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The Royals should not trade for Ricky Nolasco

Ricky Nolasco has some warning signs that should make the Royals leery about making him their final big acquisition this off-season.

Jason Arnold

The Toronto Blue Jays proved they read Jeff Zimmerman's articles when they became the beneficiaries of the Miami Marlins fire-sale. The Marlins unloaded basically everyone who makes money on their team, except for starting pitcher Ricky Nolasco.

Nolasco and 2011 Twitter celebrity Logan Morrison are the next two Miami players expected to be moved this offseason, according to Joe Capozzi of the Palm Beach Post. While Morrison is a more attractive trade piece overall, the Kansas City Royals don't have much of a need for a corner outfielder/first baseman. The Royals do have a need for starting pitching, an Nolasco is name we have discussed trading for in the past.

If the choice was up to me, I would be hesitant about acquiring Ricky Nolasco. Nolasco's strikeout numbers and velocity are trending in the wrong direction. Kansas City would likely absorb most of Nolasco's 11.5 million dollar contract for next season, which could potentially make the Nolasco trade the final "big" pitching acquisition of the off-season. The Royals should explore higher impact pitchers before settling on Nolasco.

It's hard to have a discussion about Nolasco without talking about the gap between his FIP/ERA. For the last four seasons, Nolasco has posted an ERA around 4.50 despite having a FIP around 3.50-3.80. Below are some statistics that illustrate the gap:

Year ERA- FIP- RA9-Wins WAR
2009 119 78 0.7 4.3
2010 110 95 1.7 2.5
2011 121 90 0.6 3.5
2012 113 99 1.6 2.7

WAR calculated using FIP thinks that Nolasco has been an above-average pitcher, but if it's calculated using RA, it states he is a below-average pitcher. After four straight seasons of under-performing his peripherals, any team interested in trading for him should expect the same phenomenon to occur. For the sake of argument, I'm going to split the difference between the two win values and describe Nolasco as a league-average pitcher.

There are also warning signs that Nolasco is declining as a pitcher. The starting pitcher has posted a worse K% and a lower average fastball velocity each of the past four seasons.

Year K% vFA
2009 24.80% 91.5
2010 22.10% 91.2
2011 16.60% 90.6
2012 15.00% 90.1

Not all of Nolasco's peripheral statistics foreshadow a declining pitcher. The righty has raised his ground ball percentage each of the last four seasons, while Mike Podhorzer of Fangraphs points out that Nolasco had a league-average swinging strike percentage, making his low strikeout numbers a bit unlucky. Still, I would advise against gambling on a pitcher with declining strikeouts and velocity.

Finally, Nolasco is set to make $11.5 million this season. Like Ervin Santana, Nolasco's contract expires after this season. The starting pitcher would not limit the Royals spending in the future, but taking on his salary would likely end their spending for this off-season. Scott McKinney estimated that the Royals could spend around $28 million on two pitchers this offseason. With $23.5 million allotted to Nolasco and Santana, their would be little wiggle room for another upgrade.

If you believe that the Royals will magically be able to support an entirely home-grown (plus Paulino) rotation in 2014, then trading for Nolasco might be an attractive option. I would advise against this type of thinking. I think the Royals need to acquire a pitcher who fits in long-term, since expecting an all home-grown pitching staff is unrealistic.

Furthermore, Dayton Moore is (hopefully) feeling the pressure to at least reach .500 this season. Do Ricky Nolasco and Ervin Santana really take this team to .500? If I were Moore, I would not feel comfortable betting my job on it.

Nolasco may have been an interesting gamble before the Santana trade, but not anymore. The Marlins pitcher has some warning signs around his production, and would effectively end the Royals major off-season moves. Miami will continue it's fire-sale, but does not make a great trading partner with Kansas City.