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The Sports Xchange, Published December 03 2013

Nolasco finalizes four-year contract with the Twins

MINNEAPOLIS – Durable and capable of dominant starts, right-hander Ricky Nolasco signed a record contract to become the stabilizing anchor of the Minnesota Twins’ starting rotation.

The 30-year-old right-hander signed a four-year, $48 million contract, the richest deal ever for the Twins in free agency.

“I was interested in whoever was interested in me,” Nolasco said Tuesday during his news conference. “The level that they showed from Day 1 was big for me. It was probably the most deciding factor in this process.”

Minnesota’s starting pitchers combined to finish last in baseball with a 5.26 ERA. Nolasco arrives knowing he’ll be matched up with the aces of the American League Central, including Justin Verlander of the Detroit Tigers, Chris Sale of the Chicago White Sox and James Shields of the Kansas City Royals.

“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.”

Kevin Correia and Samuel Deduno are the only two sure starters for the Twins, who are also adding right-hander Phil Hughes, a free agent who spent his seven-year career with the New York Yankees.

The Twins reportedly finalized a three-year, $24 million deal with Hughes, 27, on Tuesday. If right-hander Mike Pelfrey opts to re-sign, the Twins have the potential for a much-improved rotation.

Nolasco’s first season will be all about handling transitions – from warm-weather climates and pitchers parks of Miami and Los Angeles to frosty Minneapolis and his first go-around in the American League.

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.

The contract topped the $21 million, three-year contract outfielder Josh Willingham signed in December 2011.

Nolasco 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. He was 89-75 and a 4.37 ERA in 229 career starts.

Entering the 2013 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 7½ seasons with the Marlins. He has a career 89-75 record with a 4.37 ERA in 229 games (212 starts).

Nolasco started at least 31 games in five of the past six seasons, durability that will make him a key cog in a previously shaky Minnesota rotation.