Getting ahead of the market with an Ivan Nova extension

Wednesday Night Open Thread
Freddie Freeman and the double whammy of the Yankees farm
(Ronald Martinez/Getty)
(Ronald Martinez/Getty)

When it comes to building the roster and making moves, the Yankees tend to be very reactionary. That is out of necessity more than anything; it’s tough to implement a plan when your farm system has been as unproductive as the team’s has been these last few years. The Yankees rely on free agency to fill holes and they pay premium prices not because they can, but because they have to.

A few weeks ago I wrote about a potential contract extension for David Robertson, which might have given the team a closer at a setup man price, but that ship seems to have sailed. Robertson avoided arbitration with a one-year contract a few weeks ago and he’ll become a free agent next winter looking for that closer contract. Another The only other player on the roster who would be worth considering an extension for is Ivan Nova, the just turned 27-year-old right-hander who figures to slot in as the number four starter come Opening Day.

There is no real reason for the Yankees to have any urgency when it comes to locking Nova up right now. The two sides avoided arbitration with a one-year contract worth $3.3M a few weeks ago, so he’s signed for this coming season and remains under team control as an arbitration-eligible player for another two years after that. Nova won’t be eligible for free agency until after the 2016 season, and, as everyone learned the hard way with Chien-Ming Wang, a pitcher’s career could go south in an instant no matter how promising he seems. There is risk anytime you sign a player long-term and that is especially true with pitchers.

As MLBTR’s Extensions Tracker shows, most starting pitchers at Nova’s service time level who signed extensions only signed for two years. All those contracts did was give the player a small amount of security and the team cost certainty. Those pitchers were still arbitration-eligible one last time after the extension expired and their free agency was not pushed back. That type of contract would make no sense for the Yankees since Nova is already signed for 2014 and they can afford whatever raise he’ll get for 2015. Signing Nova would be about keeping him beyond his arbitration years and (hopefully) saving some money in the process.

The only four pitchers at Nova’s service time level to sign extensions of at least three guaranteed years in the not too distant past are:

Nova Johnny Cueto Ervin Santana Paul Maholm Scott Kazmir
Platform Year bWAR 3.6 2.2 5.0 4.0 5.8
Platform Year fWAR 2.5 2.6 6.0 2.4 5.1
Career bWAR 7.9 4.5 8.3 8.2 13.5
Career fWAR 6.7 5.1 12.1 5.7 13.2
Years ? 4 4 3 3
Dollars ? $27M $30M $14.5M $28.5M
Options Years? ? 1 1 1 1

Maholm is the best comparable to Nova, at least in terms of bWAR and fWAR, but the Yankees can forget all about paying him only $14.5M for his three arbitration years. They’re already paying him $3.3M for his first year, meaning Ivan would have to agree to a $5.6M average annual salary for his second and third years. That would be a huge discount. Maholm signed that extension prior to the 2009 season, so it’s pretty outdated. Same goes for the Kazmir deal too.

Santana and Cueto signed away their three arbitration years for $17.8M and $16.2M, respectively, which averages out to $17M even. Nova’s salary would have to jump to roughly $5.7M in 2015 and $8.1M in 2016 ($2.4M raise each year) to match that, which is pretty reasonable. John Danks went from $3.45M to $6M to $8M during his three arbitration years while Matt Garza went from $3.35M to $5.95M to $9.5M during his three arb years, just for comparison. The Santana/Cueto extension framework seems to work for Nova.

Now, would Nova take a four year deal in the $27-30M range (plus an option!)? Who knows. His bonus was only $80k when he signed out of the Dominican Republic, so he doesn’t have that huge seven-figure bonus tucked away somewhere. He might jump at the security. Nova has been pretty erratic these last few years and the Yankees might not like the idea of risking that much money on a pitcher who is still something of an unknown. That said, look at some recent extensions signed by pitchers who were two years away from free agency:

Matt Harrison Brandon Morrow Josh Johnson
Platform Year bWAR 6.1 1.2 6.6
Platform Year fWAR 3.6 3.4 5.5
Career bWAR 9.5 5.0 12.0
Career fWAR 8.8 8.1 10.0
Years 5.0 3.0 4.0
Dollars $55M $21M $39M
Option Years? 1 1 Nope

Morrow isn’t a good reference point because he started his career in the bullpen and had only two years as a starter by time he accrued four full years of service time. Harrison’s deal and Johnson’s deal average $10.4M annually while Santana’s and Cueto’s deals average $7.1M annually. If the Yankees wait a year to extend Nova and he goes on to have a pretty good (not even great) 2014 season, locking him up will be substantially more expensive, about $3M per year more expensive. The sooner they get it done, the more they save, and that’s just smart business regardless of whether the team has a $50M payroll or a $200M payroll.

