A bittersweet day: Nova returns, I depart


SOUTH HILLS – So the Pirates gave everyone in  Western Pennsylvania an early Christmas gift by agreeing to a three-year, $26 million deal with Ivan Nova today.

This appears to be an excellent contract for the Pirates.

If Nova is just Nova. It’s not a bad deal. If he’s Happ 2.0 it’s the steal of the offseason (Horner photo)


At $8.7 million per annum, the dollars are well less than what many predicted Nova would receive in a weak free agent market for pitching, where Nova was regarded as one of the better arms available.

MLB Trade Rumors predicted a four-year, $52 million deal for Nova earlier this offseason.

The FanGraphs crowd-sourced  prediction averaged three years, $43 million pact.

The Pirates’ deal with Nova, of course, comes in well below that.

With a Win Above Replacement thought to be valued somewhere around $8M on the open market, the Pirates are basically paying Nova to be what he’s been during his a career: a back-of-the rotation starter.

In his six full MLB seasons, Nova has averaged 1.4 WAR per season.

But as we saw in the second half last season, Nova, of course, has  upside. After coming over from the bandboxes of the AL East to pitcher-friendly PNC Park – Nova spent the first six-plus years of his MLB career with the Yankees – Nova was much more aggressive attacking the strike zone and credited the change to his new environment.

You can understand why he was more comfortable …

HR Park Factors last season

1. Yankee Stadium, 1.435

2. Coors Field, 1.321

3. Chase Field, 1.282

22. PNC Park, 0.837

After arriving in Pittsburgh, Nova’s rate of first-pitch strikes and pitches in the strike zone spiked. Nova’s rate of two-seam fastballs was also at a career high in 2016.

If Nova indeed Happed then the Pirates will have just agreed to a tremendous contract. And maybe a switch of environments was that important for Nova. It was pretty important for A.J. Burnett, Mark Melancon and Liriano (Liriano, at first, anyways).

Moreover, this makes the Francisco Liriano trade/salary dump look better as Daniel Hudson and Nova will nearly combine to earn what Liriano will be paid in 2017.

So that financial flexibility appears to have been put to use after all. And while I suspect Liriano to bounce back to a degree in the AL, I think most reasonable people would rather have Hudson and Nova for 2017.

So why did Nova accept what appears to be a club-friendly deal?

Perhaps he was being honest all along. He said he wanted to stay after starting the final game of the season. Maybe Nova just really wanted to pitch in Pittsburgh. His agent claimed to have a three-year, $36 million deal on the table. Or maybe the rest of the industry was skeptical, and remember Nova was essentially a giveaway at the deadline. There is reason to be skeptical. But there’s not a lot of obvious downside to this deal. The Pirates are paying Nova to perform like he’s a No. 4 or No. 5 starter, not like something more. And he could very well be something more.

Whatever the reason, he’s back. And the Pirates might not be done:

Now wouldn’t that be a rotation? Acquiring Quintana would require some sort of combination of at least two of these four names – Josh Bell, Austin Meadows, Mitch Keller and Tyler Glasnow – one would think.

Too rich?


For me, personally, it is a bittersweet day as I announce I will soon log off here with the Trib.

I am departing next month to begin a full-time writing position with FanGraphs, which has been cited often and heavily here during my four seasons covering the Pirates.

While I am excited about this opportunity to cover all of Major League Baseball and join a team of writers and editors I hold immense respect and regard for, the departure is accompanied by some sadness and nostalgia.

The Trib was a good home.

The last 3 1/2 years – or four seasons of baseball coverage – were the most rewarding and educational period of my professional career. I had the good timing of arriving in the spring of 2013 just as the Pirates awoke from a 20-year competitive slumber. I had the good fortune of the Pirates beginning to do some smart and interesting things, and I was able to document some of them. I wrote as well and worked as hard as I could to inform readers, and reward the opportunity given to me by former Trib editors Frank Craig and Duke Maas, and sports editor Kevin Smith.

Working on Sunday enterprise stories with former Trib assistant sports editor Rob Amen and the design team was a blast. I will miss the daily camaraderie of the beat . My fellow scribes made the press box and road trips a lot of fun.

I will miss writing and reporting for the Trib audience and in particular the audience here, in this blog space. I tried to impart the things I learned along the way. And it was a learning experience, transitioning from covering Clemson athletics in South Carolina. Hopefully I made following the Pirates and MLB a little more fun to read about along the way.

Physically, I will not be leaving. I will still live in South Hills. I will still often be at PNC Park. (I will not be blogging from my unfinished  basement). And I will still be keeping a close eye on – and occasionally writing about – the Pirates.  But I will have a new online address.

Thanks so much for reading and to those that contributed to the blog conversation. Please continue to read and follow!

I plan on making several more posts before my final day, Jan. 2, but if I don’t post again beforehand have a safe and merry Christmas and holiday season.