Cafardo: Marlins have had interest in Ivan Nova

(AP Photo/Gail Burton)
(AP Photo/Gail Burton)

The Marlins have had interest in right-hander Ivan Nova this offseason, according to Nick Cafardo. Joe Frisaro says Miami is close to signing Edwin Jackson, but he mentions they still want to add more pitching. They’ve been connected to reclamation project guys like Jackson and Doug Fister. I’d say Nova qualifies as a reclamation project given his 2015 season.

Right now the Marlins have two open rotation spots behind Jose Fernandez, Tom Koehler, and Jarred Cosart. Jackson would presumably fill one. David Phelps, Adam Conley, Brad Hand, and Justin Nicolino are among the guys in line to compete for a rotation spot in camp. There’s an openings there and buying low on Nova or Fister or whoever makes a lot of sense for Miami.

Realistically, what can the Yankees get for Nova at this point? Probably not a whole lot. Martin Prado would be a wonderful fit for that last bench spot, but that’s not happening. No team is trading their starting third baseman for Nova. Derek Dietrich would be both an interesting lefty utility man and totally redundant with Dustin Ackley. (Dietrich can play third base though, which is not insignificant.)

Chances are the Marlins would be looking to trade prospects for Nova, and while prospects are cool, the Yankees are probably better off keeping Nova for depth than trading him for a few Grade-C minor leaguers. I do think there’s a chance Nova will perform better next season as he gets further away from elbow surgery, and if that happens, the Yankees could always look to move him at the deadline. Plus it’ll be good to have the depth given all the injury concerns in the starting five.

The Yankees have spent much of the offseason shopping (or at least gauging interest in) Nova, Brett Gardner, and Andrew Miller. Right now I think they’re going to end up hanging on to all three. Then again, I might feel differently next week, so who knows. I would be surprised if the Yankees went the rest of the offseason without doing anything though. They’re not done adding pieces.

Yankees lack reliability in the rotation, but not upside

(Mike Stobe/Getty)
(Mike Stobe/Getty)

So far this offseason the Yankees have worked to improve their lineup (Starlin Castro), their bench (Aaron Hicks), and their bullpen (Aroldis Chapman). They’ve been looking for rotation help all winter, particularly a young starter they can control beyond 2017, but so far they’ve come up empty. With another seven weeks until Spring Training, the Yankees still have time to find another starter.

At the moment, the Yankees do have six starters for five spots, so they have some depth. I’d call it warm body depth rather than quality depth, but depth is depth. And the Yankees are going to need that depth too, because no team gets through a season using only five starters these days. Heck, teams are lucky if they get through a season using only seven starters. That’s the nature of the beast.

The concern with the rotation is the dubious health of the incumbent starters. Every one of them except Luis Severino missed time with an injury last season. All of them except Severino and CC Sabathia had an arm injury. Masahiro Tanaka is coming off surgery to remove a bone spur from his elbow and Michael Pineda still hasn’t made it through a full season in one piece in his four years with the Yankees.

“I think there’s depth there but there’s questions about health,” said Joe Girardi at the Winter Meetings. “You have Tanaka coming off a minor surgery — I guess you can say there’s no surgery that’s really minor when it’s to a pitcher’s arm — you have Michael coming back after throwing a lot of innings last year. (Ivan Nova) should be better a year removed from his surgery. I think until you see him throwing in Spring Training and throwing the ball like he’s capable of, you wonder a little bit.”

The health concerns with the rotation are legitimate. The Yankees don’t have anyone they can reasonably count on to stay healthy and take the ball every fifth day without incident. Yes, all pitchers are injury risks, but you can safely pencil guys like David Price and Zack Greinke and Jeff Samardzija in for 30 starts a year. They have the track record of durability. The Yankees don’t have anyone like that. At least not with Sabathia at this point of his career.

(Mike Stobe/Getty)
(Mike Stobe/Getty)

What the Yankees do have, however, is a lot of upside in their rotation. I feel like this is getting overlooked this offseason. Tanaka is a true difference maker when healthy. He’s an ace on his best days, and even on his worst days he’s merely ordinary and not awful. Severino has all the potential in the world and we’ve seen Pineda and Nathan Eovaldi have extended stretches of dominance (Pineda in 2014, Eovaldi in 2015).

