The Minnesota Twins entered the offseason with a desperate need for starting pitching, and they're off to a pretty great start in addressing it.
Right-hander Ricky Nolasco and the Twins agreed to terms on a free-agent contract Wednesday, a baseball source confirmed Thursday. Nolasco still needs to take a physical before the deal is announced.
Terms were not immediately available, but according to a source the deal is for four years and $49 million. Yahoo! Sports earlier reported the terms.
That's a hefty price for the Twins, who historically have been reluctant to hand out big-money deals to free agents. Prior to Nolasco's contract, the most the Twins had spent on a free agent who did not come through their system was the three-year, $21 million deal they gave Josh Willingham in 2011.
But their need was acute and Nolasco was widely considered one of the top available free agents in a thin crop of starting pitchers. He's walked just 2.1 hitters per nine innings for his career, which makes him a perfect fit for the Twins, who have always placed a premium on control from their starters.
Nolasco, 30, is 89-75 with a 4.37 ERA in parts of eight seasons with the Miami Marlins and Los Angeles Dodgers. The Dodgers acquired him from the Marlins in a July trade, and Nolasco went 8-3 with a 3.52 ERA during Los Angeles' playoff push.
Pitching to contact has become a bit of a sore spot for Twins fans, who have watched their team's starting staff get bludgeoned while throwing strike after strike right down the middle. But Nolasco also has a healthy 7.4 strikeouts per nine innings, and he's shown the ability to get out of jams without letting the hitter put the ball in play.
Nolasco's Twitter account already has a Twins logo as its avatar, and this beleaguered team will no doubt be just as eager to welcome him into the fold. Nolasco pitched at least 185 innings in five of the last six seasons and will immediately slot in right near the top of what was the worst pitching staff in the majors last year.
The Twins have lost at least 96 games in each of the last three seasons, thanks in most part to their woeful starting pitching. Last year the starters had an ERA of 5.26. Toronto was the next-worst at 4.81. Only two of their starters had ERAs under 5.00, with Samuel Deduno's 3.83 leading the way and Kevin Correia's pedestrian 4.18 next.
The Twins are also pursuing former Yankees pitcher Phil Hughes to bolster their rotation and are likely to turn their attention to him now that they've agreed to terms with Nolasco, according to a source.
The Twins have also inquired about veteran Bronson Arroyo among other available arms, and are expected to continue adding players to beef up the rotation. Matt Garza is another the other viable option, and the Twins also could bring back Mike Pelfrey for depth.
Information from The Associated Press and ESPN.com senior baseball writer Jerry Crasnick contributed to this report.