Ricky Nolasco Signing Just First Step for Minnesota Twins in Rotation Rebuild

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Ricky Nolasco Signing Just First Step for Minnesota Twins in Rotation Rebuild
Harry How/Getty Images

The Minnesota Twins took a step toward improving their miserable starting rotation on Wednesday when they agreed to a deal with free agent Ricky Nolasco.

Chris Cotillo of MLB Daily Dish broke the news first, with Jon Heyman of CBS Sports confirming the report:

Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports broke the terms of the deal:

Signing Nolasco is a great move by the Twins, as he is coming off an impressive 2013 campaign during which he went 13-11 with a 3.70 ERA and a 1.21 WHIP.

Nolasco also finished the season strong, going 8-3 with a 3.52 ERA and a 1.20 WHIP after being traded from the Miami Marlins to the Los Angeles Dodgers.

After such an impressive showing in 2013, Nolasco was among the top free agents this offseason, ranking eighth among available starting pitchers prior to his signing, according to CBS Sports.

It shouldn't come as a surprise that the Twins are interested in bolstering their starting rotation after the way they've struggled over the past few years.

The Twins have been among the worst three teams in terms of ERA in each of the past three seasons, due in large part to the inefficiency of their starting pitchers.

Twins Pitching Stats (2011-13)
Year Team ERA MLB Rank Starters' ERA MLB Rank
2011 4.58 29 4.64 26
2012 4.77 28 5.40 29
2013 4.55 29 5.26 30

ESPN

As you can see from the table above, the Twins have been at or near the bottom of the AL Central for the past three years largely because of their woeful pitching staff.

The 5.26 ERA among starters was the worst in MLB last season—even worse than the Houston Astros. The next-worst ERA by starters was 4.81 by the Toronto Blue Jays, an incredible 0.45 better than that of Minnesota.

In fact, the last time the Twins had a decent pitching staff was in 2010, when Carl Pavano and Francisco Liriano led the starting rotation and Jesse Crain and closer Jon Rauch highlighted the bullpen.

Leon Halip/Getty Images

Unfortunately, signing Nolasco isn't nearly enough to save the Twins starting rotation. If the team hopes to have a decent starting five next season, it will need at least two more starters.

To its credit, Minnesota has certainly been sniffing around and checking out the market.

The team has been linked with Bronson Arroyo, but it has yet to make him an offer:

Jon Heyman of CBS Sports also connected the team with Matt Garza, Phil Hughes, Scott Feldman, Ubaldo Jimenez, Ervin Santana and its own Mike Pelfrey.

In addition, Darren Wolfson of 1500ESPN.com said the team is interested in Japanese starter Masahiro Tanaka but called Tanaka an "extreme long-shot."

Jeff Gross/Getty Images

The Twins know they need pitchers and have a long wish list, but is it possible for the worst starting rotation in baseball to turn things around enough to become serviceable in 2014?

As of now, the Twins have Kevin Correia and Samuel Deduno as their best starting pitchers alongside Nolasco. Correia and Deduno are both back-end starters who shouldn't be higher than fourth and fifth in the team's rotation if it wants to be solid next season.

The team can also hope and pray that Vance Worley returns to his 2011 form, when he went 11-3 with a 3.01 ERA and finished third in NL Rookie of the Year voting for the Philadelphia Phillies. However, it can't rely too much on a guy who went 1-5 with a 7.21 ERA in 2013.

If the Twins are going to be good, they're going to have to sign at least two of the pitchers they're targeting right now.

Minnesota simply doesn't have the money to sign Santana or Jimenez and pick up another decent free agent this offseason, which limits its choices.

Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

One creative way for the team to bolster its rotation might be to sign former New York Yankee Phil Hughes.

Hughes is coming off a few bad years in a row with the Yankees, but a big reason he has been unsuccessful in New York is his tendency to surrender home runs.

Phil Hughes Stats (2011-13)
Year GS W-L ERA WHIP
2011 14 5-5 5.79 1.49
2012 32 16-13 4.23 1.27
2013 29 4-14 5.19 1.46

Baseball-Reference

Over the past two years, Hughes has given up 59 home runs, but 39 of those home runs have come in the launching pad known as Yankee Stadium.

It's no surprise Hughes has struggled against power hitters, considering he has pitched in the stadium that had the most home runs of any ballpark in 2012.

Mike Stobe/Getty Images

Minnesota could be a much more welcoming place for Hughes.

According to ESPN Home Run Tracker, Target Field had the second-fewest home runs of any AL stadium this past season. It is a much more pitcher-friendly park than Yankee Stadium, and Hughes could be able to recapture some of his old magic there.

Signing Hughes to a short-term contract would also leave the door open for the Twins to make a major signing for the other pitcher they need.

With some financial wiggle room after giving Hughes a cheap contract, the Twins would be able to make a play for a guy such as Garza, who has had success pitching in Minnesota in the past.

Adding Garza and Hughes to a rotation with Nolasco, Correia and Deduno could potentially give the Twins a middle-of-the-pack rotation, which would be a huge improvement.

However, we have to keep in mind that there's a chance Hughes doesn't bounce back in Minnesota and Garza continues to struggle in the AL, as he did with the Texas Rangers in the latter half of 2013 (4-5, 4.38 ERA, -0.1 WAR).

Layne Murdoch/Getty Images

Realistically, the Twins are going to need a few years to fix their starting rotation—and part of their rebuilding process will need to come from within the organization.

According to Baseball Prospectus, five of the Twins' top nine prospects are pitchers. The team is going to have to hope that Alex Meyer (Double-A), Kohl Stewart (rookie ball), Jose Berrios (Single-A), Lewis Thorpe (Rk) and Felix Jorge (Rk) all continue to develop and that two or three of them turn out to be solid pitchers in the majors.

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However, the Twins will have to wait a few years for these guys to start making a difference. Three of them are still in rookie ball, and Meyer is the only one in Double-A or higher.

With so much rebuilding to do and their prospects still a few years away, it would be unfair to expect the Twins to fix their rotation issues by the time the 2014 season rolls around.

In all likelihood, the Twins won't have a top-tier starting rotation for at least another three years. But that won't stop them from trying to add a few more guys like Nolasco for the time being.

It's going to be a long rebuilding process for the Twins, but this signing is a step in the right direction. Minnesota fans can only hope the team continues to build on its latest move.

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