'It was an easy choice for me,' Ivan Nova says as deal with Pirates made official
December 27, 2016 4:15 PM
Fred Vuich/Associated Press
Ivan Nova, left, is congratulated by manager Clint Hurdle after a complete game against the Reds Sept. 8.
By Bill Brink / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
A free agent for the first time in his career and blessed with the leverage of a weak starting pitching market, Ivan Nova entered the offseason with a plan. He would first attempt to return to the Pirates, with whom he crafted an excellent two-month springboard into free agency. If that didn’t work, he would move on to the rest of the league.
He never got past step one.
“It was an easy choice for me,” Nova said Tuesday on a conference call after his three-year, $26 million contract with the Pirates became official. “I expressed early that I wanted to stay here, and it wasn’t that hard to make a decision.”
Nova, a right-hander who turns 30 in January, named his teammates, coaches and the fans among the reasons he wanted to return. His performance, in a pitcher-friendly, National League ballpark for the first time, likely didn’t hurt — three walks in 64⅔ innings and a 3.06 ERA in 11 starts.
“There are reasons we tried to acquire him in past offseasons, in past trade deadlines,” general manager Neal Huntington said. “Felt fortunate that we were able to do so, and as we said at the time, our hope was that this could turn into a prolonged relationship and a situation where he’d want to stay here. For us, thankfully, he did.”
Nova had his best major league season in 2013 with the New York Yankees, who signed him out of Dominican Republic in 2004. He had a 1.29 WHIP and 3.10 ERA. The following year, he needed Tommy John ligament replacement surgery. Since returning in 2015, he hadn’t been the same, until the Aug. 1 trade that brought him to Pittsburgh in exchange for minor leaguers Tito Polo and Stephen Tarpley.
“I’m not the type of pitcher that wants to be pitching bad every time,” Nova said. “I had my ups and downs in New York. Sometimes you’re not happy, you don’t perform the way you’re supposed to. I came here, feel really good about it, and I just told myself, prove that you can pitch better than what you were doing and that was exactly what I did.”
While Nova’s strong finish to 2016 represents only a portion of the season — he had a 4.90 ERA with the Yankees before the trade — the $8.66 million average annual value of the contract, which includes a $2 million signing bonus and up to $2 million in performance-based incentives each season, is below what some of the other free-agent starters have signed for on the open market this winter.
“Our focus is more the person and the pitcher and helping him, and his interest and his intent to stay in Pittsburgh, I think, had to do with that,” Huntington said. “At the same time, it’s not like we got him for a cut-rate deal. This is legitimate money. These are legitimate years.”
Nova, Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon make up the trio the Pirates must rely on for quality innings. While nobody else is guaranteed a rotation spot, Chad Kuhl appears to have an inside track, with Tyler Glasnow, Steven Brault, Drew Hutchison and Trevor Williams competing for the final spot. Reports from ESPN and USA Today continue to address the Pirates’ interest in Chicago White Sox starter Jose Quintana. Quintana is good, young, controllable, on a reasonable contract and left-handed, meaning trading for him will require an outlay of prospects eclipsing any Huntington has dealt in his nine years as GM.
“We like the group as is, but if there’s a way to improve it, we’ll certainly be open to that as well if it makes sense in the big picture as well as the short term,” Huntington said.
Further strengthening the rotation would go a long way in addressing the issue that plagued the Pirates in 2016 in the tough National League Central Division. The Pirates had the third-fewest innings pitched from their rotation in the NL, and the unit’s 4.67 ERA ranked 11th.
“I think we got a really good team. If they want to add something, then OK, that’s fine, but what we have here, I think, is enough to compete,” Nova said. “We have all the pieces necessary. We have a lot of young and talented players. The pitching staff is young, but a great pitching staff. We’ve got to go out there and stay healthy and put it together.”
The Pirates’ 40-man roster is full. The announcement of Nova’s signing said the team would “announce a corresponding roster move later,” a strange phrase; usually the moves are announced in conjunction with one another.
Bill Brink: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @BrinkPG.
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