JUPITER, Fla. (AP) — Now that Ricky Nolasco's an ace, he might soon be traded. Such is life with the Miami Marlins.
Nolasco began his eighth spring training with the Marlins this week, and for the first time he's their top starter — by default. Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle and Anibal Sanchez departed when Miami slashed its budget, leaving Nolasco as the team's most experienced pitcher and highest-paid player.
He'll make $11.5 million in 2013, about one-quarter of the payroll. Because of the Marlins have returned to their tightfisted ways after a brief flurry of spending, and because Nolasco's contract expires after this year, he might well be dealt during the season to a contending team.
That would be fine with Nolasco. The right-hander was so upset by the Marlins' downsizing that he asked in December to be traded.
He now declines to discuss last offseason, saying he's focused on the future.
"Every year you want to go out there and do more and set your goals really high," Nolasco said. "This year is no different, whether it's the last year of my contract or not. I'm just trying to have a good year. I'm not thinking about any trades. I'm just going start by start, and want to help as much as I can."
The Marlins have decided they can afford to keep Nolasco — for now. In fact, the pitching staff desperately needs his experience.
"We don't have anybody else like that," new manager Mike Redmond said. "His experience of going through the everyday grind of playing in the major leagues is huge. You need a guy like that.
"To have him at the top of our rotation, it's going to be big to have that stability. You know what you're going to get every time he goes out there. He's young, too, but after that we're really young."
The 30-year-old Nolasco has been a model of consistency, posting double-figure win totals each of the past five seasons. Last year he became the franchise leader in career victories, and he's 76-64 with an ERA of 4.49.
Those aren't the statistics of an ace, and neither was his record last year — 12-13 with a 4.48 ERA. In the past two seasons he has allowed 458 hits, most in the majors. In 2012 opponents hit .285 against him, third-highest in the NL.
But he's the best the Marlins have.
Three pitchers expected to start — 21-year-old Jacob Turner, 22-year-old Henderson Alvarez and 23-year-old Nathan Eovaldi — have a combined career record of 17-38. Competition for the fifth spot is wide open, and it could be a revolving door all season.
Redmond said the Marlins' youngsters will benefit from Nolasco's leadership.
"Just to always have somebody to talk to and say, 'What's it like facing this guy?' is huge," Redmond said. "We always talk about important experience is."
But Nolasco's not keen on a role as mentor.
"Nah. I'm going to be the same," he said. "I'm a quiet guy by nature. I'm not going to change that. I'm going to keep going about my business and do what I have to do to prepare myself."
He's preparing to start opening day April 1 at Washington against the defending NL East champions. The Marlins finished 29 games behind the Nationals last year, and that was with Johnson, Buehrle and Sanchez.
Johnson started the past three openers. Now the Marlins have a new ace.
"I'm not changing my approach," Nolasco said. "Whether you're 1 or 5, you're trying to give your team a chance to win every time out."
Money can be motivation, too. And if Nolasco pitches well in 2013, his next contract will likely surpass the $26.5 million, three-year deal he signed before the 2011 season.