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Yankees Potential Free Agent Target: Ivan Nova

Could an old friend become a candidate for the back end of the rotation?

MLB: Game Two-Detroit Tigers at Chicago White Sox Quinn Harris-USA TODAY Sports

The Yankees have their white whale to lead the rotation for the 2020 season. In fact, he was introduced today, and that was Gerrit Cole, in case you’ve been in hibernation for the past couple weeks, or perhaps on a social media blackout to avoid Star Wars spoilers.

With Cole, and (hopefully) healthy Luis Severino and James Paxton, the Yankees boast a formidable top of the rotation, and Masahiro Tanaka is hardly a shabby fourth starter. That leaves the fifth slot open to a few options, currently Jordan Montgomery, Domingo German if he is kept on the team after a likely suspension, or perhaps a young arm in Deivi Garcia. If Montgomery is healthy, he seems like the clear option, but could the Yanks go discount shopping for a reinforcement that could eat up innings as a fifth starter? If they go shopping down that aisle, they could run into an old friend.

Ivan Nova is still out there for the taking, though it isn’t too hard to fathom why the soon-to-be 33-year-old is still available. Yes, he has been able to shoulder a heavy workload (his 34 starts led the league last season), but the quality has fallen way, way short of the quantity, particularly last season. In 187 innings pitched in 2019, Nova allowed a league-high 225 hits, just under 11 hits per nine innings. The exact amount was 10.8, his highest mark since his 2012 campaign with the Yanks.

That high hit total was likely not a result of bad baseball luck, either. Nova just wasn’t good at missing the barrel of the bat last year, or missing bats at all. His 4.98 FIP was a career-high, and his strikeout rate of 14.1 percent was in the bottom three percent of the league, per Statcast. Simply put, Nova stayed healthy and stayed on the mound and his durability helped him finish the year with a 2.1 WAR, but he got hit often, and hit hard.

Data courtesy of Statcast

Nova has made a living off avoiding free passes, as his 2.3 walks per nine last year shows, but when the hits are falling like they did last season, in addition to his lack of strikeouts and home run susceptibility, it becomes difficult to see the Yanks taking a chance on him to complete the rotation. Again, his ability to eat up innings is intriguing, and it sure would have helped last season, but with a projected contract of one year and $6 million (per MLB Trade Rumors), it’s likely that the Yanks will see that money as better used elsewhere.