Ivan Nova has been a revelation in the Pirates’ rotation since being acquired for a pair of minor leaguers (Stephen Tarpley and Tito Polo), and Bill Brink of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports that Pittsburgh is already working to prevent Nova from reaching the open market. The Pirates have made a pair of extension offers to Nova, according to Brink, but Nova’s representatives with the Legacy Agency opened talks with an asking price of $70MM over five years.
While that’s a shocking number, to be sure, given Nova’s lack of a track record, it’s not surprising to see any agency come in with high starting point. (Conversely, while Brink doesn’t report the size of Pittsburgh’s early offer, one can only imagine that it was probably considerably lower than the top of their comfort zone and than Nova’s market value.) Brink does note that the Pirates were the ones to initiate talks with Nova’s camp in the first week of September, and they came back with an increased counter-offer after hearing the early asking price. While Brink doesn’t indicate that anything is close between the two sides, discussions are still alive at this juncture.
Two months ago, that number for Nova would’ve seemed preposterous, but like many pitchers before him, Nova has experienced a renaissance in Pittsburgh. Though he finally had a rough outing in his most recent start, the 29-year-old Nova has worked to a brilliant 2.93 ERA with 7.3 K/9 against a superlative 0.5 BB/9 in 55 1/3 innings of work. He’s maintained his strong ground-ball rate (50.9 percent since the trade) and issued an unthinkable three walks to the 220 batters he’s faced. While there will, of course, be skepticism about his ability to sustain this performance (particularly the superlative command), this isn’t the first prolonged stretch of excellence that Nova has enjoyed in his career. He tossed 139 innings of 3.10 ERA ball for the Yankees in 2013, but Tommy John surgery in late April of the 2014 season prematurely halted his opportunity to build on that success.
MLBTR’s Charlie Wilmoth recently likened Nova’s emergence with the Bucs to that of J.A. Happ last season following a trade from the Blue Jays, and the comparison is apt. However, Happ was three years older than Nova at the time of their respective trades, and he was walking into a considerably stronger market for starting pitching. I’ve been slow to warm to this idea, personally, as I recently explained in the MLBTR Mailbag, but a four-year contract for Nova is looking increasingly likely on this year’s dreadful market for free-agent starters. His primary competition will be a 36-year-old Rich Hill (37 next March) and a comparably aged Jeremy Hellickson. However, while Hellickson has been an outstanding buy-low investment for the Phillies, he’ll almost certainly have to deal with a qualifying offer this winter, whereas Nova’s midseason trade removes the possibility of being burdened by a QO.