Warne: The skinny on three free-agent starters Twins are interested in
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MINNEAPOLIS - The Twins have shown preliminary interest in three free agent starters, according to 1500ESPN.com's Darren Wolfson. The Twins have expressed interest in right-handed starters Ubaldo Jimenez and Ricky Nolasco, as well as lefty Jason Vargas, according to the report.
Here's the skinny on each pitcher, including age, last year's salary and stats, average velocity and pitch selection, pros and cons and an overview:
RHP Ubaldo Jimenez
Age on Opening Day: 30
2013 Team (Salary): Cleveland Indians ($5.75 million)
2013 Stats: 13-9, 3.30 ERA (3.43/3.62 FIP/xFIP), 9.6 K/9, 2.4 K/BB, 1.33 WHIP
Repertoire: Four-seamer that averages 92.1 mph (which he uses 33.5 percent of the time);
83.6 mph slider (22.8 percent); 84.2 mph changeup (18.9 percent), 91.6 mph two-seamer (15.2 percent), 84.1 mph splitter (4.0 percent), 77.6 mph curveball (3.7 percent), 90.1 mph cutter (1.9 percent).
Pros: strikeouts, improvement despite velocity decrease, has shown ability to adapt (grounders at Coors Field, flyballs elsewhere)
Cons: home/road splits, walks, questionable mechanics, allows plenty of baserunners, even at his best.
Breakdown: I spoke to an NL Scout who had seen Jimenez, and he said the following:
"He isn't perfect, but who is? He was great in the second half of last season. He's a veteran who has now learned how to pitch. If he's on time with his arm -- with that funky delivery -- he's definitely a mid-rotation type. I think the team that signs him is going to have to be sure on his medicals, and be sure that they are comfortable with his delivery, as there's so much that can go wrong with it. He made it work last year, though. He's an interesting player, though. Some teams won't trust the delivery."
Jimenez's likely salary is a lot to give up for someone seen as a mid-rotation type. Then again, a mid-rotation type in the current Twins rotation would qualify as next year's opening day starter. In a lot of ways, Jimenez can be viewed like Francisco Liriano: a talented, but mercurial starter whose control woes could drive the Twins staff crazy. If Jimenez's turnaround is legitimate, he could be worth the gamble. In the two years between standout seasons, however, Jimenez was 19-30 with a 5.03 ERA, 1.50 WHIP, and less than two strikeouts per walk (8.0 K/9, 4.3 BB/9).
That won't cut it.
Speculative salary demands: A four- or five-year deal at about $15 million per year, plus a surrendered pick if/when he declines Cleveland's qualifying offer. The Twins' first round pick is protected, so they'd have to surrender their second rounder to sign Jimenez.
LHP Jason Vargas
Age on Opening Day: 31
2013 Team (Salary): Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim ($8.5 million)
2013 Stats: 9-8, 4.02 ERA (4.09/4.29 FIP/xFIP), 6.5 K/9, 2.4 K/BB, 1.39 WHIP
Repertoire: 87.7 mph four-seamer (36.0 percent); 87.6 mph two-seamer (19.6 percent); 80.4 mph changeup (27.4percent); 76.0 mph curveball (14.8percent); 83.8 mph cutter (1.8 percent).
Pros: not likely to be terribly expensive, flyball pitcher, HR rate, above-average walk rate, durability.
Cons: He doesn't set himself apart from current Twins rotation by a whole lot, lack of strikeouts, velocity, lost time due to blood clot in left (throwing) armpit in 2013.
Breakdown: Vargas would be a perfectly reasonable back-end target if the Twins weren't already rife with such pitchers. A soft-tossing lefty with no discernible platoon splits, Vargas has pitched well in a couple of pitchers' parks (Safeco and Angels Stadium), so there's little reason to believe that wouldn't continue at the spacious Target Field. But if the Twins are to target anyone older than 30, it should be a difference-maker. Vargas doesn't really fit the bill there.
Speculative salary demands: Probably a two- to three-year deal at $6 million to $8 million per season. Latest reports suggest the Angels will not tender Vargas a qualifying offer.
RHP Ricky Nolasco
Age on Opening Day: 31
2013 Team (Salary): Miami Marlins/Los Angeles Dodgers ($11.5 million)
2013 Stats: 13-11, 3.70 ERA (3.34/3.58 FIP/xFIP), 7.5 K/9, 3.6 K/BB, 1.21 WHIP
Repertoire: 90.4 mph four-seamer (24.2 percent); 82.1 mph slider (27.6 percent); 90.3 mph two-seamer (17.9 percent); 74.5 mph curveball (16.8 percent); 80.9 mph changeup (6.3 percent); 80.1 mph splitter (6.2 percent).
Pros: 180-plus innings in five of last six years, above-average strikeout rate in his career, career FIP and xFIP both in 3.00s, stingy with walks.
Cons: He's been decidedly mediocre from 2009-2012, gives up lots of hits, gets hit hard on his heater.
Breakdown: Nolasco's agent is Matt Sosnick, who negotiated deals with the Twins for Josh Willingham and Ryan Doumit, and reportedly enjoys dealing with the club. Sosnick also represents Minneapolis-born Josh Johnson, for what it's worth. Nolasco's breakout season was as a 25-year-old in 2008, when he went 15-8 with a 3.52 ERA, 7.9 K/9, and a 1.10 WHIP. And while Nolasco pitched similarly well in 2013, he wasn't particularly good in the interim (49-43, 4.68 ERA, 87 ERA+, 7.5 K/9, and 1.33 WHIP). Among big name free agents, Nolasco makes sense for the Twins because he doesn't walk anyone and likely won't command top dollar. According to Fangraphs, hitters have hit .304/.352/.509 off Nolasco's four-seamer in his career. By comparison, his slider has induced a line of .224/.254/.350 with almost three times as frequent swings and misses (6.0 percent to 17 percent).
Speculative salary demands: A four- to five-year deal in the $12 million to $14 million range per year seems about right. Nolasco is ineligible for a qualifying offer because he did not spend the entire season with one team. As a result, his signing will not require draft pick compensation.