Ivan Nova’s Contract Year [2016 Season Preview]

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Ivan Nova has spent pretty much his entire career in someone else’s shadow. Coming up through the minors, he was always stuck behind more highly regarded pitching prospects like Joba Chamberlain, Ian Kennedy, and Manny Banuelos. Then when he broke into the big leagues, he was behind guys like Phil Hughes and Michael Pineda. Even David Phelps at times.

This season Nova came to camp as the second oldest of the team’s six starting pitcher candidates — only CC Sabathia is older — and he isn’t even assured a rotation spot. He’s coming back off a yucky 2015 season (5.07 ERA and 4.87 FIP) that started late because he was rehabbing from Tommy John surgery. The poor performance and the injury could be connected, of course. Then again, Nova was healthy in 2012, when he had a 5.02 ERA (4.60 FIP).

Nova is entering his age 29 season and his sixth big league season, and I still feel like we have no idea who he really is. Is Nova the guy who pitched so well in 2010 (3.70 ERA and 4.00 FIP) and 2013 (3.10 ERA and 3.47 FIP)? Or is he the guy who stunk in 2012 and 2015? Is he a fastball-slider pitcher or a fastball-curveball pitcher? He’s alternated breaking balls over the years too. Nova’s a mystery.

The 2016 season is Ivan’s last year before free agency, so it’s fair to call this the biggest season of his life. A good season along the lines of 2010 and 2013 will equal a handsome payday next winter. A poor season like 2012 and 2015 means Nova will probably find himself looking for a one-year contract to re-establish value. That’s a lot of pressure, and I can’t imagine it helps that he came to camp as the sixth starter. This is a tough spot.

That said, I’m pretty sure Nova’s going to end up making a bunch of starts this season. Upwards of 20-25, even. No team goes through a season using only five starters these days, and the Yankees carry even greater injury risk in their starting five than most teams. Heck, the Yankees go out of their way to use a sixth starter. At some point someone is going to get hurt and Nova will step into the rotation. It’s going to happen. Baseball is a son of a bitch like that.

The question is can Nova give the Yankees quality innings and put himself in position to land a nice payday after the season? When he’s been at his best, Ivan combined an average number of strikeouts with an above-average number of ground balls. Last year his strikeouts were down (15.3%) but his grounders were fine (49.0%). He also had close to no platoon split when at his best. Nova never did get enough credit for having success against both righties and lefties earlier in his career.

Last year though, left-handed batters tattooed Nova for a .311/.375/.524 (.387 wOBA) batting line. They struck out only 9.1% of the time too. Yikes. He was fine against righties (.300 wOBA and 21.6 K%) but lefties were unforgiving. Looking at the heat map of his pitch location against lefties, it appears he was a little more over the plate last season than he was in 2013, his last full season before Tommy John surgery:

Ivan Nova vs. LHB

The heat maps are from the catcher’s point of view and you’ve got 2013 on the left and 2015 on the right. You can click the image for a larger view. All the red is in the lower left corner, which means Nova threw most of his pitches to lefties down and away. That’s good. There were some more pitches out over the middle of the plate last season, which could be the cause of his problems or nothing at all. It could be sample size noise.

The book on Nova has long been that he has good enough control (the ability to throw strikes) but below-average command (the ability to locate exactly where he wants), and he also lacks deception in his delivery, so hitters get a good look at the ball out of his hand. His stuff is good. Nova’s fastball moves and he can throw a nasty breaking ball when right. Even his changeup looks pretty good from time to time. He just needs be really fine because hitters see everything well.

At this point of his career, it’s unlikely Nova will alter his delivery to add deception or improve his command in a meaningful way. Not too many pitchers make major changes to their mechanics after five years in the show. Guys like Charlie Morton are the exception, not the rule. That said, it’s possible Nova will be more consistent with his delivery this season, as he gets further away from Tommy John surgery. He never blamed his 2015 struggles on the surgery but he did acknowledge his arm feels “lighter” this spring.

If Nova can repeat his mechanics and locate a little better this summer, it could have a big time impact on his numbers. He left way too many mistake pitches over the plate last season and he paid for everything. Nova never seems to get away with a mistake. Limiting those mistakes has always been the priority and it can be hard to do that when you’re breaking in a new elbow ligament. Ivan’s not the first guy to have problems after elbow reconstruction.

