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Sox nab Nova

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International money, minor prospect Yordi Rosario heading back to Pirates

Miami Marlins v Pittsburgh Pirates
Meet No. 3: Once the darling of White Sox offseason plans, Iván Nova should give the White Sox a year of innings and then ...
Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images

By the standards of a typical salary dump, this one ain’t sexy. But it’s a start.

With money to burn, the Chicago White Sox on Tuesday acquired righty starter Ivan Nova from the Pittsburgh Pirates, in exchange for pitcher Yordi Rosario and international spending money.

“Iván is a quality individual who provides a veteran presence to our starting rotation, and has shown the ability to consistently throw strikes,” said White Sox GM Rick Hahn. “We’re excited [about] what he brings to the organization, both on the field and in the clubhouse.”

Nova was briefly a hot Offseason Plan target, back in 2017, when he signed with Pittsburgh at what then seemed a pretty sweet price. He’s in the final year of his deal this season, and will be paid $9.2 million.

As such, the White Sox can straddle the fence with Nova. If they make a push to contend in a watered-down AL Central, he’s a great addition to the rotation. And if the 2019 better resembles 2018, yet Nova is something better than an outright tire fire, he’s a perfect candidate to flip to a contender, allowing the White Sox to save a pinch of cash and snag a couple of prospects. In that sense, Nova may be this season’s Joakim Soria.

At least until Bryce Harper and/or Manny Machado are in tow, consider these types of “lukewarm water” deals to be the norm for GM Rick Hahn. Without knowing whether he can add the 25 (!) or so wins necessary to contend in the AL Central, assets acquired will need to be short-term, and flippable. Hahn is nibbling at a slice of pizza, rather than devouring the whole pie.

Later on on Tuesday afternoon, Hahn spoke to reporters in Las Vegas. Some of his thoughts, as tweeted by Scott Merkin: “Going back to his Yankees days [the White Sox were interested in Nova]. There was a time six or seven years ago when he was pretty high up on some lists that we were part of, some pretty deep conversations with [the Yankees] a while back. As we entered this offseason, he was certainly on the list, from the start, of guys who could conceivably fit this role.

“[Signing Nova] doesn’t preclude us from going out and continuing to add to the rotation if we find the right fit. But this was an important get in terms of helping stabilize the rotation, fill up some innings, and take some pressure off the young guys.”

Nova will be 32 this season, and while many are regarding him as a replacement for James Shields, Nova’s floor seems far higher than one of the worst starters in White Sox history.

Nova qualifies as an innings-eater — such as one is in today’s game — having thrown at least 160 innings in each of the past three seasons. He was 9-9 in 2018, with a 4.19 ERA and 4.57 FIP. Not a power pitcher, nor a big strikeouts guy, Nova pitches to contact. His control, which should keep him at no more than two walks per nine innings, will stand out on a White Sox staff known for its wildness.

Regarding Nova pitching to contact, Daryl Van Schouwen quoted Hahn on Tuesday afternoon: “Sometimes you have to let the guys behind you do the work. Strikeouts are fascist, I’ve heard. Ground balls [are] more democratic.”

Per the White Sox release, Nova’s average of 1.75 walks per 9.0 IP over the past three seasons ranks fifth in the majors, behind only Josh Tomlin (1.03), Clayton Kershaw (1.30), Mike Leake (1.66) and Bartolo Colón (1.66).

The 19-year-old Rosario was 1-4 with a 2.57 ERA and 70 strikeouts in 14 games (11 starts) last season between the DSL and AZL White Sox. In his exhaustive Deep Dive series, whisoxman20051917 profiled the righthander favorably:

Rosario, a native of the Dominican Republic, signed a minor league contract with the White Sox on February 29, 2016 as a 17-year-old. Unsurprisingly, he struggled his first season with the DSL Sox — in 35 innings over 12 outings, he posted a 7.20 ERA and 2.06 WHIP with 26 strikeouts (6.69 K/9) but relinquished 48 hits (.320 OBA) and 24 walks (6.17 BB/9). However, he returned to the DSL Sox last year and posted much different results: A 2.26 ERA and 1.14 WHIP in 71 2⁄3innings, allowing just 56 hits (.215 OBA) and 26 walks (3.27 BB/9) while fanning 64 hitters (8.04 K/9).

Rosario returned to the DSL again this year for eight outings. By posting a nifty 1.82 ERA and 0.91 WHIP in eight outings, he finally earned his long-awaited promotion to the AZL Sox at the end of July. While not as spectacular in Arizona, he still posted good results, with a 3.42 ERA and 1.37 WHIP in six outings. For the year combined with both squads, Rosario combined to post a 2.57 ERA and 1.13 WHIP over 56 innings, allowing just 51 hits (.244 OBA) and 12 walks (1.93 BB/9) while striking out 70 (11.25 K/9). His fastball sits in the low 90s, which with his age, smooth delivery, and build still could gain additional oomph.

According to Eric Longenhagen at FanGraphs, Rosario’s ability to throw strikes, with both his fastball and 12-6 curveball, is advanced for his age: “His stuff is very average right now, but he could be quite exciting if things break right.” Though it’s possible he returns to the AZL to begin 2019, I expect him to start with Great Falls.

Pending transactions still to come, Nova slots in as the No. 3 starter and fills one of the two gaping holes in the rotation.

Perhaps not the best news for Jordan Stephens, but then, it could always be worse: He could be the “minor prospect” headed back to Pittsburgh.