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Yinzer Christmas Comes Early As Nova Re-signs

Hark, the Pittsburgh Trib reveals,
Nova signed a three year deal.
Sinker, Curve and a Change Up
Money overflows from his cupfig

He’s our guy that’s all that matters,
He won five and walked three batters.
Get those Series tickets ready.
My grandmother’s name is Betty.

Hark, the Post Gazette reveals,
Nova signed a three year deal.

That was as much fun as a crayon-drawn diagram.

Yesterday was a very good day for the Pirates. They improved their rotation at an incredibly reasonable price and avoided some of the complaints of the fan base by having another popular trade deadline player walk away when Ivan Nova signed a 3 year/$26M dollar deal. Many expected Nova to sign a contract somewhere in the ballpark of the 3 year/$36M last year’s late season darling, J.A. Happ, received, but Nova fell well short of that number despite a weaker market overall for starting pitching this offseason.

Nova’s deal has the potential to be a steal with very little risk of being a failure. If Nova averages just 1.2 fWAR per season, the deal can be consider break even assuming $8M per win. If he manages just 2 WAR, the Bucs will have an OK third pitcher in the rotation and a surplus value of over $20 million. If something clicked for Nova and the final two months of the season were a true breakout, the deal could pay for itself in the first season.

Here’s the issue with all the excitement, however. Can the Pirates really count on August/September Nova to be the guy the guy moving forward? As I pointed out above, they don’t need him to be for the deal to make sense, but this is what fans are expecting. My thought is ‘probably not’. While he’s always been a good control guy, a sub-1 BB/9, let alone sub 0.5 BB/9, is not a reasonable expectation.  Additionally, his HR/9  were only half his career rate. Of course other than a low HR/FB, the rest of the luck stats were pretty much in line with what you would expect and his ERA and xFIP were in the same ballpark. More telling however is Nova’s six year track record of being a solid, but not spectacular, back of the rotation pitcher who averaged only 1.4 fWAR and 125 IP in his 6 full seasons in the majors. That’s fewer innings than Jeff Locke managed the last three and a fWAR in line with Charlie Morton over his final five years in Pittsburgh.

I’m not suggesting I prefer Locke or Morton to Nova. I don’t. I’m also not suggesting that I’m not glad the Pirates signed him or that he didn’t improve the status quo. He did. The rotation went from:

1. Cole
2. Taillon
3. Kuhl
4. Hutchinson and the Rookie grab bag
5. Hutchinson and the Rookie grab bag

to:

1. Cole
2. Taillon
3. Nova
4. Kuhl
5. Hutchinson and the Rookie grab bag

Wednesday’s rotation was a problem, maybe one that I didn’t even fully comprehend the severity of until this exercise. The current rotation is better and Nova makes a strong improvement. However, Nova is miscast as a #3 just as Jonathan Niese was last year. If Nova reverts to normal Nova, it will leave a gaping hole in the middle of the rotation just as it did when Niese had, without question, his worst season in the majors. If Niese had returned to his career norms last year, the Pirates rotation would have fared decently. After all he was a steady low-to-mid 2 fWAR performer before a sub par 2015. It was a gamble they were willing to take, but of course they lost that wager. Again, I’m not saying I prefer Niese to Nova as I wouldn’t touch Niese with a 10 foot Festivus pole right now. However, great close to last season aside, Nova might be even less qualified to hold the #3 than Niese was.

Should the Pirates fail to secure a true middle of the rotation pitcher, they’d be running the same risk they did last year of the entire thing imploding early. Last year, Gerrit Cole faltered and Francisco Liriano tanked at the top. Niese struggled as well, but he didn’t have the upside to bail the top of the rotation out. If Cole doesn’t rebound, they will depend quite heavily on Jameson Taillon to not have a sophomore slump. If both struggle, would Nova provide any more insurance than Niese did? Probably not.

When I saw tweets almost immediately after the Nova signing stating the Pirates were still on the White Sox’ Jose Quintana, I was relieved. Not that I’m hell bent on Quintana in particular, nor am I sold that the Pirates have to “go for” it immediately. I do think the White Sox would make a sensible dance partner for a deal like this. Kevin outlined what he thought a trade for Quintana would take yesterday. I think it could cost more with three of the Pirates’ top four prospects likely involved before the Sox would pull the trigger. The Pirates certainly have enough to get the deal done and moving Tyler Glasnow as part of the deal might serve both the organization and the player. The Bucs could use Glasnow’s upside immediately, but he’s still some way off of pitching at that level. Chicago, now finally in rebuild mode, can afford to let him take his lumps in the Majors. With Quintana’s four years of control, he’s still a long term piece and moving a near Major League ready prospect like Glasnow wouldn’t be a huge issue. With the other trade hauls the White Sox hae gotten this offseason, I’d be hard pressed to believe they wouldn’t seek a deal that also includes two of Austin Meadows, Mitch Keller and Josh Bell. While they can easily absorb the loss of the Glasnow, any of the remaining three would sting.

I think the Pirates could make a considerably smaller move and be in a similar boat. Tyson Ross comes to mind immediately as an alternative who would just cost money. Ross is a risk, but he has a very high upside relative to Nova. At $10M over one season, he won’t be a long term payroll albatross if it doesn’t work out. If Ross rebounds, he could yield a draft pick with a qualifying offer even with the new collective bargaining agreement.

Signing Nova is a good thing for the Pirates, but probably is not a game changer. The rotation still has at least one more question mark that likely can’t be filled internally this season and it’s a bigger question mark than people will let on. The Nova contract was a very good deal that will pay for itself if he manages to just be a good #4, which is what he is. Expecting anything more would be using the same blueprint that built a flawed rotation with little margin for error last year.

About Steve DiMiceli (141 Articles)
<p>Steve is a naturalized yinzer hailing originally from just north of Allentown, PA. He came to Pittsburgh to attend Duquesne University and decided to stick around after graduation. Steve is best known for his contributions to Duquesne hoops community as the owner of the Duquesne Dukes forum on Yuku and as the former editor of We Wear the Ring on the Fansided network. He is an avid Pirates fan, home cook and policy nerd. He is the co-founder of the Point of Pittsburgh. Easily irritated by people who misuse the word regress.</p>

4 Comments on Yinzer Christmas Comes Early As Nova Re-signs

  1. Ok, I like the results here. I still think we need to be all in on Quintana. Trade them Bell and Glasnow. And why is Carter not yet signed as a F.A? He could play first for us and hit 41 Hr.

    • Kevin Creagh // December 23, 2016 at 9:07 AM //

      If Bell isn’t traded, he’s the 1B. I don’t think Carter is a Huntington kind of player, due to low OBP, high K rate, and lack of defense. I pretty much described Pedro Alvarez and you know that he’s no longer here.

  2. No way is Huntington even briefly considering Carter, unless as a replacement for the AC unit for PNC.

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