This is a big season for Nova personally. He stands to make himself millions with his performance. Nova is also pretty important to the Yankees as their inevitably-will-be-needed sixth starter. He’ll be further away from Tommy John surgery, which may or may not improve his location and his performance against lefties. As much as he frustrates me, part of me will miss Ivan if (when?) he leaves as a free agent. Hopefully his final year in pinstripes is his best yet.

Healthy Ivan Nova could help the Yankees as a depth arm in his contract year

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

By any objective measure, the last two seasons have been a disaster for Ivan Nova. He was limited to 21 starts and 114.2 innings from 2014-15, his age 27-28 seasons, because of Tommy John surgery, and during those 114.2 innings he had a 5.65 ERA (5.24 FIP). Obviously the surgery and performance are related to some degree. Nova wasn’t healthy in 2014 and he was shaking off the rust in 2015.

Nova, now 29, reported to Spring Training last week as the sixth starter on the depth chart. Brian Cashman all but confirmed whoever doesn’t win a rotation job in camp will be the long man to start the season, and right now Nova is that guy. Being the sixth starter stinks, but it’s not all bad. Inevitably the Yankees are going to need a sixth starter. Last season 25 of the 30 teams had six starters make at least ten starts.

Regardless of role, the 2016 season is huge for Nova on a personal level because it’s his contract year, and I’m sure he wants that Ian Kennedy money next winter. Baseball pays very well, but, relatively speaking, Nova has not yet cashed in big. He received an $80,000 bonus as an amateur out of the Dominican Republic, made next to nothing in minors, and will earn a total of $8.2M or so during his six years of team control.

“He’s getting ready for his free-agent walk year. If there’s going to be a time for him to put his best foot forward, if he’s on a salary drive, this would be the year for it. Hopefully we’ll benefit from it,” said Cashman to Brendan Kuty earlier this month. Money is a great motivator and baseball players are human. Of course they put forth their very best effort in their contract years. There’s no reason to think Nova will be any different.

Nova does not have a rotation spot at the moment, though I figure that opportunity will come in time. What he does have going for him is health, at least to the extent any pitcher can have health in their favor. Nova will open the season roughly 23 months out from Tommy John surgery, and typically it takes pitchers a few months to get all the way back from elbow reconstruction. Everyone is different of course, but many need a little time to get back to normal.

“We felt that we would see a different guy this year. I was impressed with his bullpen today. I saw an arm that was very quick, probably better than any point we saw last year. I think the time off really helped him and you will see a different guy,” said Joe Girardi to George King yesterday. The other day Nova himself told Chad Jennings his arm feels “lighter” this spring than it did last season.

Even before the Tommy John surgery, Nova was unpredictable and his career had a lot of ups and downs. He had a 3.70 ERA (4.00 FIP) in 165.1 innings in 2011. Then he had a 5.02 ERA (4.60 FIP) in 170.1 innings in 2012. And then he had a 3.10 ERA (3.47 FIP) in 139.1 innings in 2013. It was impossible to know which Nova would show up start to start, nevermind year to year. Like lots of other young pitchers, Nova’s performance was volatile.

The Yankees spent much of the offseason exploring trades for Nova despite their questionable rotation depth, and I don’t blame them. It’s hard to count on him to be reliable and it’s possible the team will lose him to free agency for nothing next offseason. That said, I do think keeping Nova was a smart move. No one blew the Yankees away with an offer and Ivan figures to be more valuable to the team as a depth arm than any middling prospect he’d return in a deal.

Given his history, it’s easy to be skeptical of Nova’s ability to help the Yankees in 2016. I’d be lying if I said I was confident he’ll be a valuable member of the staff. I do know the Yankees are almost certainly going to need him to step in to make some starts at some point, and that alone makes him pretty important. That he’s further removed from Tommy John surgery and presumably motivated by his upcoming free agency at least gives us some reason to think Nova will be able to perform much better this season than he did last.

Joe Girardi’s Spring Press Conference: Chapman, Tanaka, Castro, Gardner, Ellsbury, More

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Pitchers and catchers reported to Tampa for Spring Training today, meaning the first steps of the marathon that is the 2016 season have been taken. Joe Girardi met with reporters for his annual start-of-spring press conference this morning, and of course he was asked about all aspects of the team.

“Pretty much (quiet). I think it was evidence in the amount of time it took someone to ask a question this morning,” said Girardi when asked about this being a normal camp because they’re no huge stories. “We haven’t had the big story and that’s nice … It is a pretty regular Spring Training. I hope that doesn’t make it a boring Spring Training, but it is regular.”

