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Yankees Trade Ivan Nova to Pirates for Flexibility

The Pirates are taking a chance on reviving Ivan Nova’s career. The Yankees are happy to take a deep breath after a wild week.

MLB: San Francisco Giants at New York Yankees Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

The Yankees completed their 2016 sell-off with a last-minute deal of Ivan Nova to the Pittsburgh Pirates for not one, but two players to be named later.

After acquiring top-level talent from multiple organizations in the past few days, the Yankees now have a small amount of freedom when it comes to receiving two prospects from the Pirates. In the Carlos Beltran and Andrew Miller trades, the Yankees received 6 pitchers and one position player. While the Chapman deal netted them 3 position players and a pitcher, the position players acquired are all High-A ball players or more advanced. By next spring, all could reach Double-A or higher.

While "Players to be named later" never seem to move the needle much, this helps the Yankees specifically pick two players for a specific need. If the Yankees feel like they’re lacking lower-level position players, they will now have a few days to target that need in the Pirates system. If it’s more pitching, they’ve got two tickets to improve that area even more than they already have. It’s true that neither of these prospects will be showing up on many if any top prospect lists, but they give the Yankees the flexibility to work towards a specific goal.

The Pirates are basically taking a flyer on Nova, who has struggled this year. He’s actually been struggling for a while now, as he’s posted a 4.99 ERA in 191.1 innings since 2015. Other ERA indications like FIP and xFIP aren’t bullish on him either, with marks of 4.98 and 4.32, respectively. Since his career high 8.08 K/9 in 2012, Nova has seen his strike out rate decline to a low of 6.03 in 2015 with a small bump up to 6.93 this season.

In 2016 specifically, Nova has see a nice uptick in the number of ground balls he’s inducing, up to 54.3% from 49.0% last season. What hasn’t been as nice for Nova is that his Flyball to Home run rate has spiked from 13.4% in 2015 to 21.3% this season. Keep in mind that Nova hasn’t been good the past two seasons, but if you’re looking for any glimmer of hope as he moves about 400 miles west to Pittsburgh, this may be it.

Another positive sign is that Nova’s velocity hasn’t cratered. Check out his average fastball velocity the past four seasons according to Fangraphs:

Year Avg Fastball Velocity
2013 93
2014 91.9
2015 93
2016 92.5

There’s hope! He’s seen a small decrease in velocity this season, but he’s still within a small margin of his 2013 velocity. Along with the consistent velocity, Nova has seen his walk rate decline as well from a career high of 3.16 walks per 9 in 2015, to a career low rate of 2.31. Is this a random occurrence or the sign of a pitcher who is showing signs of improving command? The Pirates are betting on the latter.

For the Pirates, they can work with Nova to squeeze out every ounce of potential they can get. After reviving J.A. Happ’s career last season, Nova may be their next great reclamation project (which includes a strong outfield defense, a spacious park, and a lesser-hitting league). With two months remaining in the season, the Pirates are taking on a low-risk project that will end up costing them two low-end farmhands. Nova will now slot in behind Gerrit Cole, Jeff Locke, Ryan Vogelsong, and Jameson Taillon in the Pirates rotation, the least they can hope for is that he'll be Francisco Liriano's cheaper replacement.

A final note on the Yankees: it’s been a big week. One thing to keep in mind is that while the prospects they’ve acquired are terrific, those players are working under a different clock than most prospects. It’s fair to assume that Yankees fans will be keep a close eye on the performance of Clint Frazier, Gleyber Torres, and Justus Sheffield as much as they are on players on the major league club. No matter how much younger these top prospects are than their minor league competition, expectations will be high and patience is more easily preached than practiced, especially in New York.

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Ronnie Socash is a contributing writer at Beyond the Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter at@RJSocash.