The pitfalls of recent rookies in the Yankees rotation

Hughes (Getty Images)
Hughes (Getty Images)

You don’t have to look far into the past to the last time the Yankees put a young starter in its opening day rotation. That is, of course, because Luis Severino – all of 22 years old at the time – made the Yankees’ rotation in 2016. It didn’t … well, it didn’t go all that great for him. He was in Triple A by mid-May and bounced between the minors, the major league rotation and the bullpen, where he was quite effective.

But you have to travel a little bit further back before then to the last time a true rookie made the Yankees’ rotation out of spring training. Ivan Nova did so in 2011 and Ian Kennedy did so in 2008. Because this has happened so few times in the last decade, I thought it might make sense to look back at these past examples for a glimpse into what the Yankees’ immediate future might look like.

After all, Jordan Montgomery and Chad Green are on the cusp of pulling off that feat this year. A fellow young starter in Severino claimed the other spot in the rotation. Therefore, in the Kennedy example, I’ll group in Phil Hughes, who had eclipsed the rookie limits in ’07 but was even younger in April of ’08 than Severino on opening day last season.

Let the look back begin.

2008

(Getty Images)
Kennedy (Getty Images)

’08 seems like the perfect reference point to the present day. The Yankees had two rotation spots open behind Andy Pettitte, Mike Mussina and Chien-Ming Wang and they were Hughes and Kennedy’s spots to take, which they proceeded to do.

The Yankees’ current wave of optimism about its prospects comes primarily from its hitting, but at that time, it was because of the pitching. It’s really hard to emphasize just how excited fans (and the team) were about its pitching prospects. The team has three former first-round picks (add in Joba Chamberlain) that had shown glimpses of promise and seemed destined to be the team’s star starters/relievers.

Kennedy wasn’t a top of the rotation talent necessarily and Hughes was coming off a season with a hamstring injury, so there was some concern. However, Kennedy has impressed and Hughes had just won a playoff game. Of course these guys were going to hit the ground running. There was no way both would fall flat in their big opportunity.

Or, I guess there was. Hughes had six starts, no wins, and a 9.00 ERA in April. He didn’t make it out of the fourth inning in four of those starts. After his last start went on the disabled list with a cracked rib and wouldn’t appear in the majors again until September.

Kennedy’s start to the season went just as poorly. In nine appearances (eight starts) through the end of May, he went 0-3 with a 7.41 ERA. He only completed five innings a total of four times. In his first start, he gave up six runs and got just seven outs.

Perhaps the most disappointing moment happened when he resurfaced in the majors in August. He came up from the minors to replace an injured Chamberlain (Save the Big 3!) and gave up five runs in two innings to the Angels. He told reporters after the game he wasn’t too upset with the way he pitched, which angered many in his own clubhouse. It made some question, rightly or wrongly, whether he had the best mindset to make it through a major league season.

2011

(Getty Images)
Nova in the 2011 ALDS (Getty Images)

The failures of Kennedy and Hughes are a pretty sharp contrast to what happened for Ivan Nova. Nova was in no way the prospect that the duo were, to the point where he was claimed in the Rule 5 Draft by the Padres in 2008. He pitched in 10 games (42 innings) in 2010 and was fine. A 4.50 ERA, a low strikeout rate, but strong groundball numbers.

And at age 24 in ’11, he made the rotation. The Yankees had lost a few starters from the year prior and Nova was solid enough in the spring to earn the spot.

From there, he ran with it. He had some bad starts here and there, but for the most part would always complete five innings. He had a 5.82 ERA after April, but it went down every single month after that, culminating in a 3.70 ERA over 165 1/3 innings.

He really hit his stride over the last four months. He won his last 12 decisions, made it through five innings in each of his last 17 starts and made it through at least six in 13 of them. He didn’t allow more than four earned runs in an appearance after Apr. 15.

