The closer we get to the end of the 2016 MLB Season, the more likely it is the Pittsburgh Pirates will miss out on some kind of postseason play for the first time after three years. It puts their mind in offseason and free agency mode, thinking about their pitching situation first, and especially Ivan Nova, while looking back at the players they signed, who didn’t deliver as expected.
The Pirates are at 74-75, with 13 games left this season, sitting five games behind the second wild card spot, currently owned by the San Francisco Giants. It’s hard to believe that a team that’s been so inconsistent lately will suddenly put together something like 10 wins in the final 13 games, and even that might not be enough, with the St. Louis Cardinals far closer than them to ending up in the top 2. It seems like there will be no playoffs in Pittsburgh this season.
With that, the thinking goes to free agency. Nova has been terrific on the team since joining from the New York Yankees on a midseason trade. In nine starts he’s pitched in 55.1 innings, posting a 2.93 ERA, 1.066 WHIP while striking out 7.3 batters per nine innings, leading to an incredible 15.00 K/BB ratio. The interesting thing is that the Pirates didn’t ask him to change much in the way he throws, except for tightening up a few things. According to them, this is the same Nova from New York, but performing much better.
Nova can’t be tendered with a qualifying offer, which is very good for him as he enters a free agency class with very few good dependable pitching arms for teams looking to improve their rotation. J.A. Happ had a similar season with the Pirates before signing a three-year, $36 million deal with the Toronto Blue Jays last offseason. Nova made $4.1 million this season, and is going to get himself paid with a multiyear contract, whether it’s the Pirates or someone else.
Other free agents will be Neftali Feliz, Matt Joyce and Sean Rodriguez. Feliz bounced back after a terrible 2015 season, with a 3.52 ERA, which isn’t that hot for relievers, but should make the 28-year old desirable enough around the majors. Rodriguez and Joyce both signed one-year deals with the Pirates in the offseason, and did better than expected. The two cost them only $3.5 million combined in 2016, but it’ll cost them around double that to hold on to them together.
The Pirates disappointing season can be attributed to a number of things, but starting pitching was probably their biggest issue. They traded Neil Walker to the New York Mets for Jon Niese, but he ended up giving them only a 4.91 ERA in 110 innings, before moving back to the Mets. Ryan Vogelsong has a 4.87 ERA in 21 appearances (11 starts), as the Pirates failed by betting on low-ceiling guys, who seemed dependable, but ended up costing them in the W department.