In a span of three days, the Minnesota Twins revamped their rotation.
Free agent right-hander Ricky Nolasco and the Twins reached a contract agreement Nov. 27, and they finalized a four-year, $49 million deal on Dec. 2. The Twins hold a $13 million club option for 2018, but based on the number of innings Nolasco pitches in 2016-17, he could turn it into a player option.
On Nov. 30, free agent right-hander Phil Hughes and the Twins agreed to a three-year, $24 million contract. Hughes' deal was finalized a week later.
Nolasco's contract is the richest the Twins ever gave a free agent, topping the $21 million, three-year contract outfielder Josh Willingham signed in December 2011.
"We need starting pitching badly, and about anybody that was out on that market we certainly explored," general manager Terry 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 started at least 31 games in five of the past six seasons, durability that would make him a key cog in a previously shaky Minnesota rotation.
Nolasco, 30, opened last season with the Miami Marlins, then was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers in July for three prospects. He went 5-8 with a 3.85 ERA in 18 starts for Miami, 8-3 with a 3.52 ERA in 16 games (15 starts) for Los Angeles.
Entering the postseason, Nolasco was the Dodgers' fourth starter, but manager Don Mattingly passed him by in the National League Division Series against the Atlanta Braves. Instead, Mattingly used ace left-hander Clayton Kershaw in Game 4, and Kershaw got the win to close out the series.
Nolasco finally made his postseason debut in the NL Championship Series. He lost Game 4 to the St. Louis Cardinals, allowing three runs in four innings. St. Louis went on to win the series in six games.
Before the July trade, Nolasco pitched 7 1/2 seasons with the Marlins. He has a career 89-75 record with a 4.37 ERA in 229 games (212 starts).
Hughes, 27, struggled with the New York Yankees last season, posting a 4-14 record with a 5.19 ERA in 145 2/3 innings (29 starts, one relief appearance).
A year earlier, Hughes had a 16-13 record with a 4.23 ERA in 191 1/3 innings.
"Obviously, the season I had (with the New York Yankees in 2013) was a disaster," Hughes said. "Coming into this thing, I was kind of expecting to just rebuild my value with a good year next year somewhere.
"I want to outperform this deal. The Twins really stepped up for me, and I want to repay them for that. I think it's a good situation all around."
2013: 66-96, fourth place in AL Central
TEAM MVP: Joe Mauer didn't play for the last month-and-half of the season and is still the team's MVP. He finished the season on the DL with a concussion, but left another season of decent numbers behind: .324/.404/.476. Behind the plate, he caught 17 base runners stealing and made only two errors. The team's record took a precipitous deep without him in the lineup, which proved exactly how valuable he is to the team.
BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT: There was plenty of disappointment to go around on this team (a failed experiment in center with rookie Aaron Hicks; Chris Parmelee's difficulties at the plate; and preseason ace Scott Diamond struggling on the mound among them). But Josh Willingham's lack of production may have been the biggest disappointment. Coming off a season of 35 homers, 110 RBI and .260 average, the Hammer struggled mightily to match those numbers in the second year of his free-agent contract: 14 homers, 48 RBI and a .208 batting average. Granted, Willingham had arthroscopic knee surgery mid-season, but the overall drop-off has been dramatic.
TOP PROSPECT: It doesn't take much analysis to decide that Byron Buxton, age 19, is the Twins top prospect as he held that distinction for all of baseball much of the season -- and it was warranted. Moving between minor leagues, Buxton hit a cumulative .334/.424/.520 with 49 extra-base hits, 55 stolen bases and a 76-to-105 walk-to-strikeout ratio in 125 games. He led the minors with 18 triples, finished second with 109 runs scored and 12th in stolen bases. The only questions about Buxton, who finished the season in Fort Myers Advance Single-A, will be how soon before he makes the big leagues. The Twins rushed Aaron Hicks up from Double-A in 2013 to troublesome results, and they don't want to repeat that mistake.