I don’t have high expectations for Sabathia, not even with the new knee brace, but at least Nova will be further away from Tommy John surgery. He’s been very up and down in his career. The ups have been really good though! The downs? Well they’re why he’s the sixth starter and not assured a rotation spot. And who knows, maybe the new knee brace is the magic cure-all Sabathia needs. Even becoming a league average innings eater would be a huge upgrade.

Tanaka turned 27 last month and is the third oldest of the team’s six starters. Sabathia is the elder statesman at 35 and Nova’s the second oldest. He’ll be 29 in two weeks. Pineda (26) and Eovaldi (25) are in their mid-20s and Severino’s just a kid at 21. It would be one thing if the Yankees had a rotation full of Sabathias — veteran guys trying to stave off Father Time and remain effective in their twilight years. That’s not the case. The rotation is pretty young aside from CC.

The best way to describe the Yankees rotation is boom or bust. There’s a lot of injury risk and the bust rate is quite high. Much higher than I think anyone feels comfortable with. There’s also the boom potential that is being ignored for whatever reason. Tanaka, Severino, Pineda, and Eovaldi are a helluva quartet. That’s three young power starters with swing-and-miss stuff — now that Eovaldi has the splitter — plus Tanaka, a master at getting hitters to chase.

The rotation as is doesn’t make me feel very comfortable because there are so many health question marks. I’m not sure adding a reliable innings guy would make me feel much better though. The Yankees may add a young controllable starter, but, for the most part, they’ll sink or swim with this rotation in 2016. The injury risk is scary. But don’t forget the upside either.

“I think our guys are capable of getting it done. But the thing is, you have to keep them out there for 30 to 32 starts,” said Girardi. “I think our rotation has a chance to be good. But we’ve got to keep them out there.”

2015 Winter Meetings Open Thread: Monday

2016 Winter Meetings

The 2015 Winter Meetings begin today in Nashville. Well, they actually began yesterday with some minor league presentations and stuff, but the fun stuff starts today. As always, there will be a ton of rumors and trades and free agent signings out of the Winter Meetings this week. Will the Yankees be in on the action? Maybe!

“Our team is fairly set, but we’re open to exploring any and all trade opportunities. If we can improve our team, we’ll do it. If we can’t, we won’t,” said Brian Cashman to Wally Matthews recently. He told Dan Barbarisi the team is focused more on trades than free agency — the Yankees are said to be seeking young pitching in any deal — but thinks they’ll end up holding onto Brett Gardner and Andrew Miller. We’ll see.

We’ll keep track of any and all (legitimate) Yankees-related rumors right here throughout the day. Use this thread to talk about all the Winter Meetings action and keep the other threads on topic. Thanks in advance. All time stamps are ET. (Last year they were in San Diego and the time difference created a big headache.)

  • 11:30am: Andrew Miller remains available and the Yankees continue to seek a huge package in return. The Astros, who previously inquired about Miller, remain in the mix. [Joel Sherman]
  • 11:30am: At least one team has inquired about Nathan Eovaldi. Talks did not progress much, but Eovaldi isn’t off the table. Ivan Nova remains in play as well. [Sherman]
  • 11:30am: The Yankees are monitoring the market for Jose Fernandez, though the Marlins are seeking a massive haul for their ace. “The cost is so overwhelming that I don’t think he is really available,” said one executive. [Sherman]
  • 11:39am: The Yankees are interested in Asdrubal Cabrera to play second base. Cabrera is cool with that, according to his agent. The team insists they don’t have much money to spend. Asdrubal would give the Yankees a backup shortstop, allowing them to jettison Brendan Ryan and keep both Rob Refsnyder and Dustin Ackley on the roster. [Jon Morosi, Brendan Kuty]
  • 12:22pm: Teams are expecting the Yankees to lose outfielder Jake Cave in the Rule 5 Draft later this week. The Mets could be a possible fit. As a left-handed hitter capable of playing center field, Cave is prime Rule 5 Draft fodder. [Adam Rubin]
  • 2:31pm: For what it’s worth, two team executives and one agent insist the Yankees’ unwillingness to spend on free agents is legitimate and not a smokescreen. [Mark Feinsand]

(Reminder: Your trade proposal sucks.)