What are the takeaways from that? First off, it’s really important for Montgomery or Green to avoid a slow start. Getting off to even one solid appearance to begin the season will go a long way to finding one’s rhythm. They have a buffer of not needing to start until Apr. 16 in the majors, but Severino will need to go beginning with the Yankees’ second series against a solid Baltimore lineup. Staying healthy will also help because who knows if Hughes could have turned things around if he’d only stayed healthy. Heck, that’s probably a common refrain for his early Yankees’ tenure.

Nova excelled in part because he avoided bad innings, keeping teams from knocking him out quickly. If a young starter can complete five innings, it goes a long way. Whether it’s Severino or Montgomery or whomever, it won’t necessarily be all about their strikeout rate or how many people they walk. Nova struck out few and walked a ton in his first month in ’08. Those things are still important, but we also need to wait for a definitive sample size.

Therefore, it’s important to put process over results for a little while, preach some patience for these young starters. Not many pitchers have a clean beginning to their first big opportunity and it will likely take a while before these guys can establish themselves in the majors, if they even truly do.

2016 Winter Meetings Open Thread: Thursday

(Jonathan Daniel/Getty)
(Jonathan Daniel/Getty)

The 2016 Winter Meetings wrap-up today from the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center in National Harbor, Maryland. Late last night the Yankees swooped in and agreed to re-sign Aroldis Chapman to a five-year contract worth $86M, which is easily the largest reliever contract in history. Now the team can move on to other business, like adding rotation and middle relief help.

“I’ve got a lot of different things going on,” said Brian Cashman to Bryan Hoch. “Listen, they’ve got a time frame in free agency. They’re going through their process. In the meantime, I’m doing a whole bunch of other stuff at the same time. I’ve had several conversations with various agents today and a lot of club activity at the same time.”

On Wednesday we learned the Yankees have cast a wide net for bullpen help and have checked in on White Sox closer David Robertson and free agent Sergio Romo. Also, they want Ruben Tejada and Nick Rumbelow on minor league deals. We’ll once again keep track of the day’s Yankees-related rumors right here, so make sure you check back often. I can’t promise a ton of updates. The final day of the Winter Meetings is traditionally the slowest. All time stamps are Eastern Time.

  • 9:30am: When asked about recent rumors involving Brett Gardner and the Orioles, Cashman said he wouldn’t have a problem making a trade within the AL East. “If I can trade with the Red Sox and Mets, I can trade with the Orioles,” he said. Interestingly, Cashman said he tried to trade Ivan Nova to the O’s at the deadline. [Pete Caldera, Hoch]
  • 10:29am: Cashman doesn’t expect to pursue any more position players this offseason. The focus is pitching. “It’s unlikely for us to make any changes on the position player side unless we trade Gardy,” said the GM, who added he’s rejected offers for Chase Headley. [Caldera]
  • 11:23am: Not surprisingly, Cashman said the Yankees are basically out of spending money this offseason after signing Chapman. Good thing the free agent class stinks, huh? [Andrew Marchand]
  • 12:24pm: Once again, Cashman reiterated he’s not optimistic about improving the rotation this offseason. “I don’t anticipate adding any starting pitching. I’d love to if I could but I doubt it’s realistic,” said the GM. [Marchand, Erik Boland]

Reminder: Your trade proposal sucks.

The Lessons of the Trade Deadline [2016 Season Review]

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The 2016 trade deadline was, truly, a monumental event for the Yankees. The team’s mediocre on-field performance pushed ownership to give Brian Cashman the authority to sell at the deadline, something the club hasn’t done in nearly three decades. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to call this year’s trade deadline a franchise-altering event.

Will the deadline alter the franchise for the better? That’s what we’re all hoping. The Yankees made five trades in the week leading up to the deadline, four of which qualify as “seller” trades, and those trades netted them two big leaguers and 12 total prospects. After the deadline Jim Callis said the Yankees have “the deepest system in the game.” The five trades told us five different things about the Yankees.

The Chapman Trade: The Yankees Are Opportunists

The first of the five trades was the Aroldis Chapman trade with the Cubs. It happened a full week prior to the deadline. I wanted the Yankees to trade Chapman even if they were in the race. I wrote that for I don’t know how many months before the trade actually happened. The club bought low in the offseason and had a chance to sell outrageously high at the deadline.

