The Pirates acquired Ivan Nova from the Yankees without much fanfare at the Aug. 1 trade deadline, but the right-hander has since turned into Pittsburgh’s latest successful reclamation project. Nova had a rough showing against the Reds on Sunday, but he entered the contest with a 2.41 ERA to pair with an even more impressive 0.52 BB/9 in 52 1/3 innings with the Pirates. As an impending free agent, Nova’s breakout might go down as a bittersweet development for the Bucs, who could lose him after the season.
“He has obviously changed the direction of his winter in the last six weeks,” manager Clint Hurdle admitted to Stephen J. Nesbitt of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
Nova, 29, was back-of-the-rotation fodder in New York over the past couple seasons, but he’s likely to cash in soon as an appealing arm in a free agent market that will be largely devoid of them. It will also help Nova’s cause that the Pirates won’t be able to tender him a qualifying offer, which would force another team to give up a first-round pick to sign him. J.A. Happ, who was dominant with the Pirates after they acquired him from Seattle a year ago, also didn’t have a qualifying offer weighing him down when he hit free agency last winter. That, combined with his down-the-stretch performance in Pittsburgh, earned him a three-year, $36MM deal with the Blue Jays.
While many are quick to credit highly regarded pitching coach Ray Searage when an unheralded pickup fares well with the Pirates, Hurdle told Nesbitt that the team hasn’t had Nova make any significant changes since it landed him.
“There’s been no major overhaul,” Hurdle said. “For Nova, the downhill angle has been there, the strike-throwing efficiency has been there. It’s just been a couple things he has tightened up.”
In addition to Nova, the Pirates will have offseason decisions to make on other free agents, including reliever Neftali Feliz and a pair of position players – outfielder Matt Joyce and utilityman Sean Rodriguez – writes Nesbitt. All three signed inexpensive one-year deals with the Bucs last offseason, and Joyce and Rodriguez have been especially effective in 2016. As a result, they’re in line for raises. Joyce, who’s on a $1MM salary, has batted a stellar .248/.408/.481 with 12 home runs in 262 plate appearances. That’s a far cry from the .174/.272/.291 line and five homers he put up in 284 PAs with the Angels last year. Rodriguez, a $2.5MM player, has slashed a career-best .266/.349/.516 with 16 homers in 293 trips to the plate. Along the way, the 31-year-old has spent time at every position but pitcher and catcher.
Elsewhere on the roster, arbitration-eligible pitchers Juan Nicasio, Jared Hughes, Jeff Locke and Wade LeBlanc are potential non-tender candidates, per Nesbitt. Nicasio and Hughes have been superior to Locke and LeBlanc, both of whom seem likely to go. Locke will be due a raise over his $3.025MM salary despite having posted ugly numbers (5.49 ERA, 1.64 K/BB ratio) in 126 1/3 innings this year. LeBlanc, meanwhile, joined the Pirates on Tuesday after they picked him up in a trade with Seattle. The Mariners previously designated him for assignment in late August.