--RHP Phil Hughes and the Twins agreed to a three-year, $24 million contract, the Star-Tribune of Minneapolis reported Nov. 30. The 27-year-old struggled with the Yankees last season, posting a 4-14 record with a 5.19 ERA in 145 2/3 innings (29 starts, one relief appearance). A year earlier, Hughes had a 16-13 record with a 4.23 ERA in 191 1/3 innings. The deal would become official after Hughes takes a physical, according to the Star-Tribune.
--RHP Duke Welker, acquired by the Twins from the Pirates in October, was dealt back to Pittsburgh six weeks later. Welker went to Minnesota as the player to be named in the trade that brought 1B Justin Morneau to Pittsburgh. On Nov. 18, the Pirates brought him back, sending LHP Kris Johnson to the Twins. Welker, 27, pitched 1 1/3 scoreless innings over two relief appearances for Pittsburgh this year. Johnson, 29, went 0-2 with a 6.10 ERA in four games (one start) for the Pirates in 2013.
--LHP Edgar Ibarra had his contract purchased by the Twins, who added him to their 40-man roster. Ibarra, 24, went a combined 3-2 with two saves and a 1.93 ERA in 47 relief appearances for Double-A New Britain and Triple-A Rochester this year.
--LHP Pedro Hernandez was outrighted to Triple-A Rochester on Oct. 29 as the Twins took him off their 40-man roster. Hernandez, 24, went 6-3 with a 6.83 ERA in 14 games (12 starts) for Minnesota this year. In his final four starts, he went 0-2 with a 12.15 ERA.
--LHP Glen Perkins underwent arthroscopic right knee surgery Oct. 1, but he should be ready for spring training, the Twins announced. Perkins grabbed the closer role with both hands and made it his own this season. He had 36 saves, which doubled his entire career output. He became coveted around the trade deadline, but the Twins never showed an inkling of interest in trying to deal their closer of the future. Perkins was an anchor for a bullpen that has been one of the best in the league the past two seasons. Signed through 2015, he won't be going anywhere soon.
--OF Darin Mastroianni underwent left ankle surgery Oct. 16, a follow-up to his surgery on the same joint in May, but he is expected to be fully healed in time for spring training, the Twins announced. Mastroianni, 28, hit .185/.229/.215 with no homers and five RBIs in 30 games for Minnesota this year.
--RF Wilkin Ramirez, who missed the final month of the season due to a fractured left tibia, was outrighted to Triple-A Rochester on Oct. 22. He could refuse the assignment and opt to become a free agent. Ramirez, 27, hit .272/.302/.370 with no homers and six RBIs in 35 games with Minnesota this year.
--INF Doug Bernier, four days after undergoing arthroscopic right elbow surgery, was outrighted to Triple-A Rochester on Oct. 4. He subsequently declined the assignment and became a free agent. Bernier, 33, hit .226/.339/.283 with no homers and five RBIs in 33 games for Minnesota this year.
--RHP Josh Roenicke, RHP Shairon Martis and OF Clete Thomas, outrighted to Triple-A Rochester earlier in October, opted to become free agents. Roenicke, 31, appeared in 63 games for Minnesota in 2013, finishing 3-1 with a 4.35 ER. Martis, 26, made six relief appearances for the Twins, going 0-1 with a 5.59 ERA. Thomas, 29, hit .214/.290/.307 with four homers and 13 RBIs in 92 games.
--RHP Cole De Vries, outrighted to Triple-A Rochester shortly after the season ended, is expected to become a six-year minor league free agent in November. De Vries, 28, went 0-2 with a 10.80 ERA in four games (two starts) for Minnesota this year, missing much of the season with a forearm injury.
--RHP Mike Pelfrey slowly returned from May 2012 Tommy John surgery to, by season's end, become the pitcher the Twins hoped for when they signed him in the offseason. Pelfrey will be a free agent, but he has made it known that he is interested in returning to the team. After going through his post-surgery season, the team may well try to sign him and potentially experience what they were looking for in 2013.
--LF Josh Willingham will be in the third year of the 3-year, $21 million free agent contract he signed in 2012 (purportedly the biggest one in team history). He has had one good year (2012) and one bad one (2013) thus far, and before his injury, his name came up often in trade rumors. That is likely to be the case in 2014.