King: Yankees not close to trading Gardner, Miller, or Nova

(Jim McIsaac/Getty)
(Jim McIsaac/Getty)

Despite all sorts of rumors, the Yankees are not close to trading Brett Gardner, Andrew Miller, or Ivan Nova according to George King. King says no team has made anything close to an acceptable offer for Gardner or Miller, and there simply isn’t a ton of interest in Nova at this point. Obviously this could all change in a hurry.

So far we’ve heard Gardner connected to the Mariners and Cubs (and possibly the Indians), and Miller connected to the Astros, Diamondbacks, and Tigers. Nova? He hasn’t been connected to any teams yet, but I’m sure there’s some interest. Teams always need pitching and this is a chance to buy low on a guy who has had some success in the AL East, albeit not recently.

My hunch is a Gardner trade is much more likely than a Miller or Nova trade. The Yankees have a ready made Gardner replacement in Aaron Hicks, plus a bunch of young outfielders in Triple-A. Miller is an elite reliever and not as easily replaced. Nova? He doesn’t have a ton of value at the moment and keeping him as the sixth or seventh starter makes more sense than giving him up for meh prospect.

For what it’s worth, Gardner’s agent told Brendan Kuty his client wants “to be a New York Yankee for his entire career,” though he also acknowledged this is a business and a trade is out of his control. (Gardner doesn’t have a no-trade clause but he does get a $1M bonus if dealt.) That’s not surprising. Pretty much everyone who experiences some success with the Yankees never wants to leave. It’s good to be a Yankee.

The Winter Meetings start next week and in recent years the Yankees have handled their major business away from the four-day event. Their last major Winter Meetings transactions were re-signing Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera in 2010. You have to go back to the three-team Curtis Granderson trade during the 2009 Winter Meetings for their last major deal not involving a legacy Yankee.

That doesn’t mean next week will be slow, of course. The Winter Meetings are never slow. It just means the Yankees haven’t pulled the trigger on many deals at the Winter Meetings in recent years. With players like Gardner and Miller on the block, the Winter Meetings could be busier than usual for the Yankees. It’s not often they’re open to dealing players of that caliber.

Sherman: Yankees have let teams know Nova is available

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

The Yankees have let teams know Ivan Nova is available this offseason, according to Joel Sherman. They brought his name up during talks with the Reds about Johnny Cueto at the trade deadline, but that didn’t work out. Sherman says the Yankees are now looking to include Nova in a package for young pitching with several years of team control remaining.

Nova, who turns 29 in January, will be a free agent next offseason, and I suppose it’s not impossible for him to pitch his way into a qualifying offer. That seems unlikely though. One or two starters would have to get hurt for Nova to get a rotation spot. There’s a good chance the Yankees will lose Nova for nothing next winter if they don’t trade him at some point.

Sherman says the Yankees are trying to sell Nova as a healthy and motivated pitcher, which isn’t a bad idea. He’s getting further away from Tommy John surgery and pitching well next season means a handsome free agent contract, and I’m sure that will be on his mind. Those are also reasons to keep Nova, right? There’s no such thing as too much pitching.

Nova was terrible this year, pitching to a 5.07 ERA (4.87 FIP) in 94 innings. He’s had a really rocky career, mixing awful first halves with excellent second halves in both 2011 and 2013. He was also abysmal in 2012. Legitimately one of the worst pitchers in baseball. The overall result is a 4.33 ERA (4.29 FIP) in 631.2 career innings, good for a 96 ERA+.

There’s value in league average, especially since Nova is what, New York’s sixth starter at best right now? I can’t imagine anyone is opposed to the idea of trading Nova. If the Yankees can use him as part of a package to get a younger starter, great. If not, I don’t think holding onto him heading into 2016 would be the worst thing in the world.

Yankees well-stocked with trade chips heading into the offseason

(Mike Stobe/Getty)
(Mike Stobe/Getty)

Over the last 12 months the Yankees have changed the way they do business. We’re used to seeing them throw money at their problems. They’ve been doing that for decades. Trades were the focus last offseason though, and whenever a need arose during the season, the Yankees called someone up from the minors. It was … different.

