Pirates' trade of Ivan Nova gives Neal Huntington options
Pirates general manager Neal Huntington’s view of trading veteran pitcher Ivan Nova to the Chicago White Sox for an unproven 19-year-old arm veers in four directions.
• The return.
• The cost of what Nova could have delivered to the Pirates in 2019.
• Who takes Nova’s spot in the starting rotation?
• What does Huntington do with that money?
The most significant point is the reduction in the Pirates’ payroll by Nova’s $9.16 million salary, giving Huntington the ability to improve the team in multiple areas before the start of next season.
“As good as (Nova) was for us, as professional, and he took the ball and competed with us, looking at his projected production for next year, part of my job is to maximize our efficiency and our effectiveness,” Huntington said by phone from the MLB owners meetings in Las Vegas.
“Looking at Nova’s projected production, looking at the salary committed to it, we felt we could get similar to potentially better production by reallocating those dollars to other spots on the club.”
Huntington said some of those funds already have been reallocated (the recent signing of outfielder Lonnie Chisenhall) and some could be used later this offseason.
“We’ll look at different opportunities to make the club better in the free-agent market, the trade market. There are some opportunities out there,” he said. “Could be backfill in the rotation, could be addition to our bullpen. Could be an addition to the position player group. We have some options and some versatility because of the players that we have.
“We like the overall position player group, but is there someone, some role, some skill set that makes us better? We’ll entertain that as well.”
Huntington hinted Nova’s spot in the rotation could be filled by Nick Kingham and/or Steven Brault.
Kingham, 27, pitched in 18 games and 76 innings last season, with 15 starts, compiling a 5-7 record with a 5.21 ERA and 69 strikeouts.
Brault, 26, had been a starter for most of his career before going to the bullpen early last season as a long reliever. He started only five games — all in April — compiling a 1-1 record and 5.54 ERA. Overall, he was 6-3 with a 4.61 ERA.
The Pirates also are in talks with free-agent pitcher Jordan Lyles, the New York Post reported. Lyles, 28, was 3-4 with a 4.11 ERA (35 games, eight starts) with the San Diego Padres and Milwaukee Brewers last season.
Huntington could use the Nova savings on position players. But he believes he filled a major need last month by signing Chisenhall as a replacement for right fielder Gregory Polanco, whose shoulder injury and subsequent surgery will keep him out of the lineup for as long as three months.
Huntington said Chisenhall, who played for the Cleveland Indians the past eight seasons and can play left field, right field, third base and first base, could be a major contributor. He hit .286 with 57 RBIs in 2016, his most recent full season. Injuries reduced him to 82 games (with 12 home runs in 2017) and 29 games (.321 batting average) last season.
“We feel good about Lonnie and his attributes as a professional hitter,” he said. “When his legs were healthy, he was also a quality defensive outfielder. The last two years, when healthy, he’s been a very productive offensive player.
“He will add depth to the club if somebody is injured or if Lonnie is outperforming someone.”
Losing Nova from the rotation can’t be minimized, however, because he was a valuable innings eater since being acquired from the New York Yankees in 2016. He made 71 starts, with five complete games, and compiled a 25-25 record, 3.99 ERA and 1.25 WHIP. In 161 innings last season, he walked only 35 batters.
Trading Nova indicates the Pirates are optimistic Joe Musgrove and Chris Archer, who had surgical procedures early in the offseason, will recover in time for spring training.
Top pitching prospect Mitch Keller also might be ready at some point this season, but the Pirates won’t rush him to the majors.
“Triple-A hitters reminded him he would still have to execute his pitches,” Huntington said. “He does have great weapons, and we’re excited about where he’s going to be eventually.”
The immediate return for Nova is right-handed pitcher Yordi Rosario and $500,000 added to the Pirates’ international signing bonus pool.
Rosario, who will turn 20 before spring training, has a 6-12 minor-league record with a 3.43 ERA and 160 strikeouts in 162 2/3 innings (40 appearances, 34 starts).
Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jerry at email@example.com or via Twitter @JDiPaola_Trib.