Normal spring or not, Aroldis Chapman dominated this morning’s press conference, with questions about his pending suspension, the domestic dispute incident, and his role as closer. You can watch Girardi’s press conference right here (it’s chopped up into smaller clips.) Here’s a recap of the important stuff with some thoughts thrown in.

All Things Aroldis

  • On an appropriate punishment: “I think that’s up to the commissioner to decide. That’s not my job. Obviously I wasn’t in the room when they put the (domestic violence) policy together. I have not reviewed the cases … I know it’s very serious and we have to take it very serious. To me, it’s very important when there’s an issue, it’s taken care of.”
  • On behavioral concerns: “Obviously you look at behavioral patterns to see if guys are maturing … We’ve all probably done things in our lives we wish we could do a little differently. I want to get to know him before I really form an opinion about his character. It’s unfortunate sometimes players get labeled before you a chance to know him.”
  • On conduct: “I think there’s an expectation of conduct and how you’re supposed to handle things. The court of law is different than the court of MLB or the MLBPA (or) the public’s opinion. I think we have a responsibility as athletes with the way we present ourselves on and off the field, and I’m okay with that.”
  • On Chapman’s decision to appeal any suspension: “I think it tells you he wants to question the suspension … Does it tell me maybe he (doesn’t think he did) something wrong? I don’t think it says that.”
  • On getting to know Chapman: “I think it’s really hard to form a really good opinion by talking on the phone. There’s some language issues there … He’s very thankful to be here … But until I really get around him it’s really hard to form an opinion.
  • On making Chapman the closer: “He’s been a closer most of his career. It’s (a role) he’s probably most comfortable with. Andrew Miller did a tremendous job … Andrew has been a reliever most of his career — setup guy, seventh inning guy, lefty specialist — I thought it would be (easier for him) to adjust to it better than Chapman.”
  • On the trade itself: “His name was brought up, then it kinda died, then it happened really fast. I had some information about it (but) I was not given much information.”

Girardi danced around any questions regarding Chapman’s domestic dispute incident, which was to be expected. Technically MLB’s investigation is still ongoing and he wasn’t going to say anything remotely controversial. Girardi deflected everything with “that’s up to MLB” and “I have to get to know him,” basically.

I hope commissioner Rob Manfred announces the suspension soon, however long it may be, so Chapman can file his appeal and go through the process. The longer this goes on, the more of a distraction it will be. Let’s rip the band-aid off, so to speak. The sooner we can begin focusing on nothing but baseball, the better. During the press conference you could tell Girardi felt the same way.

The Rotation

  • On Masahiro Tanaka‘s elbow: “We will watch him closely to see where he’s at … We’ll make sure that we put him in a situation where he’s ready to go pitch before he gets into a game. If it takes a little longer, it takes a little longer.”
  • On the fifth starter spot: “I think you have to let things work their way out in Spring Training. I know (CC Sabathia‘s) name has been brought up in that conversation, as well as Ivan Nova. Sometimes things have just a way of working out. The competition just goes way. A lot of times, unfortunately, that comes down to health … The big thing is that we have five healthy starters when we leave Spring Training. That’s my goal. We’ll take the five best starters.”
  • On managing workloads: “I thought putting an extra starter in there helped them … I think just watching them physically and watching their innings (is important). You have to be sensitive to your bullpen that it doesn’t get overworked. I think we were able to manage that because (the young relievers) were able to come up and be interchangeable.”
  • On Luis Severino‘s workload: “I think he’s a guy that can handle 200 innings.”

There were surprisingly few questions about the rotation. I guess that’s what happens when you have five pretty clearly established starters plus a sixth starter who’s been around the block. I don’t buy Sabathia being involved in any kind of fifth starter competition though. If he’s healthy, he’s going to be in the rotation. We all know that. As for Severino throwing 200 innings … we’ll see. I’d bet against it.

