PITTSBURGH -- Standing in front of his locker at PNC Park on Sept. 29, Ivan Nova made his preference clear. He did not want to leave the Pirates' clubhouse, he said, and he would do whatever he could to return in 2017.
Nova stayed true to his word. The Pirates addressed their biggest offseason need, announcing a three-year deal with the veteran right-hander on Tuesday. The contract will pay Nova $26 million, according to reports by FanRag Sports and FOX Sports. The deal includes $2 million per season in performance bonuses, according to MLB Network insider Jon Heyman.
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"We had contact the whole year," Nova said. "It was an easy choice for me because I expressed early that I want to stay here. It wasn't hard to make a decision."
The signing will keep Nova in Pittsburgh, where he thrived down the stretch following a trade from the Yankees at the non-waiver Trade Deadline. Nova went 5-2 with a 3.06 ERA in 11 starts for the Pirates, striking out 52 batters and walking only three in 64 2/3 innings. He emerged as the Bucs' latest pitching success story, benefiting from the switch to the National League, the tutelage of coaches Ray Searage and Euclides Rojas, the pitcher-friendly confines of PNC Park and his relationship with catcher Francisco Cervelli.
"My teammates and the coaching staff, the fans and the city, I love," Nova said. "I was so happy. I wanted to continue to be here. I'm here for at least three more years, but hopefully it is longer than that."
Yet Nova's dominant run was clouded by his uncertain future. The Pirates saw lefty J.A. Happ turn a similar corner as a pending free agent in 2015, and he left to sign a three-year, $36 million deal with the Blue Jays. The comparisons between Nova and Happ were inevitable, but the Pirates ensured history would not completely repeat itself by retaining Nova.
The Pirates worked to extend Nova's contract during the season, when his representatives reportedly asked for a five-year, $70 million deal. Throughout the offseason, Pirates general manager Neal Huntington maintained that they were "still engaged" with Nova, who impressed the club with his steady performance.
"It's one thing to see it from across the field," said Huntington, "but to see him do it here, it was good to see and leads us to believe he can be a quality Major League starter."
Nova satisfies the Pirates' need for a veteran starter. Behind Gerrit Cole, the Bucs were set to lean on a group of young arms in 2017, including second-year starters Jameson Taillon, Chad Kuhl, Tyler Glasnow, Steven Brault and Trevor Williams. The deal appears to be a bargain for the cost-conscious Bucs, putting their projected payroll around $100 million with Nova guaranteed less than $9 million per season.
Overall, Nova went 12-8 with a 4.17 ERA in 32 appearances (26 starts) this past season. He is 58-41 with a 4.30 ERA in 142 appearances (129 starts) over his seven-year career.
In order to make room for Nova on the 40-man roster, Willy García was designated for assignment.
Nova should slot into the Pirates' rotation with Cole and Taillon, with Kuhl the leading candidate to earn another spot. That leaves one job up for grabs, and it may not go to any of their in-house candidates.
The Pirates could find room for White Sox left-hander José Quintana, plugging him in atop the rotation with Cole. Even with Nova coming back, ESPN reported, the Pirates are still trying to acquire Quintana.
Such a deal would not come cheap, requiring the Bucs to part with a huge haul of top prospects, but it would further improve their rotation as they look to return to the postseason following a disappointing 2016 campaign. It would also force the Pirates to either stretch their payroll to an unprecedented level -- nearly $110 million -- or unload a significant salary, like that of Andrew McCutchen, Tony Watson or Josh Harrison.
Fantasy spin | Fred Zinkie (@FredZinkieMLB)
Traded to the Pirates last August after an unremarkable seven-season tenure with the Yankees, Nova posted an astonishing 17.3 K/BB ratio and suddenly cured his longstanding homer problems as a member of the Bucs (0.6 HR/9 rate). Coming off that sensational showing, the 29-year-old makes for an intriguing fantasy option despite his unimpressive lifetime 4.30 ERA, 1.36 WHIP and 2.5 K/BB ratio. Mixed-league owners should attempt to mirror the Pirates' front office by making a reasonable investment in Nova, with the hope that a late-round pick becomes a reliable fantasy rotation asset.