The saying ‘all good things come to an end’ exists for a reason, and for the Los Angeles Dodgers, there are 80 million reasons why their brief partnership with Ricky Nolasco shouldn’t be rekindled this offseason.
Not that there’s anything particularly wrong with the right-hander, of course. Aside from being arguably the best starter not just on the team, but in the entire MLB for the month of August, the 30-year-old did mostly what he was brought in to do, putting up no. 2 starter-type numbers in the back end of the rotation with a 3.52/1.20 ERA/WHIP over 87 innings with the boys in blue in 2013.
Though the did run out of gas in September and lost his first career playoff start, you could probably argue that the Dodgers ended up getting more than what they bargained for considering Nolasco was worth 1.5 fWAR through his 16 starts with the team. So what’s the problem with bringing him back?
Well, not that there’s an issue with making sure the former Miami Marlins ace is properly compensated for his efforts, but overpaying is a whole different animal.
As least, that’s what the Dodgers (or any other team) would be doing if they were to agree to Nolasco’s request of an $80 million contract over five years, a number that’s just absurd enough that you’d have to believe there’s simply no way he’d be getting it (you too, Ervin Santana). It’s not just the dollars, obviously; there’s also the term to consider, and even for the team with the highest payroll in the bigs and seemingly endless wealth, long-term contracts can do their fair share to push a franchise down a slippery slope, especially when they’re given to guys who don’t deserve them.
And really, even though Nolasco had a pretty good season in a contract year, is he really one of those guys who need to be locked up as a core piece of the group for half a decade?
It’s not entirely surprising that he’s apparently (per ESPN’s Buster Olney) got a three-year offer from an anonymous exec that could be bumped up to four, but considering that these kinds of leaks are often used to drum up bidding wars, I’d imagine that the Dodgers will want to stay out it. Three years can quickly becomes four plus an option, and before they know it, they could be paying a guy with a career 4.37/1.29 ERA/WHIP twice what Hyun-Jin Ryu makes up til age 35.
Besides, though the free agent market for impact, top-of-the-rotation starters is relatively weak this year, the same cannot be said about the L.A. is looking for — middle to back-end depth.
Even if Josh Beckett ends up retiring from his current ailment and if Chad Billingsley comes back around early summer and isn’t in form, the Dodgers are still anchored by arguably the top 1-2 punch in the game, following a solid no. 3 in Ryu. They need someone to come in and eat innings after that, but there’s no need to over-commit to a no. 4 starter because the short-term options available on the market are actually pretty good.
Whether it’s Bronson Arroyo, Dan Haren, Tim Hudson or Bartolo Colon, there are a fair number of guys who the Dodgers can go after with 1-2 year contracts and who have the track record for consistent production. In the case of someone like Colon, he might just end up giving the team a duo of legit aces backed by a duo of no. 2 starters.
No, it won’t be long-term, but with a weak crop of top pitchers available, that’s not necessarily what L.A.’s focus should be at this moment anyway.
If they’re feeling less frugal (but still want to avoid getting into a bidding war over Masahiro Tanaka that could go over $100 million), the ideal option might be to really go after Hiroki Kuroda for a homecoming performance for 2014 prior to him going back to Japan to play his final season of pro ball. All would fill the back end of the rotation just fine (in fact, several would be overqualified), while still giving the team some financial flexibility down the line.
Not that Nolasco wouldn’t do a good job either, but in this case, the money that he’s likely to get just isn’t what the team needs to spend … especially considering that they’ve still got to pay their most important starter, you know?