The Position Players

  • On Brett Gardner playing hurt: “He actually got hit (in the wrist) in April. This was something he dealt with all year long, and if you remember his July, it was an MVP type of month. Sometimes it’s hard to predict. Was it fatigue? Was it the wrist? Did he just get in a bad way? … Everyone plays beat up, that’s the bottom line. That’s what happens in our game … You hope players are honest enough with you that when it becomes too much, they come to you. He never felt it was too much and we didn’t either.”
  • On expecting veterans to produce again: “I think you can expect it. You have to manage them physically and their workload in a sense to make sure they’re strong at the end of the season. And that’s something when you’re fighting for that spot to get into the playoffs, it gets harder to manage that workload … I think the versatility of our club should help that.”
  • On mending fences with Jacoby Ellsbury: “I have talked to him over the winter … I had a tough decision. Brett Gardner has been pretty successful here too. Maybe he wasn’t as big a free agent signee as Jacoby Ellsbury, but Brett Gardner has been extremely productive in his career. That was a hard decision. I was going to disappoint someone immensely. I did what I thought was best for the team.”
  • On Starlin Castro at third base: “It’s something that I need to talk to him about to see where he is. I have not talked to him. I want to talk to him face-to-face about the possibility of what do we do if we need to give (Chase Headley) a day off. That’s something that will be important when we get to Spring Training to talk about.”
  • On A-Rod: “He is our DH and we expect him to be productive … He’ll be ready.”

I though the Ellsbury question was pretty funny. Girardi was asked about saying he had to mend the fences with Ellsbury but quickly pointed out he never said that. He was asked whether he had to mend the fences at the end of last year, that’s it. He never thought much of it. Girardi spoke to Ellsbury this offseason and this seems like a whole bunch of nothing.

Girardi again made it clear the Yankees want to rest their veteran players as much as possible this season, and he indicated the Castro and Aaron Hicks pickups will allow them to do that. (He also said Castro and Didi Gregorius are young and don’t need as much rest.) He didn’t name names and didn’t explain how he intends to rest these guys, but I think we all have a pretty good idea. We’ll find out soon enough.

Miscellany

  • On goals for 2016: “Our goal is to win the World Series. Bottom line. I appreciate how hard our guys played all year, how they never gave up last year, but you know what? We didn’t get to where we wanted. We lost in the first round of the playoffs … Our goal is to win the World Series. That’s why we come to Spring Training.”
  • On getting over 2015: “It’s never easy … I really don’t get over it until baseball ends. Completely ends. There’s an emptiness inside that you should be there. You try to avoid that one-game playoff and be a division winner. Our first goal is win the division this year.”
  • On biggest spring concerns: “There’s some competition here. When you look at some spots in our bullpen, I think we have to iron that out. And I always have concerns about players trying to do too much. I will let them know you’re not going to impress me in your sides, you’re not going to impress me in the first week of games.”
  • On some new additions: “We added Castro, who gives us an everyday second baseman that has been productive in his career. (This) is a young man that has almost 1,000 hits and is only 25 years old … We added a switch-hitter as an outfielder, which gives us more of an opportunity to rest maybe our two left-handers out there against left-handers more often, in a sense. I think we’re deeper.”
  • On young players contributing again: “You might be a non-roster player, you might be in Double-A when you get sent down, but you may have a chance to contribute … That wasn’t an easy job for the relievers — I was honest with them, I told them what was going to happen — but be the guy what when we make another move, is throwing well … Anything can happen. If you’re in uniform, anything can happen, so give everything you’ve got.”
  • Are the Yankees better than last year? “I think so. I think on paper we are better. Paper doesn’t really mean anything until you go out and compete … I think there’s more depth. I think our younger players in the minor league system have gotten a taste (and are eager to contribute).”

There wasn’t as much talk about young players contributing this year. There’s been a lot of that the last few years. I guess that after last season — Girardi mentioned Slade Heathcott, Mason Williams, and Rob Refsnyder (among others) by name when asked about who impressed him last season — and an offseason in which the Yankees signed zero big league free agents, it’s common knowledge they’re going to rely on young players again. That’s pretty cool. And kinda scary.

Spring Notes: Tanaka, Sabathia, A-Rod, Castro, Nova, Davis

Those shirts! (The Asahi Shimbun/Getty)
Those shirts! (The Asahi Shimbun/Getty)

Pitchers and catchers are due to report to Spring Training in just six days. Many — or most, it seems — are already in Tampa though, so some early camp notes are starting to trickle in. This is good. I am ready for baseball. Here’s a roundup of recent news and notes from Tampa.

Tanaka begins throwing, may be behind other starters in camp

Masahiro Tanaka has gotten back on a mound after having surgery to remove a bone spur from his elbow in October. According to Ronald Blum, Tanaka threw a bullpen session at Yankee Stadium last week in front of pitching coach Larry Rothschild. Bryan Hoch says Tanaka played catch in Tampa today. Afterwards he said he needs to “get innings in (to) see how I feel” before knowing whether he’ll be ready for Opening Day.