The Yankees have limited flexibility this winter. The roster is pretty full thanks to guaranteed contracts and whatnot, and with so little money coming off the books, there’s probably not much payroll space to work with either. Not unless Hal Steinbrenner approves a payroll increase, which he’s been hesitant to do over the years.

Trades again figure to be the focus this offseason. That allows the Yankees to both navigate their roster and payroll limitations while attempting to improve the team at the same time. They don’t all have to be blockbuster trades, of course. Shane Greene for Didi Gregorius was a low-key move that paid big dividends for the Yankees in 2015.

So, with trades again likely to dominate the winter months, let’s sort through the team’s trade chips and figure out who may be on a move.

The (Almost) Untouchables

As far as I’m concerned, the Yankees do not have any untouchable players. They have some players I wouldn’t trade unless the return is significant, but that doesn’t make them truly untouchable. Wouldn’t you trade, say, Luis Severino for Jose Fernandez? I know I would. The group of almost untouchables includes Severino, Gregorius, Dellin Betances, Aaron Judge, and Andrew Miller. That’s all of ’em in my book.

The Untradeables

The Yankees have several players who they couldn’t trade even if they wanted to due to performance or contract or something else, or in some cases all of the above. Jacoby Ellsbury, Alex Rodriguez, and CC Sabathia headline this group. None of them are worth the money they’re owed and they all have full no-trade protection as well, so the Yankees would have to get their permission to move them.

There’s a second tier of big contract players who are not necessarily untradeable, but who would be difficult to move for various reasons. Brian McCann, Mark Teixeira, Carlos Beltran, Chase Headley, and Masahiro Tanaka fit here. Teixeira and Beltran are entering the final year of their contracts, so they’d be short-term pickups, but they both have no-trade protection and have indicated a desire to stay in New York.

McCann, even while in decline, is still one of the better catchers in baseball. Maybe not top five anymore, but certainly top seven or eight. He’s got another three years and $51M left on his contract, and paying a catcher $17M per season is not something most teams can afford. Headley’s contract isn’t bad — three years and $39M is nothing — but he was below-average on both sides of the ball this season.

Tanaka is an interesting case. It seems like he’s neither as good nor as bad as many people think. Is he an ace? On his best days, yeah. But a 3.51 ERA (3.98 FIP) in 154 innings this year suggests he is more above-average than elite. Tanaka is also owed $22M in both 2016 and 2017 before his opt-out comes into play. He just had elbow surgery and teams are well aware his UCL is a grenade with the pin pulled. How in the world do you value him?

The Yankees could try to move any and all of these players. It’ll be tough though, either because their performance is down, their contracts are exorbitant, or they have no-trade protection. They’re untouchable, but in a different and bad way.

(Jim Rogash/Getty)
(Jim Rogash/Getty)

The Top Chip

Among the established players on the roster, Brett Gardner has by far the most trade value. It also helps that he doesn’t have a no-trade clause. (Gardner gets a $1M bonus if traded.) Gardner is owed only $39.5M over the next three years and he remains above-average on both sides of the ball. Even with his second half slump, he still put up a .259/.343/.399 (105 wRC+) batting line with 16 homers and 20 steals in 2015.

The Yankees can market Gardner as a two-way leadoff hitting center fielder to teams looking for outfield help but unable to afford top free agents like Jason Heyward, Justin Upton, and Yoenis Cespedes. He’s affordable, he’s productive, and he’s a high-character guy who’s shown he can play and win in New York. Teams absolutely value that stuff. Getting a player of Gardner’s caliber on a three-year contract would be a major coup.

The real question is why would the Yankees trade Gardner? He’s arguably their best all-around player. They could move him to free up an outfield spot for, say, Heyward, but I think that’s unlikely. I also don’t think anyone in the minors is ready to step in and play left field regularly. Gardner is the only veteran on the team with actual trade value though. That’s why we’ll hear his name a lot this offseason.

The Top-ish Prospects

Beyond Judge, the Yankees have a few other high-end prospects they could trade for big league help, most notably Gary Sanchez, Jorge Mateo, and Rob Refsnyder. Greg Bird is technically no longer a prospect — he lost his rookie eligibility late in the season — but we can lump him in here too because he’s not exactly an established big leaguer yet. The elimination of the Pete Incaviglia Rule means the Yankees could trade James Kaprielian and any other 2015 draftees this winter, if they choose.