The Yankees did exactly that. They were 50-48 on the morning of the day of the Chapman trade, and they’d just won six of their last eight games. Rather than hang on to Chapman and try to get back into the race, they were smart about their situation. Contenders around the league were lining up for Aroldis and the offers were impressive. Far better than the draft pick the Yankees would have received after the season.

The Chapman trade told us the Yankees are going to be opportunistic. They acquired him at a deep discount (for terrible off-the-field reasons) and flipped him for a massive return. Getting Gleyber Torres alone would have been a major win. The other three players are gravy. I think it’s pretty gross the Yankees used the domestic violence incident to buy low on Chapman, but the team showed when an opportunity that is too good to be true presents itself, they’re going to pounce.

The Miller Trade: Committed To The Rebuild

Okay, fine, it’s a transition, not a rebuild. Whatever. The Yankees were in a very unique position at the trade deadline because they had not one, but two top notch relievers to peddle to contenders. Chapman was the first to go. Following that deal, the Yankees took offers for Andrew Miller, as they did last offseason. And of course everyone wanted him. Pretty much every contender was in on Miller.

Unlike Chapman, the Yankees didn’t have to trade Miller. I mean, they didn’t have to trade Chapman either, but it was such an obvious move. He was an impending free agent and his value was through the roof. Miller had two more affordable years left on his contract — plus he is insanely good and very popular — and keeping him would have completely justifiable. Teams wish they could have 25 guys like Andrew Miller on their roster.

Rather than keep Miller for those reasons, the Yankees acknowledged the bullpen market had exploded, and they capitalized on the opportunity. They’re so committed to the rebuild transition that they traded exactly the kind of player they want to acquire: affordable, effective, and likeable. The timetables didn’t line up though. A top notch reliever is not what they need right now. They need Clint Frazier and Justus Sheffield more.

The Clippard Trade: A Complete Tear Down Isn’t Happening

The Yankees won’t say it, but they’re rebuilding. They’re just not rebuilding all the way. A complete Astros style tear down isn’t going to happen because a) it can’t due to some unmovable contracts, and b) ownership doesn’t want it to happen. Hal Steinbrenner has made that very clear. They want to remain in quasi-contention to keep fans interested (i.e. sell tickets, etc.).

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The Tyler Clippard trade, which went down a few hours after the Miller trade, is the perfect example. Rather than turning Miller’s vacated roster spot over to a young reliever, the Yankees brought in a productive veteran to help them win. The cost was minimal — the Yankees gave up Vicente Campos, who got hurt (again) a few weeks after the trade — and the message was clear. The Yankees are still trying to win, which is commendable. There’s something to be said for refusing to be an abject embarrassment on the field.

Now, does it makes sense to try to remain competitive even though the team on the field is telling you the postseason isn’t going to happen? That’s up for debate. I’m sure some fans appreciate the wins while others would rather a slightly better draft pick and larger bonus pool. That’s not for us to decide though. The Yankees have made their position clear. They’re going to try to win while rebuilding. The Clippard trade is the latest example.

The Beltran Trade: The Yankees Aren’t Afraid To Take Risks

The Yankees made five trades prior to the deadline this year but only two actually came on deadline day. The first sent Carlos Beltran to the Rangers for three Single-A pitching prospects in a deal that was more or less inevitable. Once Chapman and Miller were traded, there was no real point in hanging on to Beltran, another impending free agent. Yeah, he was the team’s best hitter, but that also increased his trade value.

As part of the Beltran trade, the Yankees acquired right-hander Dillon Tate, the fourth overall pick in the 2015 amateur draft. Just last year. Baseball America ranked him as the 69th best prospect in baseball coming into the 2016 season. Tate’s stock took a hit in the first half because he hurt his hamstring and his velocity wavered, so much so that he sat in the upper-80s rather than the mid-90s at times. His stock was down quite a bit.

