Last night, Ivan Nova made his first start in place of the injured CC Sabathia, and it went … okay. Not great, not bad. He was serviceable. One run on six hits and a walk in 4.2 innings isn’t awful, especially since he was on a pitch limit. That’s about as good as you can expect from your sixth starter in his first start out of the bullpen.
“It was a good night for me. I faced the last batter and saw 81 pitches and I knew I was coming out,” said Nova to Dan Martin after the game. Joe Girardi added, “He did a tremendous job. I hated that I had to pull him out. I was hoping he would get a double play with the last batter to get the win, but it wasn’t meant to be.”
Sabathia beat out Nova for the fifth starter’s job in Spring Training and he’s been pretty good in the early going. The Yankees hope he can return following the minimum 15 days on the DL, but that’s no guarantee, so Nova is in the rotation for the foreseeable future. There’s quite a bit at stake here in the meantime.
- Wins. Duh. If Nova pitches poorly, the Yankees probably won’t win because the offense has been stinky. The team needs all the wins they can get right now.
- A Rotation Spot. Nova may be replacing Sabathia, but that does not necessarily mean he’ll automatically go back to the bullpen when CC is activated. Nova wants to make the Yankees think long and hard about sending Luis Severino to Triple-A.
- Trade Value. This is more relevant to the Yankees than Nova. The better Ivan pitches, the more the team could get for him in a trade at the deadline if it comes to that.
- Free Agent Stock. This is more relevant to Nova than the Yankees. Nova’s going to be a free agent after the season, so the better he pitches, the more he can demand on the open market.
This stint in the rotation, however long it may be, is a big opportunity for Nova. He has a lot to gain as an impending free agent. Ivan has to pitch well to keep his rotation spot and maximize his free agent stock. And, ironically, pitching well could land him in another uniform via trade come July.
Money is a great motivator, and by MLB player standards, Nova hasn’t made much of it in his career. His career earnings check in at a bit under $9M, so you know he’s hoping to land that huge payday after the season. Pitching well during this stint as Sabathia’s replacement is Nova’s first step in building free agent value.
The Yankees tried and failed to trade Nova over the winter and I think that’s a good thing. He wasn’t good last season and his trade value was at an all-time low. I think he is more valuable as a depth arm than anything he could have realistically fetch in a trade. They’re fortunate they have him now with Severino struggling and Bryan Mitchell hurt, and the possibility exists for him to increase his value. Moving Nova for the sake of moving him never did make much sense to me.
For now, Nova is in the rotation and he’s still getting stretched back out. The single most important thing at the moment is winning games. The Yankees dug themselves quite a hole and need Nova to do more than hold down the fort. They need him to thrive to help them make up ground. And if he does thrive, that’s opens a lot of doors, both in the rotation and in terms of trade and free agent value.