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What Should the New York Yankees Do With Ivan Nova?

We’re smack in the middle of trade speculation season so New York Yankees fans, blogs and beat writers have been tossing out a new trade idea every day it seems. Virtually no New York Yankee has been spared in these various trade proposals either. Robinson Cano? He was proposed in a package for Felix Hernandez. Jesus Montero? Some fans still just can’t wait to trade him away. Phil Hughes, A.J. Burnett? You would have thought that Phil Hughes didn’t post a 5.79 ERA in 74.2 innings and you would have thought that A.J. Burnett didn’t have $33 million left on his deal. And then there is Ivan Nova. After he emerged as the New York Yankees’ No. 2 starter late in the season, you would have thought that the fans would have excused him from their trade speculation for a few months. Nope, apparently not. A few weeks ago, the fellas at NoMaas.org put it quite plainly: sell high on Ivan Nova. This got me thinking about Ivan Nova’s future with the New York Yankees. How likely is it that we’ve seen his last start in New York Yankee pinstripes?

There are two general lines of thought tugging at me right now. On one side you have the “I wish the Yankees would start developing their own pitching prospects” line of thinking. Nova fit that mold in 2011 with a performance worthy of a fourth place Rookie of the Year finish. On the other side you have the “Yankees need to know when to cash in on their prospects” argument. Nova isn’t a prospect anymore, but you could argue that he still has some upside…or you could argue that 2011 was his peak. Hmmm…

Optimistically, Nova posted a 3.70 ERA (4.01 FIP/4.16 xFIP), 16 wins (2.7 WAR) and a 52.7% GB rate. Wins are a weak stat to evaluate pitchers, but I know there are a lot of fans out there who haven’t quite warmed up to the new age stats. He’s got good velocity on his fastball (92.7 mph) and he started to implement a solid slider in 2011 as well. Is it crazy to expect Nova to take a step forward in 2012? Probably not.

The pessimist (or realist perhaps) would that suggest that Nova’s success in 2011 was fueled by good fortune. The first thing that catches my eye is the 5.33 K/9. Strikeouts aren’t everything, but you definitely like to see a few more punch outs per game from a guy who is going to slot into the second spot of the rotation. Secondly, Nova’s .283 BABIP isn’t that far off from the .300 league average, but even a moderate bit of luck in that area is extremely significant for a guy like Nova because he pitches to so much contact. If and when that figure regresses to league average, Nova’s numbers are likely to take a significant step backwards.

If this was fantasy baseball, this discussion would have been over three paragraphs ago. It obviously isn’t that easy though. The Yankees have five more years of control over Nova who won’t even be arbitration eligible until 2014. Even if he settles in as a solid No. 4 or No. 5, the fact that he’s cheap makes him a very valuable asset.

So I’ve played Devil’s Advocate up to this point, but now it is time to commit one way or the other.   I do think the New York Yankees should explore the value that Ivan Nova has on the trade market (not to be confused with “shopping” him).  When I look at 2011, my feeling is that Nova showed us the upper crust of his potential and that his future is still as a back-of-the-rotation starter – a commodity that the Yankees have in high supply.  Adam Warren, David Phelps, Hector Noesi and D.J. Mitchell are each on the cusp of the big leagues and it seems safe to gamble on at least one of those guys being able to replace Nova’s production in the rotation.