Pitching coach Larry Rothschild told Dan Martin Tanaka’s “throwing program was right on target,” though Brian Cashman was a bit more conservative. “He will enter Spring Training maybe a little behind for precautionary reasons. He may be behind going off the bullpen from the beginning, but he is healthy. There are no issues, there are no hiccups,” said the GM to George King.

CC Sabathia was behind the other starters in Spring Training 2013 after having surgery to remove a bone spur from his elbow early during the 2012 offseason. He was ready to start the season on time; the club limited his bullpen work early in camp, and had him make his first few spring starts in controlled minor league games rather than regular Grapefruit League games. Tanaka could do the same this spring. We’ll see.

“When you pitch a good game, you’re the hero,” said Tanaka, who worked out with his former Rakuten Golden Eagles teammates in Japan this offseason, to Brad Lefton. “When you have a bad game, everyone says, ‘Something’s wrong with the elbow.’ There’s no way to handle it other than to just accept that’s the way it’s going to be. If you want to stop such talk, then you just have to go out and keep winning ballgames.”

Sabathia and his knee are feeling great

You can file this in the classic early Spring Training everything is awesome category: CC Sabathia’s knee feels great and he’s doing very well following his stint in an alcohol treatment center, he told Laura Albanese and Mark Feinsand. “I feel great and I’ve been working hard for the last three months and I’m ready to go,” said Sabathia. “I’m excited … This is the best I’ve felt in three years.”

Sabathia, now 35, usually throws year round, but he took a month off from throwing a baseball while in rehab. He’s been throwing off a mound for three weeks now. “I’m definitely in a good place. You’ve never got this thing beat; it’s always there and I’m always going to be a recovering alcoholic, but I’m in a good place,” he said. “This is my 16th year in the big leagues and you can take it for granted. This whole experience has put a new lease on my career and the way I’m viewing it.”

I’d be lying if I said I have even medium high hopes for Sabathia this coming season — I’ve done the “overly optimistic about CC” thing a few times these last three years — but I’m glad he feels great and his alcoholism recovery is going well. That goes beyond baseball and he’ll be fighting it the rest of his life. On the field, if the new knee brace allows Sabathia to give the Yankees, say, 180 league average innings in 2016, that would be an enormous upgrade over what he gave them from 2013-15.

Cashman reiterates A-Rod will be a DH only

As if it was not already clear, Cashman reiterated the Yankees see Alex Rodriguez as a DH and a DH only going forward. “You’ve got to stop asking Alex questions,” said Cashman to Billy Witz. “He’s not playing any position anymore. He’s a DH. He’s a very productive DH. For us to get maximum value out of Alex Rodriguez, he’s going to only DH. If we have to put him in the field somewhere, we’re in trouble.”

I wish the Yankees would at least entertain the idea of giving Alex some time at first base in Spring Training, but obviously that’s not going to happen. Greg Bird is done for the season, leaving Dustin Ackley as the backup first baseman. It would be nice if A-Rod were at least capable of being an emergency fill-in at first base for a few innings. Alas. The DH spot is his and his alone.

Castro will play some third base in Spring Training

(Dilip Vishwanat/Getty)
(Dilip Vishwanat/Getty)

As expected, the Yankees will have Starlin Castro play some third base in Spring Training this year, Cashman told Ryan Hatch. Castro has not played third since rookie ball years and years ago, and that was only a handful of games. He’s played shortstop most of his career, so he is familiar with being on the left side of the infield. Castro moved to second base last August, and I’m not sure giving him another new position to learn right now is the best idea, but we’ll see.

“It’s too early to tell (if he can handle third), so we’ll take the time in Spring Training,” said Cashman. “If (he) can swing over and play some third for us and spell Chase (Headley), that’s a huge benefit for roster flexibility, but if he can’t, we’re not going to force it … If it’s something he’s not comfortable with we’re certainly not going to force that either. But we’ll certainly find out when we get to know him a little better and see how he looks.”

Nova wants to start, because duh

Ivan Nova, who is currently sixth on the rotation depth chart, told Martin he wants to start this year but will pitch out of the bullpen if necessary. “I’m a starting pitcher. I’m not a reliever, but if that’s what they tell me to do, that’s what I’ve got to do,” he said. “If I feel bad going to the bullpen, what’s that going to change?”

