The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Sports Columns

February 17, 2014

Thoma column:Twins apply prospect thinking to veteran signings

The Twins sunk their offseason investments this winter into the starting rotation.

Free agent signees Ricky Nolasco (four years, $49 million), Phil Hughes (three years, $24 million), Mike Pelfrey (two years, $11 million) total some $84 million in financial commitment. Nolasco and Hughes represent the two largest free-agent deals the Twins have ever struck.

And yet the striking thing about these three is: They really haven’t done that much yet.

Nolasco, who figures to be the Opening Day starter, is 89-75 for his eight-year career with a 4.37 ERA. That ERA isn’t impressive on its face; when you factor in that it was compiled in the lighter-hitting National League with good pitchers parks for home environments, it’s even less impressive. Baseball Reference puts Nolasco’s career ERA+ at 6 percent below average.

Hughes, once a top prospect, was deemed a rotation flop with the New York Yankees, who made no effort to retain him. Last year Hughes went 4-14 with a 5.19 ERA; his career ERA+ is 5 percent below average.

Pelfrey ... well, he was part of the problem last year. His stats were Hughes-like: 5-13, 5.19. And his career ERA+ is 10 percent below average.

And these are the guys who are supposed to turn this pitching staff around?

Well, yeah.

Scott Boras is the leading agent in baseball in large part because he’s smarter than most general managers, or at least he was before the new wave of Ivy Leaguers started taking control of front offices. He made a comment during the winter meetings about Terry Ryan as a free agent shopper:

“He’s really taking a very strategic approach to it. He’s making a lot of decisions based on their evaluation of skill and how the players are and thinking the players can be better than they were in Minnesota. I think taking Terry’s skill set as an evaluator and applying it to the free-agent market is a pretty interesting dynamic, and I think he’s going to be successful at it.”

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