It certainly is not big-time breaking news that the Tigers signed free agent pitcher Ivan Nova on Monday, but it is a low-cost move that could pay off in a small dividend.
First, and most important to the Tigers, he cost $1.5 million for one year plus some unnamed incentives. That’s fine, if he meets the unnamed incentives, that should mean that he would be having a good enough season to be traded for a low-to-mid level prospect in July. If he flops, $1.5 million isn’t a huge loss.
He also might have cost the Tigers young left-hander Matt Hall, who was taken off the 40-man roster to make room for Nova. Hall has been terrible in two stings with the Tigers, but he did have 27 strikeouts in 23 and one-third innings last year. Some team might claim him on waivers and take a shot at a 26-year-old lefty with those strikeout numbers, but I think he’ll go unclaimed and end up in Toledo.
Nova, who had his best years with the Yankees, is a 33-year-old right-hander who has had a roller-coaster career. He is coming off a season in which he allowed a league-high 225 hits, which isn’t good. However, he matched a career-high with 187 innings, and after what happened to the Tigers last year – free agents Matt Moore and Tyson Ross did not combine to make 10 starts – the health factor is not a big risk.
Let’s face it, this team isn’t going anywhere in 2020, but for the first time in a few years, the Tigers seem to be trying to make a bid for respectability. Or at least to not be the butt of jokes. They added Andrew Romine to start as catcher, Jonathan Schoop to start at second base and C.J. Cron to start at first base. That is four actual major-league players who, barring injury, will fill nearly half the daily lineup that last year looked like graduates from the Toledo Mud Hens fantasy league camp.
Nova brings some veteran leadership to the staff and takes some heat off Matthew Boyd, who is the staff ace but has little behind him. The rest of the rotation is very questionable:
Jordan Zimmermann has been awful, and fortunately this is the final year of his ridiculous contract. Hopefully he regains some of his effectiveness and can be traded at the deadlne;
Spencer Turnbull showed flashes of promise last summer, but he faded at the end and really has not been a high-end prospect;
Daniel Norris has not shown he can go deep into games and be effective, and he was used more as an opener than anything else in the second half last year.
The wild card there is Tyler Alexander, a former second-round selection in the 2015 draft and, despite his 4.86 ERA, really showed some potential. Specifically, his strikeout-to-walk rate was an eye-opener. He walked just seven in 53 and two-third innings with 47 walks. That is something to get excited about for a 25-year-old left-hander in his first season in the majors. But he needs to get batters out. They hit .302 against him with an .834 OPS, so if he can keep his strikeout-to-walk rate down and get more batters out, the Tigers might have someone they can count on in the future.
And then there is Michael Fulmer, who hopefully will be back in the summer after undergoing Tommy John surgery. He is no more than a wild card, but he’s a wild card with real upside.
But back to Nova. He probably slots in as the No. 2 starter in the rotation behind Boyd. He pitched in a hitter’s ballpark last year for the White Sox, and Comerica Park is better suited for pitchers. Two years ago, Nova was putting the finishing touches on back-to-back seasons with the Pirates with an ERA of 4.14 and 4.19. While that is not exceptional, it would be a big addition for the Tigers.
The metrics, however, suggest Nova is slowing down, and at age 34 that can’t be a surprise. The spin rate on his curveball was the lowest of his career, and his strikeout rate dipped for the second year in a row. One thing Tigers fans can look forward to a pitcher who limits walks, and that will be a welcome addition.
Tigers fans can expect a pitcher who can go out and give the team a solid outing every now and also can get shelled for five or more runs in the first three or four innings. Between those two, he should be good to get into the sixth inning for more than half of his starts.
I give the Tigers a B- for the signing. It adds some stability and leadership to the staff at virtually no cost and could end up gaining a low-to-mid level prospect in a trade. But the end of July, Fulmer hopefully will be back and Zimmermann will be dealt if he has any trade value. Alexander might have pushed his way into the rotation, and Matt Manning and Casey Mize will be knocking in the door.
The Tigers don’t need a lot from Nova. Four solid months would be worth the investment.
Prediction: Nova goes 6-11 with a 4.44 ERA and is traded in July for a low-level prospect.