The Yankees sent Nova to the bullpen briefly last September, but he never did make a relief appearance and instead moved back into the rotation when Tanaka pulled his hamstring. I firmly believe Nova is going to end up making something like 20-25 starts this year. One or three of the other starters will get hurt and he’ll be the guy to step in. The sixth starter always works more than expected, it seems.

Nova, now 29, had a 5.07 ERA (4.87 FIP) in 94 innings after coming back from Tommy John surgery last year. He didn’t blame his struggles on the elbow — “Whatever happened last year wasn’t because of the Tommy John. I just didn’t pitch good. If I didn’t feel good, I would have said it,” he said — but I do think it’s fair to expect him to improve as he gets further away from the procedure. That’s common. This is also Ivan’s contract year too. I’m sure he’s extra motivated to pitch well, and the Yankees will happily take it if he does.

Beltran, McCann do not want to play first base

Although both Carlos Beltran and Brian McCann have briefly played first base for the Yankees, neither wants to do it going forward, they told Anthony McCarron and Brendan Kuty. “No, no, no. I would do anything. Except (play first). It’s a different animal,” said Beltran. McCann added “I don’t think they want me over there. I don’t move too good. I don’t think they want that.”

Both Beltran and McCann have played some first base in pinstripes, so they’re clearly not opposed to the idea, but they don’t want to do it regularly. I understand that. The Yankees shouldn’t want Beltran or McCann to do it at all. Ideally Mark Teixeira stays healthy at first base and mashes taters all season with Ackley backing him up. If it gets to the point where Beltran has to play first, something very bad has happened. By the way, Beltran told Hatch he dropped ten pounds this offseason and joked he “might try and steal some bases this year.”

Cashman confirms Yankees have spoken to Davis

In the wake of Bird’s injury, the Yankees have indeed spoken to free agent Ike Davis, Cashman confirmed to Anthony Rieber. “We’ve talked to Ike Davis. That’s all I can tell you, really. We’ve talked to a lot of people,” said the GM. “Again, in terms of the Greg Bird scenario, we clearly have a need for an everyday first baseman at Scranton. So anybody that we feel is of quality and can fit that bill and is interested and willing to play in Scranton, then we’re going to have those conversations with a number of different people. But we have talked to Ike as well.”

Ken Davidoff says Davis is expected to sign a minor league contract — not necessarily with the Yankees — at some point soon. Davis, 28, hit .229/.301/.350 (83 wRC+) with three homers in 74 games for the A’s last season. He is a year removed from a 109 wRC+ season, however. Davis is a dead pull lefty hitter with power, making him a very good third string first base candidate for the Yankees. At this point of the offseason, he’s the best option to replace Bird in Scranton. Steve Simineri explained why the Yankees should side Davis in a guest post recently.

Ivan the Reliever

(Getty)
(Getty)

Heading into 2016, the Yankees seem to have a full starting rotation. Injuries will happen and more than five pitchers will start for the team this year, but if we bite our lips and close our eyes, take ourselves away to paradise where everything breaks right (meaning nothing breaks) and the Yanks are able to roll with Masahiro Tanaka, CC Sabathia, Michael Pineda, Nathan Eovaldi, and Luis Severino for most of the year, that leaves Ivan Nova with no spot in the rotation. For many–author included–that’s not a bad thing. Nova’s been very up and down in his career and coming off of Tommy John surgery in 2015, that was no different. While Severino pitched his way into the 2016 rotation with his 2015 performance, Nova may’ve pushed his way (permanently) out of it and into that ever gray, nebulous area of ‘not good enough to start, but not an obvious reliever, either.’

Of course, Nova could fit nicely into the long-reliever slot. The Yankees don’t necessarily need to be concerned with his long-term development as he’s close to free agency and he is blocked in the rotation by pitchers with better stuff, better results, and better upside. Allowing him to wallow for a while won’t negatively impact the team too much. It’s better that he fills this role than, say, Bryan Mitchell, who still has some room to grow and may yet turn out to be a starter for the big league team. And though it’s hard to see, given his lack of consistency, there is a route to success in the bullpen for Nova.

