Oh my God! The Marlins are having a fire sale!
This could be a chance for the Royals to pick up some pitching help on the cheap. The rumor mill has Ricky Nolasco as the next Marlin leaving South Florida, behind Mark Buehrle and Josh Johnson. Although I havenâ€™t actually seen any reports of the Royals being interested in him, they should be looking for help wherever they can find it. But would it be worth it for the Royals to acquire Nolasco?
Hereâ€™s the skinny on Nolasco: he turns 30 in a month, heâ€™ll be a free agent after the 2013 season, heâ€™s due $11.5 million next year, and heâ€™s posted a career 93 ERA+ in six full seasons (and five games in another season) in Miami.
I can see the appeal. For one thing, that one-year contract fits in with the Royalsâ€™ stated preference for not blocking young pitchers (no matter if that preference is misguided). Even though $11.5 million is a lot for a pitcher who is no better than a number-three starter, itâ€™s only a one-time shot. And Nolascoâ€™s 88 ERA+ was better than any Royals starter not named Jeremy Guthrie or Luis Mendoza; his 2.7 fWAR in 2012 was better than any Royals starter (Guthrie likely would have passed him if he had been a Royal the whole season). Heâ€™s topped 200 innings in a season twice in his career and 180 innings two other times.
Howeverâ€¦Nolascoâ€™s fWAR has bounced around plenty (3.9, 4.3, 2.5, 3.5, 2.7 from 2008-2012). Heâ€™s only had one year with an ERA+ over 100 (a 124 in 2008). Even more concerning, his strikeout rate has gone from 9.5 K/9 IP in 2009 to 5.9 last year. He doesnâ€™t walk many, but the reduced number of strikeouts means more hitters are putting the ball in play, and predictably he has allowed 10.7 and 10.1 hits per nine innings in the last two seasons. While I donâ€™t want to wade into the murky world of defensive statistics, I would argue the Royals donâ€™t have a great defense, and I would be a little nervous about putting a pitcher who increasingly depends on the fielders behind him on this team.
Not surprisingly, while Nolascoâ€™s strikeouts have gone down, the velocity on his fastball has also diminished, going from an average of 91.5 mph in 2009 to 90.1 this past season. That may not seem like much of a difference, but it has to be a concern.
While I think Nolasco would be an upgrade over certain members of the Royalsâ€™ rotation (cough Luke Hochevar cough), I would be wary of trying to add him to the team. Of course, it would depend on what the Marlins are asking for, but I would definitely not want to part with any top prospects. It would be a little different if this were the one piece that would put the Royals in World Series contention, but really, this would be a moderate risk that might not (even if it worked out) put them in the divisional race.
Also, I just canâ€™t get away from that $11.5 million price tag. Given the Royalsâ€™ previous proclamations, adding that kind of cost would just about end their offseason shopping, barring a trade of some sort that takes one of the bigger salaries off the books. And then they would be looking at an Opening Day rotation of Ervin Santana, Nolasco, Bruce Chen, Hochevar, and a fifth starter to be determined. That might get them in the neighborhood of .500. Maybe.
The Royals could probably put that money towards a better free-agent pitcher, or offer a package of prospects in trade for a better pitcher in that price range. My hope is that they will go for one of those options instead.