Rather than be scared away, New York targeted Tate in the Beltran trade and was willing to take on some risk in order to get premium talent. The Yankees never have access to players like Tate (and Frazier) in the draft. They never pick in the top ten. They were able to acquire that kind of talent at the deadline. To get Frazier, they gave up a great player in Miller. To get Tate, they had to roll the dice and trade their best hitter for a reclamation project. The Yankees didn’t play it safe. They’re shooting for the moon.

The Nova Trade: A Small Return Is Better Than No Return

Minutes prior to the trade deadline, the Yankees shipped Ivan Nova to the Pirates for two players to be named later. Two! That’s one more than I expected. Nova was another impending free agent, and again, there was no reason to keep him. He wasn’t a qualifying offer candidate and it wasn’t like he was pitching well either. A few teams were interested, including the Rangers, but ultimately Cashman connected with his favorite trade partner and sent Nova to Pittsburgh.

The Yankees didn’t get a whole lot for Nova. Tito Polo could maybe be a speedy fourth outfielder down the line, and Stephen Tarpley figures to get plenty of chances as a hard-throwing lefty, but neither player is likely to have much of an impact. They’re spare parts. They’re also better than nothing, which is what the Yankees would have received had they kept Nova and let him finish out the season in pinstripes. Keeping Ivan would have been pointless given the team’s place in the standings.

The Nova trade was a common sense trade. Get whatever you can and move on. Polo and Tarpley probably won’t amount to much, but you never really know. Tarpley could figure out how to throw his breaking ball for strikes, or perhaps some team wants Polo as the third piece in a trade. Point is, the Yankees had an asset in Nova whose value was rapidly approaching zero. They accepted a small return at the deadline because a small return is better than no return.

The Final Year of the Ivan Nova Experience [2016 Season Review]

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Aside from his rookie season, when he was trying to establish himself as a big leaguer, this was the most important season of Ivan Nova‘s career. He returned from Tommy John surgery last year and didn’t pitch well at all (5.07 ERA and 4.87 FIP), so this year Ivan wanted to show everyone he is still a viable starter before becoming a free agent. There was a lot of money at stake.

Unfortunately, this summer was more of the same for Nova, at least while he was in pinstripes. He was consistently inconsistently. Occasionally great, too often terrible, and mostly mediocre. The quintessential fifth starter, basically. The kind of guy who’s worth keeping around as depth, but probably not someone a contending team runs out there every fifth day. Nova’s time with the Yankees — he originally signed with the team in 2004 and was the longest tenured player in the organization — came to an end at the trade deadline.

The Spring Training Competition

As expected, the Yankees made Nova compete for a rotation spot in Spring Training. His primary competition: CC Sabathia. Nova was going to have to thoroughly out-pitch Sabathia in March, because anything close to a tie was going to go to the well-paid former Cy Young award winner. The odds were stacked against Ivan. No doubt about it. He was going to have to make the decision a no-brainer.

Nova allowed two runs in nine innings in his first two Grapefruit League starts, which seemed to have him in the lead for the fifth starter’s spot. He then allowed four runs in 4.1 innings in his fourth start and six runs in 4.2 innings in his fifth start, and that was that. Those two duds were enough to sway the competition in Sabathia’s favor. Sabathia started the season in the rotation and Nova had to settle for a bullpen job. Such is life.

The Brief Stint in the Bullpen

The Yankees came into the season with maybe the most dominant bullpen trio in baseball history, and although Aroldis Chapman was serving his suspension in April, the team still had Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances available on Opening Day. So, naturally, Nova picked up the club’s first save of the season. Just as we all expected, right? Right.

Nova got that save in the second game of the 2016 season. It was a blowout 16-6 win over the Astros, and Nova threw four shutout innings to close out the game. Throw the final three innings of the game in relief and you get a save, regardless of score. What a stat.

Nova worked sparingly in April, which is usually how it goes with long relievers. They’ll go ten days between appearances then bam, we need four innings from you. Ivan appeared in only six of the team’s first 29 games, and in those six games he allowed eight runs on 16 hits and one walk in 14 innings. Only once did he enter a game with the Yankees leading. It was that 16-6 win over Houston.