When we think of good relief pitchers, we generally think of those with one devastating pitch, which is something Nova hasn’t had in his career, despite throwing relatively hard and flashing a good curve every once in a while. Other relievers have a good two-pitch combo, like Andrew Miller‘s blistering fastball and sweeping slider–ditto for Dellin Betances and his curveball. Nova may not have any one pitch that is nearly as good as any his teammates have, but if he focuses on his two pitch combo–sinker and curveball, especially the latter–he may just find surprising success in the bullpen.

One key to Nova’s experience in the bullpen may just be increased reliance on that curve. Of course, I should note that it may not be wise for a guy coming off of elbow surgery to up his curveball usage, but if he’s relieving, the gross total may be lower than if he were a starter, even if the percentage goes up. For his career, Nova’s curve has the second highest whiff/swing rate at 36.97%, trailing only his slider (40.80), which he hasn’t thrown–per Brooks–since 2013. In 2015, he had whiff/swing rate of 37.43% with his curveball, blowing away all of his other pitches. The other key will be pairing that curveball with his sinker, which is most definitely Nova’s calling card. Both for his career and 2015, that sinker has gotten a hefty number of ground balls, with both tallies coming in at over 60% grounders/balls in play.

Ditching a fastball may seem like an odd choice, but it may be best for Nova if he’s going to succeed in a relief role. Moving into the ‘pen and out of the rotation is about simplifying your game and the simplest thing Nova can do is use his two best weapons–his bowling sinker and his effective curve. If he can do that and harness the power of those two pitches, perhaps he can move from just a long-man to an effective short reliever. The chances may not be great, but this is baseball, after all, and stranger things have happened.

Curry: Yankees, Nova avoid arbitration with $4.1M deal

(Getty)
(Getty)

The Yankees and Ivan Nova have agreed to a non-guaranteed one-year contract to avoid arbitration, the team announced. Jack Curry says the deal is worth $4.1M and includes performance bonuses. Nova filed for $4.6M in arbitration while the Yankees countered with $3.8M. They settled a bit below the midpoint. MLBTR projected $4.4M.

Nova, 29, missed most of the first half of last season as he worked his way back from Tommy John surgery. He had a 5.07 ERA (4.87 FIP) in 17 starts and 94 innings after returning, and at one point he was demoted to the bullpen, though he never did actually make a relief appearance because Masahiro Tanaka‘s hamstring forced Nova back into the rotation.

The Yankees reportedly listened to trade offers for Nova this offseason, but obviously didn’t find anything to their liking. His trade value isn’t all that high due to the poor performance and recent Tommy John surgery. I think Nova is more valuable to the Yankees as a depth arm than anything they could realistically acquire in a trade.

Right now Nova is the team’s sixth starter, and barring injury, it’s hard to see how he beats out any of the starting five for a rotation spot in camp. There’s always a chance Nova will improve as he gets further away from elbow reconstruction, and hey, maybe he’ll pitch his way into qualifying offer territory. Either way, I’m sure Nova will make a bunch of starts in 2016. The sixth starter is always needed.

With Nova signed, New York’s only unsigned arbitration-eligible player is Aroldis Chapman. He filed for $13.1M and the team countered with $9M, which seems way too low. I wouldn’t be surprised if Chapman took the Yankees to a hearing over that. His case seems pretty good. Arbitration hearings will take place throughout February.

Yankees sign Pineda and Ackley; file arbitration figures with Chapman, Eovaldi, Gregorius, Nova

Didi is arbitration-eligible for the first time. (Patrick Smith/Getty)
Didi is arbitration-eligible for the first time. (Patrick Smith/Getty)

Original Post (12:00pm ET): Today is an important day on the offseason calendar. The deadline for teams and their arbitration-eligible players to file salary figures for the 2016 season is 1pm ET, which is a bit earlier than previous years, I believe. A total of 156 players are eligible for arbitration this winter, though many have agreed to a new contracts already.

The Yankees have six players up for arbitration this offseason, including some pretty important members of the team. Here are the six with their projected 2016 salaries, via MLBTR:

Dustin Ackley: $3.1M (second time through arbitration)
Aroldis Chapman: $12.9M (third)
Nathan Eovaldi: $5.7M (second)
Didi Gregorius: $2.1M (first of four as a Super Two)
Ivan Nova: $4.4M (third)
Michael Pineda: $4.6M (second)

The Yankees have not been to an arbitration hearing since beating Chien-Ming Wang during the 2007-08 offseason. Since then they’ve signed all of their eligible players prior to the filing deadline. I assume that will be the case again this year, though who knows. We’ll find out soon enough.

