Monday Mop-Up Duty: Is Nova really in play?

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SOUTH HILLS – When the Pirates show interest (an unknown level of interest) in a reclamation project like Derek Holland and he signs elsewhere, when Andrew Cashner is guaranteed an eight-figure salary for 2017 after posting an ERA north of 5.00 last season, you wonder if the Pirates are going to struggle to find a match in this thin market for pitching. Many are skeptical the Pirates will produce anything with the financial flexibility created in the Francisco Liriano traded last summer.

But perhaps the Pirates’ top target all along has been Ivan Nova. He’s the only free agent we know of that the Pirates have extended a multi-year offer to. And Pirates officials continue to say they would like to add an experienced, quality arm.

nOvaRain

Nova pitched the final game of the 2016 season for the Pirates, a game that was called due to rain. Will it be his last game? (Horner photo)

Said Pirates manager Clint Hurdle at the winter meetings:

“We would like to add a so-called experienced starter to the rotation, a guy that’s shown, got a track record, resume of pitching innings, quality innings. 170 innings over five ERA, that’s not what we’re looking for. Somebody that’s done it and if somebody else can show up to help us out, we’ll explore that, as well.

“If there is not a move that we think betters the organization, we’ve got guys that we’re going to look towards internally to give them the ball and the opportunity to improve. We’re going to look at it from both those angles.”

At PirateFest the Pirates said they were still interested in Nova. And this report suggests the Pirates have been the only team to show significant interest to date.

Perhaps the quiet surrounding Nova is an encouraging indicator for the Pirates.

As one of the top starting pitching options on the market, Nova was expected to be priced out of the Pirates plans. But there has been little noise around Nova this offseason. Perhaps the rest of the industry is skeptical of Nova. Perhaps they believe he is more the back-end rotation arm he was with the Yankees than J.A. Happ The Second. Perhaps they believe much of the surge was tied to environment, namely PNC Park. The Pirates should know more than any club about Nova’s 2016 second-half surge.

So perhaps the quiet is to the Pirates advantage. Perhaps they believe more in Nova than the rest of the game. Perhaps after not willing to go the extra year or dollar with Happ a year ago, the club is willing to take a greater risk in Nova.

With Andrew McCutchen still around, he should theoretically make the Pirates a stronger club in 2017. Perhaps with McCutchen still around, the Pirates are more inclined to invest in Nova.

THOUGHTS AND OBSERVATIONS …

*It’s still possible that McCutchen is traded, though unlikely with Washington as the top suitor – with perhaps the top assets available – no longer with a need.

If McCutchen is moved, it seems the Pirates want win-now or win-soon pieces …

*Looking for a reasonable and thoughtful take on the McCutchen from a non-Pittsburgh based media member? Read this post from Jeff Sullivan at Fangraphs.com:

I think you can sense some kind of end is coming. McCutchen is getting older, and Austin Meadows is getting better, and the Pirates just don’t spend all that much money. It wouldn’t be like them to pay market price for McCutchen’s decline years, so one way or another, his days in Pittsburgh seem numbered. Realistically, there’s no escaping that.

It’s just not the end of the world. Rays fans got over Price. Brewers fans got over Lucroy. Rockies fans have gotten over Troy Tulowitzki. Players come and players go, and you hope to have positive experiences while certain ones are around. For now, for the Pirates, Andrew McCutchen is still around. And that playoff door is still cracked open.

*What did the Pirates see in Josh Lindblom? The right-handed pitcher posted a 10-12 record and 5.27 ERA with Lotte of the Korea Baseball Organization last season. Lindblom, 29, was a second-round pick by the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 2008 draft. He has a 3.82 ERA in 136 career major league innings. He last pitched in the majors April 2, 2014, for Oakland.

It should be noted the KBO is an extreme offensive environment and Lindblom was much better there in 2015.

*It sounds as if the club likes Wade LeBlanc as a spot starter and multi-inning reliever, though his contract is not guaranteed. LeBlanc could give the the Pirates four left-handed relief arms for the bullpen. Perhaps it increases the chances an Antonio Bastardo or Tony Watson  is moved.

*Hurdle did not commit to any locks for the starting rotation beyond Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon but you have to think Chad Kuhl will get the first shot to slot in after them (and perhaps whatever free agent starter is added if any). Kuhl allowed three or fewer runs on 12 of his 14 starts. He needs to better keep the ball on the ground and improve his changeup to breakout into something more than a back-of-the-rotation arm in 2016.

*We don’t know Trevor Williams can pitch at the MLB level … but we do know he should keep the clubhouse loose

STAT OF THE WEEK: 4.20

Kuhl’s 2016 ERA, and Kuhl’s 2017 ERA as projected by Fangraphs.com

HE SAID IT:

Hurdle on replacing quantitative analyst Mike Fitzgerald, who now leads the analytics department in Arizona. With Arizona investing in analytics there are very few teams that are not heavily invested in this department.

“I don’t know if we’ll replace the personality. We believe that eventually we will get a guy in that will be able to do the things Mike was able to do the best of that man’s ability. We call it next man up. We have had it all across the board, I think, in the last two years. These numbers are going to be close. They might not be exact. We have had over 40 asks externally organizations for our personnel. That’s tangible evidence of an organization doing some things right, establishing a model in player development, in pitching, strength and conditioning. We broke it down the other day in the room, there have been general manager asks, there’s been managerial asks, pretty much every position that goes, an organizational structure model has been asked for by the guys we have.

“And Fitz was that fine line of a very smart man, very creative. Also, enough athleticism that the competition chip he carried with him was fun to watch and be a part of. We brought him into the clubhouse. He was in the coaching room. Our next man will have that same opportunity and it won’t be new for the players, it will be new for the next guy up. I look forward to going into that process. We’re talking to a couple of guys right now. We’re confident we will get a good man in there. Will he as good as Fitz right away? Probably not. Can he grow into it? We believe so.”

-TS

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