“We have to use him in different situations,” said Joe Girardi in April. “We need for him to get outs.”

Back in the Rotation

Nova’s stint in the bullpen lasted 29 team games. Sabathia went down with a minor groin injury in early-May, then Luis Severino went down with a triceps problem about a week later, which opened a full-time rotation spot for Nova. And at first, it went really well. Really, really well. Well enough some wondered why Ivan wasn’t in the Opening Day rotation.

May 9th vs. Royals: 4.2 IP, 6 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 3 K, 1 HR (on a pitch count)
May 14th vs. White Sox: 5.2 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 2 K, 1 HR
May 19th @ Athletics: 6 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 3 K, 1 HR

Pretty great! The Yankees weren’t haven’t much success as a team overall, especially with Severino and Michael Pineda struggling so much as starters, and Nova gave the team a nice shot in the arm. We’ve seen him be good for long stretches of time in the past. It looked like Ivan was about to go on one of those runs.

It didn’t happen. Nova never once allowed fewer than three runs in any of his next seven starts. He allowed four or more runs five times. Nova had a 6.92 ERA (5.61 FIP) in 39 innings in those seven starts, and opponents hit .313/.368/.554 against him. That’s basically Mookie Betts (.318/.363/.534). Nova faced nine Mookie Bettses every start for a little more than a month.

July went a bit better — Nova had a 3.86 ERA (5.18 FIP) in five starts and 28 innings that month — but by then it was too late. The Yankees were fading in the standings and the decision to sell was made at the trade deadline. Nova, as an impending free agent who wasn’t getting a qualifying offer, was a prime candidate to go. It was either keep him and lose him for nothing after the season or get something, anything in return.

All told, Nova had a 4.90 ERA (5.10 FIP) in 97.1 innings across 15 starts and six relief appearances with the Yankees this season, which was a bit too close to last year’s numbers. He had a 4.86 ERA (5.33 FIP) in those 15 starts, and, amazingly, Nova allowed a home run in 14 of his 15 starts. The only team that didn’t take him deep as a starter was the Padres in spacious Petco Park, so yeah. Same ol’ Nova.

Welcome to Pittsburgh

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Minutes before the August 1st trade deadline, the Yankees shipped Nova to the Pirates, their favorite trading partner. They received not one, but two players to be named later in return. It seemed like a miracle. Nova hadn’t pitched well since 2013, remember. He was hurt in 2014 and terrible in both 2015 and 2016. The Rangers and a few other clubs reportedly had interest as well. Pittsburgh it was.

As you no doubt know, Nova pitched far better with the Pirates than he did with the Yankees this year. He had a 3.06 ERA (2.62 FIP) in eleven starts and 64.2 innings with Pittsburgh, though his strikeout (17.8% vs. 19.8%) and ground ball (54.3% vs. 52.3%) rates were basically the same. His walk rate (5.9% vs. 1.1%) fell big time because he threw way more pitches in the zone (41.6% vs. 48.1%).

The Pirates didn’t change Nova’s pitch selection all that much. He threw more sinkers and fewer four-seamers after the trade, but not a ridiculous amount. Pittsburgh got his sinker and four-seamer rates back where they were in April and May, basically. The biggest adjustment, according to Bill Brink, involved Nova’s chin. Yes, his chin.

Pitching coach Ray Searage advised Nova to keep his chin low during his delivery and align his chin with the target. This keeps the front shoulder closed. The results: Two walks in 46? innings, a 2.53 ERA and two complete games in his past four starts.

Nova had heard of the need to keep his chin down before. Recovering from Tommy John ligament replacement surgery, though, threw his mechanics out of whack. Releasing the ball later has improved Nova’s curveball.

“My release point was too off the timing. It was up here,” he said, with his arm above his shoulder, “and then just hold it a little bit more, throw it right in front.”

