It appears now that the Miami Marlins engaged every MLB team at last week’s general manager’s meetings to let them know they would be offering up virtually every single one of their players over the coming weeks. The Yankees weren’t biting.
The main reason for the Yankees reluctance is the looming 2014 payroll reduction. It is the topic of discussion for any move made in this offseason because of the direct future implications. For the Yankees, the focus is signing Hiroki Kuroda and Andy Pettitte. The quicker they can do that the easier it will be for Yankees general manager Brian Cashman to work on filling the right field void left by Nick Swisher‘s departure.
If the Yankees are able to retain the two veteran arms, they will be set with a rotation of CC Sabathia, Kuroda, Pettitte, Phil Hughes and a one or the other of Ivan Nova and David Phelps. However, should Kuroda go elsewhere or Pettitte retire or worse both do not return the Yankees will have to turn their attention to a thin starting pitcher market or work a trade.
Enter this offseason’s MLB Santa, the Marlins. They still have gifts to give after the mega-deal they pulled off with the Toronto Blue Jays Tuesday. Yesterday the team let it be known that Ricky Nolasco was on the table. Nolasco, who will turn 31 in December, is a right-hander with $11.5 million due to him in 2013. It will be the final season of a three-year/$26.5 million deal. The financial circumstance itself fills a potential void for the Yankees since they would not be obligated to Nolasco in the all important 2014 season.
But, should the Yankees entertain trading for Nolasco as it was more or less immediately rumored after the Marlins let it be known of his availability? Well, they have to at least do their homework on him because there is a chance they could lose one or the other of Kuroda and Pettitte. When the Yankees do their research this is what they’ll find.
Nolasco pitched well enough in 2012 according to FanGraphs’ determination of dollar value generated by his WAR to warrant the salary he is set to make should he be able to duplicate his on field performance in the upcoming season. There are positives and negatives when looking at trends in Nolasco’s career stats.
He’s capable of pitching 200 innings, something the Yankees would desperately need if Kuroda and/or Pettitte were gone. He has pitched better than his ERA suggests by looking at his much lower FIP, better than league average FIP- and his SIERA numbers. He’s rounded into a ground ball pitcher and has lowered his HR/FB ratio. He does not walk a lot of batters which is good because while the ground balls have increased, he had to make that adjustment because his strikeout rate is in free fall.
Nolasco is a finesse pitcher throwing his fastballs (a mixture of four-seamers and two-seamers) in the 90-mph zone. He throws a slider, curveball and change-up regularly and mixes in the occasion splitter and cutter. According to PITCHf/x values on FanGraphs, Nolasco’s off-speed stuff is his bread and butter. He pitches to contact and now that he has begun to produce more ground balls the defense behind him needs to be better than average or else his performance will suffer, see the difference between his ERA and FIP.
Park factors according to Baseball-Reference for Marlins Park were neutral at 100 for 2012, its inaugural season. In Nolasco’s previous seasons with the Marlins at Sun Life Stadium, the park factors leaned toward a pitcher’s park. In a move to the new Yankee Stadium he’d experience pitching in an extremely hitting favored ballpark. His recent ability to minimize home runs compared to previous seasons would need to remain the same or even improve moving into Yankee Stadium especially being a right-handed pitcher combined with the short porch in right field.
He’d have a very strong right side of the infield with Mark Teixeira at first and Robinson Cano at second but he’d inherit a rather weak left side of the infield with Derek Jeter at shortstop and Alex Rodriguez manning third base. The outfield, which will be better served and better than average with Brett Gardner in center field and Curtis Granderson in left field, is missing a right fielder as mentioned earlier.
All of this says that Nolasco, while his surface numbers may not seem to validate a salary worth $11.5 million, has peripherals which suggest he may have moderate success pitching with the Yankees. But, he would have to have a season which he shows zero regression or it could turn out to be a nightmare. He’d receive more run support to offset any defensive lapses and the change in ballpark factors so he may net a few more wins, but pitching in the AL East is not easy and got harder with the trade of his former teammates.
A sticking point beyond the salary is that the Yankees would have to give up players in return. This gives rise to Nolasco’s cost. The Marlins may be willing to pitch in some cash in a Nolasco deal, but it shouldn’t be assumed. Plus there is no indication yet as to what the Marlins would be looking for in return. The Yankees have barely a few players on the 40-man roster that they’d entertain trading and even fewer in Triple-A who would entice the Marlins assuming they want someone MLB-ready or not far off.
Nolasco is certainly a fall back option if Kuroda and/or Pettitte do not pitch for the Yankees in 2013. His one-year commitment is enticing when looking ahead to 2014. The Yankees have to decide if the salary AND the prospects required (even if low level or fringe prospects) are worth his services. The other options are to take a chance on a less expensive free agent option or give both Nova AND Phelps roles in the rotation to fill a potential void should only one of the veterans not return. In the end, don’t expect the Yankees to give much thought to a Nolasco deal unless they are forced into it by a departure from Kuroda or Pettitte.
Player statistics courtesy of FanGraphs.