In light of how things were going for a while there, it didn't occur to me to imagine a scenario in which there would be a huge fuss over Ricky Nolasco.
But lo and behold, such a fuss is happening now.
ESPN's Buster Olney has reported that the Miami Marlins are "aggressively" shopping Nolasco. FoxSports.com's Ken Rosenthal has painted the NL West as the central hub of Nolasco mania, and it sounds like his destination could be decided by a bidding war between the San Francisco Giants and Los Angeles Dodgers.
If it does indeed come to that, the Giants had better win it. They and the Dodgers both have a need for Nolasco, but the Giants' need is stronger.
Obtaining Nolasco could be tough. Rosenthal and Danny Knobler of CBSSports.com have both noted the Giants' interest in the 30-year-old right-hander, but Henry Schulman of the San Francisco Chronicle has indicated that Nolasco has become the Dodgers' latest obsession:
Makes sense indeed. The Dodgers have lost Chad Billingsley for the season due to Tommy John surgery. Josh Beckett is next to him on the disabled list, and he may not pitch again this season either if he needs surgery to repair a nerve issue. Ted Lilly should be back, but the Dodgers should know by now that they can't count on him to stay healthy.
Meanwhile in San Francisco, the Giants only have one starting pitcher on the DL to the Dodgers' three: right-hander Ryan Vogelsong. Unless you want to count Chad Gaudin, who was filling in for Vogelsong, as a starter, in which case the Giants have two starters on the DL.
But while these numbers say the Dodgers are worse off than the Giants in terms of depth, other numbers say that their starting rotation isn't holding them back as much as the Giants' rotation is.
The Giants occupy the opposite end of the spectrum. Their starters rank 23rd with a 4.47 ERA, and "improvement" over the last month has only meant a 4.09 ERA. Their rotation has shown signs of life, but these signs have only served to take it from bad to mediocre.
This speaks to the major difference that exists between the Dodgers' rotation and the Giants' rotation. Both may be lacking in depth, but at least the Dodgers have some stability.
Clayton Kershaw needs no introduction. Behind him is Zack Greinke, the $147 million man who is rounding back into form with solid seven-inning performances in three of his last four starts. Behind him is Hyun-Jin Ryu, who has surrendered more than three earned runs only twice in 15 starts.
After this super-solid trio comes Chris Capuano, who was solid last year and now has a 2.55 ERA in his last six starts. Stephen Fife hasn't been too shabby as a fill-in, as he boasts a 3.25 ERA in five starts thanks in large part to a huge ground-ball rate (see FanGraphs).
This is an embarrassment of riches compared to what the Giants have. Madison Bumgarner has been consistent and Matt Cain has been largely terrific since the start of May, but there's a limit to how much one can trust Tim Lincecum's June revival given what he's become since the start of last season.
Barry Zito is fine at AT&T Park, but he has a better chance of cutting down a tree with a herring than he does of turning in a decent performance on the road (11.28 ERA in five starts). Chad Gaudin was doing all right in Vogelsong's place, but who knows how long he would have been able to keep it up? He hadn't been a full-time starter since 2009.
So when you think about where Nolasco would fit on these two clubs, there's certainly a bigger role for him to play in San Francisco than in Los Angeles. On the Dodgers, he would at best be a No. 4 behind Kershaw, Greinke and Ryu. On the Giants, Nolasco would easily be a No. 3.
This being Nolasco—he of the 4.68 ERA between 2009 and 2012—that may seem far-fetched. But this season, it's really not.
As I first noted a couple weeks ago, Nolasco was never really as bad as his ERAs indicated. While those floated in the 4.50-5.00 range, his FIPs and xFIPs were consistently in the 3.00s and low 4.00s.
In 2013, Nolasco's 3.68 ERA is sort of a happy medium between his 3.55 FIP and 3.86 xFIP. It should also be looked at as his reward for the adjustments he's made.
Nolasco is breaking out his sinker more than ever before this year. And while the numbers aren't as good as they were the last time I checked, Brooks Baseball has the batting average against Nolasco's sinker at .264. Opponents hit .324 off it last year.
Nolasco's slider has also been better. He's taken some velocity off it, and that's seemed to help. Hitters are only hitting it at a .185 clip in 2013.
If Nolasco were to join the Giants and keep doing what he's been doing, he'd be nothing short of a godsend. He could help satisfy their need for some stability for their rotation, and they'd have options available to them upon Vogelsong's return. There would be a logjam, sure, but 'tis better to have a logjam than a shortage of logs.
In terms of actually striking a deal for Nolasco, the key thing for the Marlins is going to be offloading the rest of his $11.5 million salary. The Dodgers can afford that easily, but the Giants can too. It wouldn't be a long-term commitment either, as Nolasco is due for free agency at the end of the year.
Neither the Giants nor the Dodgers have a particularly strong farm system to dip into, but I wonder if the Giants could entice the Marlins with a just-about-major-league-ready reliever in right-hander Heath Hembree with another prospect on the side. That could be enough to get the Marlins to bite.
Yeah, I know. The last time the Giants broke off a chunk of their farm system for a rental was when they dealt Zack Wheeler for Carlos Beltran. That's in the "Would love to have that one back" file in Brian Sabean's office.
But consider the circumstances this year. It counts for a lot that Buster Posey isn't down and out. And given the ballpark they play in, the Giants are always going to be better off putting their faith in pitching than in hitting.
Also, nobody's running away with the NL West or even threatening to run away with it. The Arizona Diamondbacks are the top contender, just as they were in 2011, but this year it doesn't seem like they have much of an idea what to do with first place. They might as well be keeping it unprotected on their front lawn.
A single move could make a difference for the Giants, and Nolasco is both a sensible and a practical target. All they have to do is beat the Dodgers to him.
Note: Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.
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