The Yankees have softened on their archaic no extensions policy in recent years, most notably by trying to lock up Russell Martin, Robinson Cano, and Hiroki Kuroda. The problem with those three was that the team waited until they were only one year away from free agency, and when a guy can see the light at the end of the free agent tunnel, it’s tough to talk him out of exploring the open market. I understand why the Yankees would be hesitant to sign Nova long-term, but doing it now could potentially save a ton of money and allow them to get out ahead of the market for once.

Wednesday Night Open Thread
Freddie Freeman and the double whammy of the Yankees farm
  • I’m a looser and a trader baby so why don’t you kill me?

    Unless he gets very bad advice or is supremely arrogant I would think he’d take something in the 4/30 range in a heartbeat. He’d still be young at the end of those years. If he stinks, no problem; $30 million in the bank. If he’s great, no problem; a big FA payday to come.

  • Jorge Steinbrenner

    “The Yankees rely on free agency to fill holes and they pay premium prices not because they can, but because they have to.”

    Teams have holes and bad systems and still don’t spend what the Yankees spend. They just never win.

    It still happens because they can. This is all both a chicken and egg game anyway and nothing new for this franchise. The moments where they’ve had this prospect-churning machine in my close to 40 years on this earth have been few and far between.

    On to Nova….

    This is where extended early works well in theory, but not always in practice. Yes, they could save money now, but Ivan Nova remains a mercurial pitcher who could still yet be a front/mid guy OR Daniel Cabrera, everyone’s favorite negative comp. With more than a season of team control left, I’m still willing to roll the dice with not extending him until I have a better idea as to who he is, even if losing that bet means extending him at a higher rate. I’d rather do that. Celery cap or not, what you allocate where still matters.

    • Jim Is A (Bored) Peckerhead

      In 2009 Cabrera struck out 4/9 and walked 7/9.

      That’s amazing.

    • Bryan

      Celery cap sounds like the worst thing in the entire world.

      On to the Nova thing. Nova is still only 26/27. Getting him at the end of this year for an additional 3-4 years would be smart. Especially if it is around 30 million total. He should be able to eclipse 200 ip this season and has the stuff to be a front end starter. Better yet, in a couple years, we could end up using him as trade bait if need be since his price is not out of this world.

    • Hawkeye

      Jorge- I always enjoy reading your well thought out contributions and I don’t mean to be the grammar police, but I was a teacher for over 35 years, so I guess it is in my DNA. I cringe every time I see celery when I know you mean salary.

      • Jim Is A (Bored) Peckerhead

        It’s a running joke on RAB.

      • Havok9120

        But what importance will Romaine have without the celery cap?

        If memory serves, this is yet another thing we can blame on Mr. Innings.

        • Jorge Steinbrenner

          It was Mister Cod.

      • Jorge Steinbrenner

        Hahaha! It’s intentional.

        There was a commenter on here who loved to scream at regulars and pretended he knew everything only, one day, during a long diatribe, his spellcheck referred to it repeatedly as the “celery cap.” Since the, celery cap it has become.

        You can’t be the grammar police. I’m already married to the grammar police. Remember, if you can count it, it’s “fewer,” not “less.”

        • Hawkeye

          Thanks for letting me in on the running joke. I do remember reading some conversation about this sometime back, but did not realize it had become a joke. Sorry. Carry on.

  • The Great Gonzo

    I can see it, but its a dice roll considering the great enigma that is Nova. But hell, all major league contracts are a dice roll.

    • Jim Is A (Bored) Peckerhead

      The last 3 years he’s actually been pretty consistent, albeit in different ways in 2011 vs 2012/2013.

      His bad 2012, he has a babip of 331! and a HR/FB of 16.6%! He’s never had a babip or hr/fb of anywhere even in that universe. And considering his control got better and he struck out more guys, I’m willing to bet there was some fluke in those numbers. xFIP, and SIERA all agree.

      His 2011 vs 2012 numbers are just, really bizarre. They look like two completely different pitchers.

      • RetroRob

        His three full years in the majors look like three different pitchers!

        That said, he has been a good contributor in two of those three seasons. 2012 right now is the outlier. Another solid year in 2014 will go a long way toward figuring out if he in an extension candidate.

  • TWTR

    I don’t think it’s too late to discuss a longer term deal with Robertson because there is both upside and downside risk for both parties.

    I would not want to lock Nova up now because there is too much uncertainty. I would revisit it at the AS break.

    • Paddy’s Pub

      What is waiting until the All-Star break going to tell you that you don’t already know? Having an extremely good (or extremely bad) first half only to fall apart or miraculously turn it around would be par for the course for Nova. I feel like the Yankees should go ahead and lock him up. But they should have a pretty solid idea of who they have in Nova by now. If they don’t lock him up… maybe that tells you something. They never even tried to extend Hughes (to my knowledge). I think they realized what they had wasn’t a fit for that ballpark, got what they could out of him, and let him walk.

      • TWTR

        Nova showed signs of breaking out last season. Another effective half season would provide some indication that it might be enduring, particularly his ability to keep his fastball down and to continue to utilize the two seamer and curve, along with improving command.