Nova’s curveball did improve after the trade. With the Yankees, opponents hit .212 with a .188 ISO against his curveball. With the Pirates, it was .175 with a .175 ISO. He also got more swings and misses (16.5% vs. 19.8%) with the curve, but, weirdly, fewer grounders (42.2% vs. 33.3%). Here are Nova’s curveball location heat maps before and after the trade, via Baseball Savant:

Ivan Nova curveballs

They look … pretty similar? Kinda? The vast majority of Nova’s curveballs are right at the bottom of the zone, and anything higher is on the inner half to righties and outer half to lefties. I wouldn’t get too caught up in this. Nova threw 252 curveballs with the Pirates. Total. The location is generally the same. Most of his curveballs were at the bottom of the zone.

There are other factors to consider here too. The switch from the AL to the NL is an undeniable help. Getting to face pitchers instead of guys like David Ortiz and Edwin Encarnacion and Mark Trumbo is kind of a big deal. Also, Nova moved into a more hitter friendly ballpark, and did face some weak competition. Six of his eleven starts with the Pirates came against the rebuilding Reds, Brewers, and Phillies. Must be nice, eh?

Whatever the reason, Nova performed much better with the Pirates than he did the Yankees. Good for him. He needed that little boost heading into free agency. The Yankees received outfielder Tito Polo and lefty Stephen Tarpley, two High-A prospects, as the players to be named in the trade, though they came over in late-August and barely played after the deal was finalized.

Outlook for 2017

Nova is a free agent this offseason and his agent is already floating the idea of a five-year contract worth $70M. Can you blame him? Jeff Samardzija led the lead in hits, earned runs, and homers allowed last year and he got five years and $90M. You’re never going to get Scott Kazmir for Victor Zambrano if you don’t ask. Start with a big opening demand and come down from there.

This upcoming free agent pitching class is bad. So, so bad. That works in Ivan’s favor. His strong finish with the Pirates will undoubtedly convince some team he’s turned the corner for good a la J.A. Happ, though for every J.A. Happ who left Pittsburgh and thrived, there’s an A.J. Burnett who left Pittsburgh and stunk. We’ve seen Nova do this before, right? Look unhittable for a few weeks then go right back to being Ivan Nova.

The Yankees need rotation help this offseason the same way every team needs rotation help. I have a hard time thinking they’ll pursue a reunion with Nova, however. Been there, done that. The Yankees are looking to move forward, not backward. Re-signing Nova puts them right back where they were this year, only Ivan will be more expensive. Someone’s going to pay Nova big bucks this winter and that’s great for him. Chance are it won’t be the Yankees though.

Update: Qualifying offer will be $17.2M this offseason

(Al Bello/Getty)
(Al Bello/Getty)

October 13th: The qualifying offer is $17.2M this offseason, according to Jon Heyman. That’s a bit higher than initially expected. It doesn’t change anything for the Yankees though. Teixeira is their only free agent eligible for the qualifying offer and he retired, so yeah.

July 28th: According to Buster Olney, the qualifying offer for the upcoming offseason is estimated at $16.7M. That’s up from $15.8M last season and $15.3M the offseason before. The QO is a one-year deal set at the average of the top 125 salaries in baseball, and the deadline to make the offer is five days after the end of the World Series. Players then have seven days to accept or reject.

The Yankees only have one serious QO candidate: Carlos Beltran. He’s hitting .305/.347/.548 (134 wRC+) with 21 homers in 95 games this season, though his defense leaves much to be desired. I don’t think the Yankees should make Beltran the QO because he’ll probably accept it — who is giving a soon-to-be 40-year-old free agent $16.7M, even across two years? — and I don’t see that as a good thing for the reasons I outlined yesterday.

Mark Teixeira and Ivan Nova are New York’s only two other impending free agents, and based on what we heard earlier today, Nova will be traded prior to Monday’s deadline. Teixeira has been beyond awful this season, hitting .190/.270/.325 (59 wRC+) with nine homers in 71 games around a knee problem. A year ago at this time he looked like a QO candidate. Now? Now he can’t get off the team fast enough.

It’s also possible for CC Sabathia to become a free agent after the season, though that would require him to suffer a shoulder injury that would void his $25M vesting option for 2017. A healthy Sabathia is not a QO candidate at this point of his career. Sabathia with a shoulder injury? No chance. With Aroldis Chapman gone, Beltran is the Yankees’ only QO candidate. We’ll see what happens with him.