Sanchez and Mateo are the team’s best young trade chips among players who could actually be made available. (I don’t think the Yankees would trade Bird but I would in the right deal.) Sanchez is stuck behind McCann and John Ryan Murphy, and his defense probably isn’t up to the team’s standards. Mateo is an excellent prospect, but Gregorius is entrenched at the MLB level, and the Yankees are loaded with lower level shortstop prospects. They already offered Mateo in a trade once, remember. (For Craig Kimbrel at the deadline.)

The Yankees refused the trade Refsnyder this summer — the Athletics wanted him for Ben Zobrist — but they also refused to call him up for much of the year. It wasn’t until very late in the season that he got an opportunity. Refsnyder’s defense is improving but it is still an issue, and the truth is it may never be good enough for the Yankees. That doesn’t mean they’ll give him away though.

Second tier prospects like Eric Jagielo, Tyler Wade, Rookie Davis, and Jordan Montgomery could all be trade bait, though that’s true every offseason. The second tier prospects usually don’t bring back a whole lot unless there’s a salary dump involved. Either way, we can’t rule them out as trade chips.

The Outfielders & Relievers

The Yankees are very deep in Triple-A left-handed hitting outfielders and relievers. Slade Heathcott, Mason Williams, Ben Gamel, and Jake Cave make up the crop of lefty hitting outfielders. Relievers? Gosh. There’s Chasen Shreve, Branden Pinder, Caleb Cotham, Nick Rumbelow, Nick Goody, James Pazos, healthy Jacob Lindgren, and I guess even Bryan Mitchell. He’s part of this group too, although he can start.

These are obvious positions of depth and the Yankees can and should use them in trades this offseason, if possible. The problem is they don’t have a ton of trade value. The Yankees already traded a lefty hitting outfielder (Ramon Flores) and a Triple-A reliever (Jose Ramirez) this year. The return was busted Dustin Ackley. So yeah. Heathcott and Williams have been both hurt and ineffective in recent years while Gamel lacks a track record of top end production. They have trade value, no doubt, but don’t expect them to headline any blockbusters.

The Spare Arms

The Yankees have a lot of pitchers but not a whole lot of pitching, if you catch my drift. The rotation ranked 19th with a 4.25 ERA and 15th with a 4.04 FIP this past season. Right smack in the middle of the pack. The Yankees have seven potential starters in place next year: Sabathia, Tanaka, Severino, Michael Pineda, Nathan Eovaldi, Ivan Nova, and Adam Warren. That group is a mixed bad of upside and mediocrity, I’d say.

Of the final four pitchers on that list, I’d say Nova has the least trade value because he was both hurt and terrible last year. Also, next season is his final year of team control before free agency. Eovaldi and Pineda are the embodiment of that “upside and mediocrity” group. They’re so obviously talented. But the results? Eh. Not great this year. Both are under team control for another two seasons, which is a plus.

Warren has proven himself as a very valuable member of the pitching staff. He’s basically a high-end version of Ramiro Mendoza. He can start or relieve and is very good in both roles, and he’s durable with a resilient arm. No injury problems at all since being drafted. Warren is under control another three years and the Yankees rejected the trade that would have sent him to the A’s with Refsnyder for Zobrist.

Personally, I don’t think the Yankees are in position to deal away pitching depth given some of the injury concerns in the rotation, but I thought that last year and they traded Greene anyway. As it turned out, they were planning to trade for another pitcher (Eovaldi) and bring in a low cost veteran for depth (Chris Capuano). They also had Warren waiting. The same could happen this year.

(Rich Schultz/Getty)
(Rich Schultz/Getty)

The Best of the Rest

There’s three players on the roster we haven’t covered. The best of the bunch is Murphy, a young and cheap catcher with defensive chops, a promising bat, and five years of team control remaining. I can’t imagine how many calls Brian Cashman has fielded about Murphy over the last 18 months or so. He’s really valuable and not just in a trade. To the Yankees too.

Justin Wilson is what every team looks for in a reliever: he throws hard and he misses bats. Being left-handed is a bonus. He struggles with control sometimes, and that’s why he’s only a reliever and not a starter or something more. Wilson has three years of control remaining, so his trade value is less than last offseason, when all it took to get him was an injury plagued backup catcher two years away from free agency. (What Francisco Cervelli did after the trade doesn’t change anything.)