--2B Brian Dozier had a breakout year both offensively and defensively and is one of the bright spots in an otherwise dismal forecast for the Twins. He showed versatility at the plate batting leadoff, second or third. He even showed some power, knocking out a team-leading 18 home runs. When he wasn't making "SportsCenter's" Top 10 plays, he was assisting in double plays that helped make the Twin a leader in that category all season. The job of second base is secure for 2014.
--RHP Kyle Gibson had been the object of much anticipation as fans clamored all season for him to be called up. It finally happened in late June and played to mixed results. He came up on June 29, compiled a 2-4 record with 6.53 ERA and was back down in the minors by Aug. 20. Gibson is a big part of the Twins future, and certainly he benefitted from the experience, but he will need to pitch better next season to become reliable fixture in the rotation.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I would like to think that I am going to be able to get Gardy some people here. But I am not sure exactly what it (the starting rotation) is going to look like in spring training." -- General manager Terry Ryan, on what he expects the roster to look like next year.
With the midseason trade of Justin Morneau and his contract coming off the books, the Twins had plenty of money for use in the free agent market. They spent much of it on two free agent right-handers, Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes. While Minnesota spent some money the past two seasons, general manager Terry Ryan believes building should happen from within -- and he has a loaded farm system to back him up. The Twins need to do both, bring up some hot prospects and to add to veteran leaders who can help them win next season, or there will be no one in the seats to watch those young players when they finally do make it to the big leagues.
BIGGEST NEEDS: The Twins could use an established leadoff hitter (they struggled all season to find one), and they should add some power to the middle of the order in the absence of 1B Justin Morneau and struggles of OF Josh Willingham.
ARRIVALS: RHP Ricky Nolasco (free agent from Dodgers), RHP Phil Hughes (free agent from Yankees)
FREE AGENTS: RHP Nick Blackburn, RHP Mike Pelfrey
Pelfrey should be a priority signing for the Twins since he will be a season removed from Tommy John surgery, he got stronger as the season went on and he wants to return to Minnesota. He may want a multi-year deal, which might be tough to swallow for the rebuilding Twins, but they will need his veteran leadership. Blackburn spent the entire season in minor leagues recovering from a couple injuries. If he comes back it will have to be at a significantly reduced price from his previous deal ($3.5 million per season). Blackburn's time as a Twin may be done.
ARBITRATION-ELIGIBLE: 3B Trevor Plouffe, LHP Brian Duensing, RHP Josh Roenicke, RHP Anthony Swarzak
Plouffe should be back for his bat, but needs to be looking over his shoulder at top prospect Miguel Sano this spring. Plouffe's offense rebounded in September, but his defense at third is still a question mark. Middle relievers Duensing and Swarzak performed well this season (as did the bullpen as a whole), but they may not be satisfied with more of the same role next season. The Twins may take a look at them as starters, but they should both be back. Roenicke, meanwhile, had an okay season, and ultimately did his job when called upon. The Twins aren't going to be eager to lose anyone from a bullpen staff that has been a team strength for the past few seasons.
IN LIMBO: LF Josh Willingham, LHP Glen Perkins
Willingham has one year left on his three-year, $21 million deal. His name was mentioned in trade talks until he injured his knee. If he rebounds after a down season, the trade talk could start up again. Plenty of teams called about Perkins (who is signed through 2015) before the trade deadline, but the Twins weren't interested in parting with him them and won't be going forward. A big season in 2013 might warrant a raise for Perkins, so keeping an eye on his situation is advised.
--LHP Glen Perkins (arthroscopic right knee surgery in October 2013) should be ready for spring training.
--OF Darin Mastroianni (left ankle surgery in October 2013) is expected to be fully healed in time for spring training.
--C Joe Mauer (concussion) missed the season's final six weeks. He was symptom-free by mid-November, but the Twins announced that he would move to first base in 2014 in a bid to keep him healthy.
--RHP Samuel Deduno (arthroscopic right shoulder in September 2013) faces a recovery time of a few months, but he should be good to go for spring training.
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