By Zack Zeigler
Last season, the Pirates were in need of some starting pitching help and they found it in a young left-hander from Seattle named J.A. Happ. To that point in the season Happ had a record of 4-6 with a 4.64 ERA that left many fans in an outcry.
However, they were all proven wrong as Happ would end up going 7-2 with a 1.85 ERA the rest of the way and was a big reason that the Pirates advanced to the playoffs.
Then the offseason hit and the Pirates were left in a bidding war for the services of Happ. They would eventually lose out, as he signed with the Toronto Blue Jays to a three-year $36 million contract.
He finished this season with a 20-4 record and a 3.18 ERA for the American League wild card contenders and is proving very well worth the money spent.
Flash forward to 2016 and the Pirates are in a similar pickle. They acquired right-handed pitcher Ivan Nova from the Yankees who at the time was struggling to get by with a 7-6 record and a 4.90 ERA.
However, since joining the Pirates, he has gone 5-2 with a 3.06 ERA striking out 52 and walking three in 64.2 innings of work. There are multiple reports that the Pirates have reached out to the right-hander in attempts to bring him back.
This season, the Pirates can’t afford to let Nova slip out of their hands. They might have to dish out a little more money than they have in years past, but they have to find a way to get this deal done. There are many factors that really favor this move and it would help Pittsburgh tremendously in 2017.
First of all, the Pirates are going to need some veteran leadership in a rotation that will be full of young stars in 2017. As the current roster looks right now, the only two locks for spots in the rotation are Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon.
Other guys who will be competing for a spot include Steven Brault, Chad Kuhl, Trevor Williams, Drew Hutchinson, Tyler Glasnow and Jeff Locke among others. The guy with the most experience in that group is Locke, who has 3.25 years of MLB service time.
With Nova, you have a guy who has five years of major league experience and has proven successful in the past for the Yankees. Nova has been over a .500 winning percentage in all but one season, in which he has appeared in 15 or more games, going 6-11 in the 2015 season.
Another thing going for Nova is he is only turning 30 years old next season, and has the opportunity to be under Pirates control for the next several seasons. Last season with Happ, you had a man entering his age 34 season who had not had a strong track record of success. Happ had only been over .500 one-time prior to joining the Pirates and it was uncertain if he could duplicate his 2015 numbers.
Nova, however, has shown success in the past and the numbers certainly don’t lie. He has a career 7.06 K/9 ratio, and in his five seasons of action, he has struck out more than100 batters in three of those years. For a right-hander at PNC Park, strikeouts are key as you’re facing a lot of left-handed hitters and having to deal with that short porch in left field. Swings and misses are key to any pitcher’s game, and Nova would be a welcome sight in that department.
Another thing to look at with Nova is he only had three walks 64.2 innings of work with the Pirates. That’s right, only three. That is lights out control and it’s something you see throughout Nova’s career.
He has only walked more than 50 batters in a season twice in his career and holds a 2.73 BB/9. A pitcher with that type of control is a valuable asset for any team. The Pirates have a good defensive team and if the ball is put in play, they will more than likely get the out. For Nova, he fits right into the Pirates system and pounds the strike zone on a very consistent basis.
The rotation looks to feature many young phenoms up and down the rotation in 2017. They will need that one veteran presence to help steer the club in the right direction for a full season. If the Pirates can sign Nova, the 2017 team reminds me a lot of the New York Mets from two seasons ago. They had young talents in Jacob DeGrom, Noah Syndergaard and Matt Harvey with the veteran Bartolo Colon.
Now the Mets are the defending National League Champions and were a 2016 wild card team.
In terms of contract negotiations, it has been released that Nova is looking for a deal somewhere in the five-year $70 million range, according to Ethan Obstarczyk of Pirates Breakdown.
The Pirates gave Francisco Liriano 13 million a year, 3 years for $39 million prior to the 2015 season. Nova has more upside then Liriano did, and the Pirates have a chance to be a special club in 2017.
Nova could be the chip needed to get the Pirates over the hump.