The two sides can still negotiate a contract of any size even after filing salary figures. They can hammer out a new deal at any point, even after a hearing if they choose. Hearings will take place throughout February and arbitration is an ugly process. The team details the player’s shortcomings in an effort to keep his salary down. Not pleasant for anyone involved. It’s no mystery why everyone involved tries to avoid a hearing.

We’ll keep track of the day’s Yankees-related arbitration news right here, assuming nothing crazy happens. Someone could sign a multi-year extension but history suggests the Yankees won’t do that. Check back for updates throughout the day. The deadline is 1pm ET, but news can and probably will trickle in throughout the afternoon.

Update (3:00pm ET): Yankees sign Pineda for $4.3M (Jeff Passan)

Pineda gets a nice $2.2M raise after pitching to a 4.37 ERA (3.34 FIP) last season. Yeah, he missed all that time following shoulder surgery from 2012-13, but he was an All-Star back in 2011 and that matters in arbitration. That said, a $4.3M salary for a starter going through arbitration for the second time is relatively small. All the lost time definitely cost Pineda some cash. He can’t become a free agent until after 2017.

Update (3:26pm ET): Yankees sign Ackley for $3.2M (Chad Jennings)

Ackley made $2.6M last season, so his raise wasn’t very big. He is in a bit of an interesting situation because the Mariners signed him to a five-year contract worth $7.5M out of the draft a few years back. Ackley earned $1.5M, $1.5M, and $1.7M in his three pre-arbitration years, not the league minimum, so his starting base salary in arbitration was higher than usual. He’s making more than he should be given his production. But still, $3.2M is peanuts in today’s MLB. Ackley is two years from free agency.

Update (3:28pm ET): Yankees will file with Chapman, Eovaldi, Gregorius, Nova (Jon Heyman)

In a bit of a surprise, the Yankees were unable to reach contract agreements with those four players prior to today’s filing deadline. No word on their filing figures yet, though those should come out soon enough. The two sides can still negotiate a contract of any size, remember. Today was not a hard deadline for completing a deal.

Update (4:58pm ET): Chapman filed for $13.1M, Yankees for $9M (Jon Heyman)

First thought: Chapman should probably take the Yankees to a hearing. He made $8.05M last season. Would the arbitration panel really side with the Yankees and award him a raise of less than $1M after he saved 33 games with a 1.63 ERA (1.94 FIP) and 116 strikeouts in 66.1 innings in 2015? Seems really unlikely. The other third year arbitration-eligible closers (Kenley Jansen, Drew Storen, Mark Melancon) all received raises of at least $2.5M on Friday. I guess the Yankees think Chapman’s earning potential will be dragged down by the domestic violence incident.

Update (5:01pm ET): Gregorius filed for $2.525M, Yankees for $2.3M (Jon Heyman)

A gap of $225,000 is nothing. I imagine the Yankees and Gregorius will be able to hammer out a deal soon enough, perhaps somewhere around the midpoint of the two filing figures ($2.42M). Then again, the Yankees could take the “file-and-trial” stance that is becoming popular. That is, once the salary figures are filed, the team stops negotiating and goes to a hearing. Hopefully that’s not the case.

Keep in mind with Gregorius, his 2016 salary will affect his 2017-19 salaries as well. There’s a carryover effect from year-to-year. It’s not so much about saving $225,000 next year. That $225,000 can potentially grow into a few million bucks during Didi’s four arbitration years.

Update (5:19pm ET): Eovaldi filed for $6.3M, Yankees for $4.9M (Jon Heyman)

The midpoint of the two filing figures is $5.6M, just south of MLBTR’s projection. Remember, the arbitration process is very antiquated. If they do go to a hearing, Eovaldi’s representatives will surely emphasize his 14-3 record in 2015, and the fact he led the league in winning percentage (.824). The system rewards wins and winning percentage, the stuff we know doesn’t tell us a whole lot about the pitcher’s performance.

Update (6:58pm ET): Nova filed for $4.6M, Yankees for $3.8M (Jeff Passan)

Nova, who made $3.3M last summer, filed a salary number just north of MLBTR’s projection. The Yankees are a little under that, and really, an $800,000 gap is not huge. The team seems to offering a token “you picked up another year of service time, congrats” raise after Nova’s poor 2015 season. Even considering MLBTR’s projection, I can understand why the Yankees filed at $3.8M.