        As for Hughes, I don’t necessarily think it was the ballpark as much as an inability to develop his secondary pitches.

  • Sam

    You mention that Robertson & Nova are the only 2 worth locking up…what about Gardner?

    • TWTR

      That would lock them in to a very expensive OF for at least a few years. Depending on the budget, money needs to be saved to rebuild the infield.

      • mitch

        Ichiro and Soriano will be gone, and i’m sure Beltran’s innings in the OF are only going down. Even if someone within the system looks ready to make the leap, they’re still going to need another OF. I think it’d be smart to lock up Gardner for a few more seasons if possible. That ship may have already sailed though.

        • TWTR

          But they don’t really have an obvious 3B, SS, or 2B in the minor league system or elsewhere. So I think it’s likely that significant future funds will to be allocated there. It’s not that I don’t like Gardner, I do, but again depending on the budget, the infield will need to be prioritized.

          • chris

            I don’t really think Gardner will cost much. He doesn’t have much power, his BA is mediocre and he doesn’t steal nearly as many bases as he should given his natural speed. All he’s got going for him is a high OBP and good defense. Now I like Gardner a lot actually, but I don’t see why they couldn’t lock him up AND prioritize the infield, because I just don’t see him costing very much.

      • jsbrendog

        gardner will be 31 this season and you’l be paying for the decline. his game is based on speed. what happens if that goes? i pass on an extension.

  • Dropped Third

    I don’t think anyone really knows what kind of pitcher Nova will be going forward. He is such an up and down guy he is so hard to predict. That being said if he signed a 3-4 year deal worth 8ish million a year I’d be okay with that but I’d much rather wait to see which Nova shows up this year.

  • Macho Man “Randy Levine”

    Nova has to get off to a good start this season before I’d get that serious about an extension. Otherwise, just wait it out.

  • Havok9120

    I’d probably do 4/30. I have faith in EYE-van.

    Off topic: Arroyo’s asking price is supposedly down to 2/22. What say the people of RAB?

    • Chip Rodriguez

      Easy grab at 2/22. Worst case scenario, ship him in the offseason to a team for a prospect or two and cash considerations while bidding on the 2015 FAs – even if he struggles, there’ll always be someone who wants a middle/back end rotation guy who can eat innings.

    • Bavarian Yankee

      RAB people say “shoot him again, he’s not dead yet” ;)

      contact pitcher with no Ks and tons of homers. Easy pass for the Yanks.

      • Dicka24

        This. I wouldn’t go near the guy to be honest. A soft tossing righty, in the AL East, in a homer park. Pass. I think he’s a solid NL pitcher, who’s been very durable over the years. At this point in his career, when the wheels do fall off his wagon, it won’t be pretty. I’d advise him to stay in the NL, and if he signs in the AL, to sign out west, or to avoid the AL East. I see the Orioles want him Ouch. That park would be trouble for him. Facing the Jays, Sox, and Yankees on the road, and pitching half his starts in Camden Yards wouldn’t be something I’d want to pay him to do. If he’s smart, he’ll take whatever the Dodgers are offering him.

        • Chip Rodriguez

          He did fine in Cincinnati’s bandbox.

  • Dicka24

    I’d go somewhere around 3/$21 million, with a team option in the $10-12 million range for the 4th year. If the team has any concerns about him that option would protect them. You make the option a couple million more than you would in a straight 4 year deal, so the player has a little incentive to agree to it. Nova’s issue has been his inconsistency, be it by performance or injury. He struggles, looks great, struggles again, then looked great last year. Can he handle the load, and can he perform consistently? I’d definitely try to get some term, and cost certainty with him. I’m sure he’d love the security too. It’s not like he’s made tons of money to this point. To be guaranteed $20-30 million by age 30/31 is something he should be advised to take. It means being set up for life, regardless of what happens after you John Hancock the paperwork.

  • Baked McBride

    Nova will start the ASG this year – book it!

  • Fin

    I would much rather have Nova at 10m a year for 4 or 5 years than Freeman’s deal. Paying Nova the going rate for a number 4 pitcher on a contender, seems smart to me. I feel pretty confident he will at least pitch to that level for the next 4 or 5 years. By singing him now I think the Yankees would be buying his upside without huge risk of his downside, but they know him a lot better than we do. There really haven’t been any players the Yankees should have locked up other than Cano which a lot of us were calling for 2 or 3 years ago. They should never have let Cano get to FA.

  • Farewell Mo

    Tough call. If you buy out some arb and/or FA years and he pitches like a number 3 starter, it’s a good deal. If he bombs out and ends up a middle reliever, money wasted.

    Since the Yankees could easily withstand not getting good return on a contract somewhere in the 4/$30 range, I’d say extend him. It could potentially save them big bucks and they really can’t afford to pay everyone ridiculous money that these guys get once they hit free agency

  • RetroRob

    Cory Luebke.