I wouldn’t say the Cameron Maybin trade exactly opened the floodgates or anything, but now we do have another trade to talk about. In this one, Carlos Ruiz is going from the Dodgers to the Mariners, and Vidal Nuno is headed in the other direction. You’re not impressed. No one’s impressed. This is a low-profile move, and maybe the most interesting player involved in the whole thought process is Austin Barnes, who’s now going to get a roster spot in Los Angeles. The Mariners are getting a backup catcher, and the Dodgers are getting a relatively soft-tossing reliever. It’s one of the first of many “whatever” moves we’re going to see over the next handful of months.
There’s still something here, though. The way I figure, it’s on the Dodgers’ side. To tackle the Mariners’ side first — they get a year of Ruiz, for $4.5 million. That’s not a bad rate for a reliable backup, and even though Ruiz is almost 38, he just managed a .365 OBP, and he projects to be a half-decent hitter. Pitchers seemingly like working with Ruiz, despite the fact that he rates as a below-average framer. He’s said to have those leadership qualities, he’s a better backup than Jesus Sucre, and he’s reasonable insurance for the unpredictable Mike Zunino. Ruiz makes sense here. You see why the Mariners jumped.
And I think you can see why the Dodgers jumped. In part, this is about clearing space for Barnes. But beyond that — I was asked recently about the market. We all know the market is light on starting pitching, and I was asked if there are more guys out there like Mike Montgomery, relievers you could target and think about putting in the rotation. Nuno might actually fit here. Here’s a plot of 2016 starting pitchers, and I’ve also included a red dot to represent Nuno, overall in the major leagues:
If there’s one thing Nuno has proven, it’s that he’s a strike-thrower. He’s thrown strikes as both a starter and as a reliever, and while he’s never been a swing-and-miss type, his contact rates haven’t been terrible. On top of that, when Nuno moved to the bullpen, his stuff didn’t really play up. It’s easier, then, to imagine him as a starter again, throwing the same pitches around the same speeds. Don’t be too turned off by his home-run rates — he just allowed the same average exit velocity as Justin Verlander and Johnny Cueto. I don’t think it’s a stretch to look at Nuno and think he has some shot of being another Wei-Yin Chen. The core abilities there are pretty similar. Chen signed an $80-million contract.
Nuno is already 29. If he’s going to be Chen, he’d better hurry up. And the Dodgers aren’t hurting for starters, and starting candidates. Nuno isn’t going straight into the rotation, and maybe we’ll just never hear from him again. But Ruiz is an old catcher with one year of control left. Nuno is a younger strike-thrower with three years of arbitration eligibility. You can see why the Mariners wouldn’t mind this move. And you can see why the Dodgers would go for it. The Dodgers’ front office hasn’t forgotten its small-market roots, and they’re always trying to win the surplus-value game. Nuno could be something more than he looks like. The boring moves are seldom quite as boring as they seem.