The Miami Marlins are already closing in on Edwin Jackson, and they may be looking at another buy-low target in Ivan Nova, the deposed New York Yankees starter who may be available for trade. The Fish want another starter to help compete with their own homegrown products, and Nova fits the bill as someone who may not cost the team much in terms of trade options.
There is a reason why Nova probably will not cost much, and it has everything to do with his last two seasons in Miami. After three reasonable years with New York, Nova suffered an elbow injury that required Tommy John surgery that had him miss the vast majority of the 2014 season. When he returned midseason in 2015, he was not the same pitcher who was inducing whiffs in his first three years-plus in the big leagues.
Some time in 2013, Nova decided to make a change that led to his best season in the bigs. He earned his best ERA and FIP over the full year, though he only pitched 139 1/3 innings in total during this season, and he did this by switching away from his slider almost entirely and going to his curve as his primary second pitch. In 2013, that curve was earning whiffs on 47 percent of the swings hitters took, and Nova was throwing it for balls about 1.8 times more often than he threw it for called strikes. He had good control and location for the pitch and knew where to place it to get whiffs. It also had some dip away from right-handed hitters along with its downward motion.
In 2015, after Tommy John surgery, the pitch was just a bit lacking. It only got whiffs on 37 percent of swings this time around, and Nova had a harder time placing it in the strike zone. He earned just a 2.3 ratio of balls to called strikes with the curve last season. It also stopped breaking so far away from right handers, which may have helped them avoid its slurvy aspects. The loss in strikes attributable to the curveball was a big reason for the drop in effectiveness last year.
However, interestingly enough, Nova underwent yet another change in his arsenal last year as well. While he threw the curve an expected amount similar to his prior ratio, he also started throwing more sinkers than he did before. In the past, he split his two- and four-seam fastballs fairly evenly in rate used. In 2015, he threw the sinker 2.25 more times as the four-seamer, and it may have been a response to an unusual number of home runs allowed. He gave up a homer rate almost as bad as the one from 2012, and he may have tried to compensate by forcing the sinker and its 65 percent-plus grounder rate. However, the overall ground ball rate he posted last season was at just 49 percent, which is actually lower than his 2013 rate.
Perhaps just as important as the player's skill development is the cost it would take to acquire him. Nova may not cost much in the way of resources from the Marlins, but he would still cost them both money and a player on their roster. This is double the cost that it would take for the Marlins to sign a similarly skilled pitcher from the free agent pool. Nova is not a premium name, and other players around age 29 can be found still in the market. Both Brandon Beachy and Mike Minor, former Braves starters coming off injury-riddled campaigns associated with Tommy John surgery, could be had without the Marlins having to pay up a prospect to get them. Neither would cost a huge sum given their injury history and recent production, which is akin to Nova's 2015 season.
Not only is Nova slated to earn a potential $4.4 million in arbitration this year, but this would also be expected to be his last season of team control for any acquiring team. The Marlins would be trading for only one season of a player with no guarantee of success while other similar players are still available at lower costs. Even if it is unlikely that the Marlins are giving up a real prospect or 2016 contributor, any use of that trade asset depletes the team's stores for future trades.
This is not similar to the case of Edwin Jackson, who would only cost the Marlins the league minimum and a roster spot as long as they opt to provide him one. The Marlins might have to give up something real from their empty farm system or their Major League roster for Nova, and that might be too high a cost for this team.