Ackley is the third player and he doesn’t have much value. Flores and Ramirez. There’s his trade value, even after a strong finish to the season. Those 57 plate appearances with the Yankees didn’t erase his 2,200 plate appearances of awful with the Mariners. Given his versatility, Ackley is more valuable to the Yankees as a player than as a trade chip. I think the same is true of Wilson as well.

* * *

Last offseason taught me that pretty much no one is safe from trades other than the guys with no-trade clauses. I did not at all expect the Yankees to trade Greene or Martin Prado or even Manny Banuelos. Those were surprises. I would be surprised if the Yankees traded guys like Severino and Gregorius and Gardner this winter, but hey, anything can happen. Surprises are fun. The Yankees are well-armed with trade chips this winter. All shapes and sizes.

Ivan Nova and the difficult road back from Tommy John surgery [2015 Season Review]

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Coming into the season the Yankees had several starting pitchers with injury concerns set to be in the rotation. Masahiro Tanaka (elbow), Michael Pineda (shoulder), and CC Sabathia (knee) all missed time with injury last year, and Nathan Eovaldi was something of a question mark as well after coming over from the Marlins. Chris Capuano and the unproven-as-a-starter Adam Warren were the backup plans.

The Yankees also had Ivan Nova slated to return from Tommy John surgery at some point in the first half. He had his elbow rebuilt in late-April last year, but the Yankees took it slow with his rehab, so he wasn’t scheduled to return to the rotation until late-May or June sometime. The team certainly wasn’t counting on Nova to come back and have an impact, but he was a viable big league arm who could provide some support in the second half. Turns out he wasn’t able to give them that.

The Rehab Trail

The Yankees did take it conservatively with Nova, so much so that he made the vast majority of his rehab starts in the controlled environment of Extended Spring Training. There the team could simply end an inning if Nova was out there too long, or they could send extra batters to the plate if he had a quick inning, stuff like that. Nova was really eased back into things.

I’m not sure how many ExST starts Nova made exactly, but it was enough that he was stretched out and able to throw 4.2 innings and 72 pitches in his first official minor league rehab start with High-A Tampa on June 8th. Five days later he threw six innings and 72 pitches for Triple-A Scranton, and six days after that he threw five innings and 84 pitches for the RailRiders. Nova allowed eight runs in 15.2 rehab innings, but the results weren’t important. It was important is that he felt healthy and strong, which he did.

Nova’s Return

After 14 months of rehabbing from Tommy John surgery, Nova returned to the rotation on June 24th, which pushed everyone back a day and gave the other starters extra rest. The line score says Nova was pretty good — 6.2 scoreless innings — but the red flags where there. While facing a dreadful Phillies team, Ivan walked more batters (two) than he struck out (one), got only seven swings and misses out of 92 pitches, and generated way more fly balls (15) than ground balls (eight).

That said, it was Nova’s first start back from major arm surgery, so he’s allowed to be rusty. I’m sure he was a little excited and overthrowing as well. Nova held the Angels to two runs in 5.1 innings next time out and actually fared pretty well in his first seven starts back, pitching to 3.10 ERA (4.29 FIP) in 40.2 innings. But again, the strikeout (14.7%), swing-and-miss (8.0%), and walk (8.2%) rates weren’t looking too hot. (His grounder rate did settle in at 52.8%).

Nova certainly wasn’t great when he first returned from Tommy John surgery but he was serviceable, and there was reason to believe he would get better as he got further away from surgery. I didn’t like that the Yankees moved Warren to the bullpen to make room for Nova, though at the time my concern had more to do with Sabathia staying in the rotation than Nova. Either way, Nova was back and taking the ball every fifth day.

The Crash & Burn

Those first seven starts were pretty good. The next seven? Yeesh. Nova got rocked during a seven-start span from August 8th to September 12th, pitching to an unsightly 7.46 ERA (5.69 FIP) in 35 innings. The strikeouts (12.9%), grounders (45.2%), and swing-and-misses (6.0%) all disappeared. Opponents hit .290/.362/.503 against Nova during this seven-start stretch. For reference, Manny Machado hit .286/.359/.502 this year.

