Posted on December 22, 2016 by Bryan Zarpentine
The Pittsburgh Pirates have reached an agreement with free agent pitcher Ivan Nova to remain with the club. The deal is reportedly for three years and $26 million. Nova’s contract includes a $2 million signing bonus, followed by an average salary of $8 million per year for the next three years, keeping him with the Pirates through the 2019 season.
Nova first came to the big leagues as a member of the New York Yankees in 2010. He went 16-4 with a 3.70 ERA in 2011 before enduring a roller coaster of ups and down during his time in the Bronx. At the trade deadline this past season, the Yankees shipped him to Pittsburgh, where Nova had another uptick in his production. In 11 starts with the Pirates, Nova went 5-2 with a 3.06 ERA, including three complete games.
That strong finish with the Pirates had the potential to make Nova one of the most sought after starters on a weak free agent market this winter. However, his uneven past made teams hesitant to give the soon-to-be 30-year old Nova the kind of long-term contract he would have liked. As a result, the always-frugal Pirates were able to wait out the market and bring back Nova at a reasonable price.
The Pirates are betting that Nova’s strong finish to the 2016 season is a sign that he’s finally back to full health after undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2014. By the time the 2017 season gets underway, Nova will be close to three years removed from his surgery, making the injury a distant memory. Nova’s WHIP was considerably lower during his time with the Pirates last season, indicating that his control has improved compared to his first season back from the surgery in 2015.
Retaining Nova will add some stability to Pittsburgh’s rotation in 2017 after the team used 14 different starting pitchers in 2016. Nova figures to become a middle-of-the-rotation stalwart for a group that’s led by ace Gerrit Cole. In addition to Cole and Nova, Pittsburgh’s rotation figures to include youngsters Jameson Taillon, Tyler Glasnow, and Chad Kuhl. Young lefty Steven Brault and the enigmatic Drew Hutchison could also factor into the equation.
Taillon and Glasnow both project as frontline starters who could potentially team up with Cole to form what could be a lethal trio atop Pittsburgh’s rotation. If all three can pitch up to their potential, the Pirates would have a rotation on par with any in baseball, while Nova would remain an important veteran presence in the back end of the rotation.
With the added stability of Nova returning to the rotation, it could make the Pirates more willing to pursue Jose Quintana in a potential trade. It was reported on Wednesday that the Pirates had “worked hard” on a trade to bring Quintana to Pittsburgh. Any trade for Quintana would likely involve either Taillon or Glasnow as the headliner in a package of prospects going to the White Sox. With Nova coming back, the Pirates would be better able to handle the loss of either Taillon or Glasnow in the short term, which could make them more comfortable about parting with one of their young arms.
Whether the signing of Nova is a springboard to more moves or not, the move is a strong one for the Pirates. If nothing else, Nova is a solid back-end starter who should have plenty left in the tank at age 30. He also has a chance to outperform his $8 million per season salary, giving the Pirates considerably more upside than risk on this contract.