As part of our Trademas in July series, we’ll take a look at potential trade targets for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Today, we look at Ivan Nova, right-handed starter for the New York Yankees.

 

The Pittsburgh Pirates seemed to still be buyers before the weekend series against the Brewers, but a sweep may have turned into a turning point and a defining moment of the Pirates season. For now, I still assume that the Pirates aren’t waving the white flag just yet and that they’re still buyers for the moment. I don’t expect them to make any big moves, but a move for a starter, especially one that would come cheaply, could still be in play.

One pitcher that fits that mold is 29-year-old righty Ivan Nova, who may be having a down year but is a free agent at season’s end. And with the Yankees already trading away Aroldis Chapman and Andrew Miller, it certainly seems like they’re committed to selling now for the first time in a very long time. Nova could be one of the next Yankees to go, and the Pirates could have interest in him:

Of course, the Pirates have also shown interest in Nathan Eovaldi of the Yankees, and Chris Archer, Matt Moore, and Jake Odorizzi of the Rays, so maybe their scouts aren’t there for Nova. In any case, Nova fits the bill of the type of pitcher the Pirates would add at this deadline.

Profile and Performance

Ivan Nova is a 29-year-old right-handed starting pitcher, and has pitched for the Yankees as a starter his entire career. He had a few good years early in his first few seasons in the bigs, but has fallen off lately. This season, he has a 4.90 ERA with a 1.36 WHIP, and has been nothing more than a decent back-end of the rotation pitcher. He doesn’t get too many strikeouts, but he generally gets the job done.

According to Brooks Baseball, Nova is primarily a sinker-ball pitcher who also mixes in a curve and a fourseam fastball, which averages about 93 mph. He can generate a lot of ground-balls with his fastball and a lot of strikeouts with his curve. He’s the type of pitcher the Pirates always look for, and the type they could fix during the season.

Nova’s contract also expires at the end of the season, and he’s making just $4.1 million this year. The Pirates have shown that they haven’t been opposed to adding rental players, like they did with J.A. Happ last season. This especially makes sense in a seller’s market, and for the Pirates, who are still on the outside of the playoffs looking in and don’t want to go all-in this season.

Career To-Date

Year Tm W L ERA G GS IP H R ER HR BB FIP WHIP H9 HR9 BB9 SO9
2010 NYY 1 2 4.50 10 7 42.0 44 22 21 4 17 4.36 1.452 9.4 0.9 3.6 5.6
2011 NYY 16 4 3.70 28 27 165.1 163 74 68 13 57 4.00 1.331 8.9 0.7 3.1 5.3
2012 NYY 12 8 5.02 28 28 170.1 194 100 95 28 56 4.60 1.468 10.3 1.5 3.0 8.1
2013 NYY 9 6 3.10 23 20 139.1 135 49 48 9 44 3.47 1.285 8.7 0.6 2.8 7.5
2014 NYY 2 2 8.27 4 4 20.2 32 19 19 6 6 6.91 1.839 13.9 2.6 2.6 5.2
2015 NYY 6 11 5.07 17 17 94.0 99 54 53 13 33 4.87 1.404 9.5 1.2 3.2 6.0
2016 NYY 7 6 4.90 21 15 97.1 107 54 53 19 25 5.09 1.356 9.9 1.8 2.3 6.9
7 Yrs 53 39 4.41 131 118 729.0 774 372 357 92 238 4.40 1.388 9.6 1.1 2.9 6.7
162 Game Avg. 14 11 4.41 36 32 199 211 102 97 25 65 4.40 1.388 9.6 1.1 2.9 6.7
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 7/31/2016.

Nova had a good start to his career, looking like he’d be a mainstay in the Yankees rotation until 2014 when he had to undergo Tommy John surgery early in the season. When he returned in 2015, he didn’t pitch well, and with his contract expiring after this season, the Yankees don’t feel the need to keep him. There are better pitchers they could target in free agency in the off-season.

The Case for Nova:

  • The biggest argument to be made for going after Nova would be that he’d come cheap. Yes, the Yankees did get big returns for both Chapman and Miller. But Nova isn’t close to being on the level of those two, and there are plenty of better starting pitching options out there, even in a poor starting pitching market. The Pirates and Yankees have matched up as trade partners in the past, and could again in this situation. Maybe a middle-tier prospect could get the job done, and he’d be an improvement over Francisco Liriano or Jeff Locke as starting options.
  • There are a few signs that Nova could be better with the Pirates. His BB/9 of 2.3 is the lowest of his career, and his K/9 rate of 6.9 is the highest it’s been since 2013. He’d also be moving from the AL to the NL, which should help him some. His FIP of 5.09 isn’t ideal, and maybe he doesn’t improve much in the NL, but it’s hard to be worse than the Pirates back-end. Heck, maybe Nova gets some incentive pitching for a team in the playoff chase while also pitching in a contract year. He could be set to get a decent contract in a poor starting pitching free agent market this off-season if he turns it on after the deadline, like Happ did with the Pirates last season.

The Case against Nova:

  • Nova isn’t a very good pitcher right now. He’d be the cheap option, and there’s a reason why. His FIP of 5.09 is the worst of his career, and what difference would he really make for the Pirates in the stretch run? Sure, he’d be an improvement to the staff, but the addition could be an addition in name alone. There are plenty of better options out there if the Pirates truly want to improve their rotation.
  • Nova is an erratic pitcher, so you don’t know what you’re going to get from him from start to start. In May, he had an ERA of 3.52, but in July he had an ERA of 7.52. He’ll go three or four starts in a row allowing one run or less, then go three or four starts in a row allowing four runs or more. If the Pirates are going to improve their rotation, they need to target a proven, consistent starter, one that will be a clear upgrade to the rotation, even if it means giving up a bit more to get him.

What it Might Take

I don’t think it’d take too much to acquire Nova, but it is a seller’s market after all. And the Yankees seemingly always need starting pitching, so maybe a Chad Kuhl, Nick Kingham, or Clay Holmes gets the job done. If the Yankees are keen on selling, while not trade Nova? Teams always need starting pitching. But if the asking price becomes any higher than a middle-tier prospect, I wouldn’t take the plunge.

Conclusion

Who knows whether the Pirates will decide to add a starting pitcher after the recent series sweep at the hands of the Brewers. Maybe the team still feels like they can contend, and that they need a starter now more than ever before. Or maybe they now feel the need to sell. If the team is unsure, a cheap acquisition in Ivan Nova could be what the Pirates decide to go for.

Image Credit – Keith Allison

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Tyler Waite

Tyler is a data analyst by day and an aspiring sports writer by night. He's been a Pittsburgh sports fan his entire life, but has a special place for the Pirates. He is fascinated by the analytical side of the game, and wants to impart his analysis as both a writer and as a fan to Pirate fans everywhere.