Nova’s worst start during that stretch was September 12th, in the second game of a doubleheader against the Blue Jays. With the Yankees holding on to slim AL East hopes, Nova allowed six runs and recorded only five outs. It was brutal.

Nova never allowed fewer than three runs in any of those seven starts and the Yankees won only two of them. His season ERA went up almost every start during that stretch, from 3.10 to 3.52 to 3.57 to 3.72 to 4.50 to 4.50 (again) to 4.50 (again again) to 5.11.

The Yankees could no longer wait for Nova to snap out of his pitching slump. Their AL East chances were fading and even though they had a comfortable lead on a wildcard spot, they still needed to clinch the damn thing, and Nova wasn’t helping the cause. So, on September 16th, the Yankees demoted Nova to the bullpen.

Demoted, Temporarily

The demotion to the bullpen lasted only a few days. Tanaka felt a tug in his hamstring while running out a bunt against the Mets on September 18th, forcing him to miss a start. Nova was right back in the rotation without making a relief appearance. I don’t even think he warmed up in the bullpen at any point.

Nova allowed one run in 5.2 innings against the Blue Jays on September 23rd, eleven days after his last start. His final two starts after that were pretty crummy — four runs in seven innings against the Red Sox and then five runs in 5.2 innings against the Orioles. Tanaka had returned but the Yankees had to keep Nova in the rotation just to get Tanaka lined up for the wildcard game, and also because they had a doubleheader on the second to last day of the regular season.

All told, Nova posted a 5.07 ERA (4.87 FIP) in 17 starts and 94 innings after coming back from Tommy John surgery. The Yankees went 6-11 in those 17 starts, including 1-7 in his final eight starts. Nova’s ground ball rate (49.0%) and walk (8.0%) rates were fine — his walk rate was higher than usual because location is the last thing to come back following elbow reconstruction — but his strikeout (15.3%) and homer (1.24 HR/9) rates were ghastly. He was slightly better than replacement level (0.5 fWAR and 0.6 bWAR) and not any sort of second half pitching boost.

The Stuff

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The good news is Nova’s stuff returned to where it was before Tommy John surgery. His fastball sat right in that normal 92-95 mph range and his curveball retained its velocity and depth as well. Nova throws both a sinker and a four-seamer but he’s basically a two-pitch guy, throwing fastballs and curveballs. He shelved his slider back before 2013, the season before he got hurt, and he’s never used his changeup more than 5% of the time or so.

Nova’s pitches had the same general velocity and movement as before surgery according to PitchFX, which really is great news. A lot of guys lose a little something following Tommy John surgery, and most pitchers can’t afford to lose stuff. Nova’s command was terrible this year though. When he missed, he missed out of the plate, and opponents punished him. There is no great way to measure command — walk rate measures control and that’s basic strike-throwing ability, command is the ability to locate precisely — but I think we all saw it. Nova missed his spots consistently.

Bad command is pretty common for guys coming back from Tommy John surgery, so Nova is hardly alone here. His stuff isn’t good enough to get outs on its own — the book on Nova has always been that he lacks deception in his delivery, so hitters can easily pick up the ball out of his hand — and we saw what happens when you combine Nova’s stuff with bad command this year. Ivan was an inconsistent starter before he blew out his elbow. After surgery, he was an inconsistent starter with an excuse.

Looking Ahead to 2016

This offseason Nova will be arbitration-eligible for the final time. He’s projected to earn only $4.4M next season, which is nothing. In fact, it’s already been reported the Yankees will tender Nova a contract rather than cut him loose as a non-tender. As bad as he was this year, I don’t see a reason to non-tender him. Pitching depth is a good thing, and with Nova you can at least hope he will improve as he gets further out from surgery.

Given his performance this year, I can’t imagine the Yankees will count on Nova to be part of their rotation next season. He’ll have to compete for a spot, perhaps along with Warren and someone like Bryan Mitchell. Nova could also be trade bait, though the Yankees would be selling low, and I’m not sure he has much trade value anyway. I’d rather keep Nova around and hope for rebound to league average-ness than take a shot on a Grade-C prospect or something. If he stays, Nova’s going to have to prove to the Yankees he belongs in the rotation.