinker, and it's also become a halfway decent strikeout pitch.
Along with his traditional four-seamer, slider, splitter and curveball, the sinker gives Nolasco five offerings that he can rely on. And while he is throwing fewer strikes this year, the size of his repertoire hasn't hurt his command to an alarming degree. His walk rate is about where it was last year.
Nolasco was a back-end starter coming into the season. He's more like a No. 3 now, which means that the price to acquire him has gotten a boost in Miami's favor.
A source told Frisaro that the Marlins could probably get a mid-level prospect for Nolasco. A higher-level prospect is out of the question given Nolasco's spotty track record and impending free-agent status, but the Marlins might be able to generate some competition and get more than just one prospect for him. Maybe a mid-level prospect and a low-level prospect with some cash on the side.
As for when the Marlins could move Nolasco...
Trade Timeline: Soon
The trade deadline is still well over a month away, but expect Nolasco to be long gone by the time it arrives.
The Marlins know they're not contending this season, and they also know that Nolasco's trade value is only going to dip if he continues to make starts for them, because that would mean fewer starts for some other team.
As Stark pointed out in his report, the Marlins also have some reinforcements on the way. Per the team's official site, Henderson Alvarez and Nathan Eovaldi are nearing their returns from injury. Once they're ready, the Marlins will have an excuse to make some room in their rotation.
It's plausible that Nolasco will be gone before the end of the month. If not, he'll certainly be gone closer to the beginning of July than to the end.
Known Suitors: Orioles, Yankees and Giants
Per the reports from Stark and Knobler, we know that a trade for Nolasco is being pondered by Dan Duquette of the Orioles, Brian Cashman of the Yankees and Brian Sabean of the Giants.
The Yankees' interest is, well, interesting.
The Bombers have three solid starters in CC Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda and Andy Pettitte, and Phil Hughes isn't bad for a back-end guy. The No. 5 spot in their rotation is in flux, but the Yankees could just wait and hope that Michael Pineda is the guy for the job. After missing last year recovering from shoulder surgery, he's finally nearing major league action.
It's easier to understand the Orioles' interest in Nolasco. They're hanging in there in a tough AL East, but their starting pitching is once again a question mark. The O's have a rotation ERA near 5.00, and Nolasco would bring some much-needed stability.
The fit in San Francisco, however, is quite good. The Giants are in need of stability with Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum struggling and Ryan Vogelsong on the disabled list with a busted hand.
If the Giants were to acquire Nolasco, they could use it as an excuse to move Lincecum to the bullpen down the line. That worked out well for them last postseason.
Any one of these three teams can pay the price for Nolasco, but the Giants might be a little more desperate. Whereas the Yankees and Orioles have other internal options to turn to, starting pitching depth is one of the Giants' biggest organizational weaknesses.
As for other teams that could give Nolasco a look...
If the Angels and Dodgers are going to salvage their respective seasons, they're going to need to stabilize their starting rotations.
The Angels' rotation is intact for now with the return of Jered Weaver, but an upgrade over Joe Blanton would be a welcome addition. Tommy Hanson is no sure thing either.
The surplus of starting pitchers for the Dodgers in spring training is long gone now, as Aaron Harang was traded and Chad Billingsley, Chris Capuano, Ted Lilly and Josh Beckett are all on the disabled list.
Billingsley is gone for the year, and Beckett's status is up in the air at best. Nolasco would be a good get and a decent No. 3 behind Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke.
Where do you think Ricky Nolasco will end up?
The Rockies, meanwhile, have been lying low as contenders virtually all season. We know they can hit, but in Colorado it's always going to come down to pitching. The Rockies' pitching has been solid, but the rotation hasn't been nearly as strong as the bullpen.
The Royals are hanging around in the AL Central race, in large part because they've gotten exactly what they wanted out of James Shields, Jeremy Guthrie and Ervin Santana. Wade Davis has been a different story, however, as he has an ugly 5.77 ERA. Acquiring Nolasco would give the Royals an excuse to move Davis to an already very strong bullpen.
The Indians' starting pitching was holding steady for a while but not so much lately. Nolasco would be an upgrade over the hit-or-miss Scott Kazmir, and he would be a nice placeholder for Trevor Bauer until his time comes next season.
Those are the clubs that stand out, but Nolasco could appeal to just about any team. He could solidify any rotation, and it's not going to cost an arm and a leg to rent him.
Unless, of course, the Marlins feel like throwing Giancarlo Stanton into a Nolasco trade, but...nah.
Note: Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.
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