The QO offer entitles the team to a supplemental first round draft pick should the player reject the offer and sign elsewhere as a free agent. Signing a QO free agent means forfeiting your highest unprotected draft pick. It’s worth noting players who accept the QO can not be traded until June 1st of the following season, so if your plan is to make Beltran the offer and trade him if he accepts, it won’t fly. At least not immediately.

It’s worth noting the new upcoming Collective Bargaining Agreement could change the QO system and I think that’ll happen, but chances are it’ll be minor tweaks rather than an overhaul. If MLB and the MLBPA reach an agreement before the end of the World Series, then the new system will presumably take effect. If not, the current QO system stays in place until the two sides announce any changes. The current CBA expires December 1st.

Rosenthal: Rangers made last minute push for Ivan Nova

(Andy Lyons/Getty)
(Andy Lyons/Getty)

According to Ken Rosenthal (video link), the Rangers made a last minute push for Ivan Nova prior to the August 1st trade deadline. The two sides exchanged proposals, and Rosenthal says talks occurred so late they might not have had time to review medical information before the deadline. Nova was instead traded to the Pirates for two prospects.

Nova, 29, had a tough start yesterday but has generally been very good for Pittsburgh. He has a 2.93 ERA (2.67 FIP) in nine starts and 55.1 innings since the trade deadline. Nine starts since the deadline? Was it really that long ago? Geez. Anyway, I’m guessing more than one team made a run at Nova before the deadline given the general need for pitching around the league. I have a few thoughts on this.

1. What would have been a comparable package from Texas? The Yankees received two players to be named later for Nova and they were legitimate prospects: outfielder Tito Polo and lefty Stephen Tarpley. They’re not high-end prospects — the Yankees traded Ivan Nova, not Greg Maddux — but they’re bonafide prospects with a chance to help the Yankees at the big league level or as trade chips at some point.

Both Tarpley and Polo were at High-A at the time of the trade. Tarpley’s a bit of a ‘tweener in that he has quality stuff but may lack the command to start long-term, while Polo is a toolsy player who may profile best as a fourth outfielder. Using MLB.com’s top 30 Rangers prospects list, here’s a list of comparable Rangers prospects:

  • RHP Pedro Payano: “Payano may lack a plus pitch, but he has three effective offerings and knows how to use them.”
  • RHP Jonathan Hernandez: “Hernandez may not have more of a ceiling than No. 4 starter, he’s a safe bet to remain in the rotation and could advance quickly.”
  • RHP Tyler Ferguson: “The bullpen might be the best destination for him anyway, because he’ll never have fine command and has yet to show aptitude for throwing an offspeed pitch.”
  • OF Jose Almonte: “Almonte’s below-average speed and quickness precipitated his move from third base but shouldn’t prevent him from becoming a competent right fielder.”

This isn’t an apples to apples comparison, of course. I was just looking for Single-A players who fit the “maybe a starter, likely a reliever” and “toolsy fourth outfielder” profiles. The Rangers system isn’t all that deep in those types of players. They have a lot of teenage infielders in the back of their top 30 prospects list.

Anyway, the point is the Yankees probably weren’t missing out on anything great by trading Nova to the Pirates instead of the Rangers. Some Single-A prospects with iffy profiles work out. Most don’t. That’s baseball.

2. The Yankees had to trade Nova. I have a hard time believing anyone would think otherwise. The Yankees sat 5.5 games back of a wildcard spot and they were coming off four straight losses the morning of the trade deadline. They had just been swept by the last place Rays. There was no reason to think they would miraculously storm back into the race, even temporarily.

Nova is an impending free agent and he was not a qualifying offer candidate because he’d pitched to a 4.99 ERA (4.98 FIP) in 191.1 innings following Tommy John surgery. They could either keep him, get another 12-13 mediocre starts, then lose him for nothing after the season, or they could trade him for some lottery tickets. Regardless of whether Nova went to the Rangers or Pirates or some other team, the Yankees were smart to move him.

3. No, the Yankees shouldn’t try to re-sign Nova. Nova’s the big winner here because there seems to be a belief that the Pirates are magicians and can fix any pitcher — why did they have to trade for Nova in the first place if that’s true? — and Nova is the latest example. Someone’s going to pay him good money in the weak free agent class, the same way J.A. Happ and Edinson Volquez made more than expected after leaving Pittsburgh.

Does that mean the Yankees should try to re-sign Nova? That’s an easy no for me. I’m not convinced his recent success is the result of anything more than a favorable schedule — he’s faced the Reds, Brewers, and Phillies six times in his nine starts — and a friendly home ballpark in the non-DH league. Nova might only be fixed the same way Phil Hughes was fixed with the Twins in 2014. Ivan’s going to get paid this winter and good for him. The 700-something innings in pinstripes far outweigh the 50-something innings with the Pirates in my opinion.

Yankees acquire Tito Polo, Stephen Tarpley to complete Ivan Nova trade

Tarpley. (Bucs Dugout)
Tarpley. (Bucs Dugout)

The Ivan Nova trade is complete. The Yankees have acquired outfielder Tito Polo and left-hander Stephen Tarpley from the Pirates to complete the deal, both teams announced. Nova was sent to Pittsburgh for two players to be named later minutes before the August 1st trade deadline.

A few weeks ago Brian Cashman said the Yankees were getting two “legitimate” prospects from the Pirates, and that’s exactly what they received. MLB.com ranks Tarpley and Polo as the No. 17 and 27 prospects in Pittsburgh’s system, respectively. Both players were on the list of potential targets I pieced together a few weeks ago. Validation!

Tarpley, 23, was originally the Orioles’ third round pick in 2013. They traded him to the Pirates for Travis Snider last year. Tarpley has a 4.32 ERA (3.92 FIP) with a 20.9% strikeout rate and an 8.6% walk rate in exactly 100 innings for Pittsburgh’s High-A affiliate this season. Here’s a piece of his MLB.com scouting report:

He’ll run his fastball up to 94-95 mph at times and throws it with good sink to generate ground-ball outs. Tarpley has two breaking balls and likes to throw his curve more than his slider, though the Pirates feel the slider is better … He also has a good feel for his changeup, giving him a solid three-pitch mix he uses to pound the strike zone.

The 22-year-old Polo is hitting .289/.360/.451 (136 wRC+) with 16 homers and 37 steals in 109 total games between Low-A and High-A this season. The Pirates originally signed him out of Colombia back in 2012. Here’s a snippet of MLB.com’s scouting report on Polo:

Polo has shown a knack for making consistent hard contact from the right side of the plate and should continue to hit for a decent average. Though he is just 5-foot-9, he has surprising strength, and he started tapping into it more in 2016 … Polo runs very well, with his speed allowing him to be a base-stealing threat and cover a good amount of ground in the outfield … Polo plays with high energy, and that should allow him to maximize his tools. He may eventually profile best as a fourth outfielder, but one who can help a team win in a number of ways.

The Yankees didn’t get top prospects for Nova, but that was never going to happen anyway. A rental pitcher with a 4.99 ERA (4.98 FIP) in 191.1 innings since coming back from Tommy John surgery doesn’t have a ton of trade value. The Yankees did very well to get two actual prospects with a chance to help the big league team in some way, even if they’re only role players.

Both Tarpley and Polo will be Rule 5 Draft eligible after the season, which is pretty much the only downside here. My guess is Tarpley will be added to the 40-man roster but Polo will not. It seems unlikely he’ll be able to stick on a big league roster all next season. A team might be able to hide Tarpley in the back of the bullpen as a long man or situational reliever though.

So, all told, the Yankees acquired 12 prospects and Adam Warren in exchange for Nova, Carlos Beltran, Aroldis Chapman, and Andrew Miller. Three of the 12 are top 100 caliber prospects (Clint Frazier, Gleyber Torres, Justus Sheffield) and the rest are quality second and third tier pieces. Very nice deadline haul, I’d say.