LAS VEGAS - The White Sox needed a starting pitcher, any starting pitcher, to work toward completing their 2019 starting rotation.
But Ivan Nova isn't just any starting pitcher, and it looks like he'll be able to fill a couple of roles for the White Sox next season.
The South Siders acquired Nova in a Tuesday-morning trade with the Pittsburgh Pirates, plugging one of the two holes in their starting staff caused by Michael Kopech's Tommy John surgery and James Shields' departure via free agency.
Nova's numbers won't leap off the page. He put up a 4.19 ERA in 2018, a 3.99 ERA over his last three seasons in Pittsburgh and a cumulative 4.44 since his excellent 2013 season with the New York Yankees. But Nova is reliable, a strike-thrower, as Rick Hahn called him in the team's announcement of the deal. The biggest statistical benefit he'll bring to the White Sox will be his tendency to not walk guys. Over the last three seasons, Nova posted a 1.75 BB/9, a mark better by only four other major league pitchers during that span. From mid September 2016 to mid April 2017, he went six consecutive starts without a walk.
That's a big deal for a rotation that led the majors in walks in 2018. White Sox starters walked a total of 400 batters last season, with Lucas Giolito leading the American League in the category, Shields ranking third, Reynaldo Lopez fifth, Hector Santiago 15th, Carlos Rodon 21st and Dylan Covey 23rd.
On the South Side, Nova will likely be tasked with eating up a significant amount of innings while providing a veteran presence on an otherwise youthful starting staff. Sound familiar?
It might not be completely appropriate to call Nova "Shields 2.0," but there seem to be a lot of similarities between the guy who logged 200 innings for the White Sox in 2018 and the guy just acquired in Tuesday's trade.
"He's super cool," Pirates reliever Chad Kuhl told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review's Rob Biertempfel last year. "Everything he does is super smooth, super relaxed."
And while any specific personality overlap is likely just a coincidence, Hahn has talked multiple times since the end of the 2018 season about how nice it would be to add someone who has as much off-the-field value as they do on-the-field value. In Nova, it looks like the White Sox got both.
"I will say that a reliable presence every fifth day that also could potentially serve as a mentor for some of the young starters has some appeal and is sort of an added feature potentially of some player that we may add," Hahn said during a conference call last week. "Shields played that role very well last year. He was very good, as you guys have heard time and again, with our young starters both in Chicago and in the minors, and he was dependable when he took the ball every fifth day. That was a lot of what Jamey had to offer us last season. Finding someone to fill that role again this offseason has some appeal."
And so, Nova, who impressed his teammates in Pittsburgh and received the kinds of rave reviews Shields got all year on the South Side. Pirates manager Clint Hurdle called Nova "the dean of the starting rotation" when naming him the Opening Day starter. And teammate Jameson Taillon was impressed with Nova's weight loss and commitment to staying healthy ahead of last season, calling him someone Pirates pitchers could look up to.
"For a veteran like that to make such a big change this late in his career - he still had a pretty nice year last year when you look at the whole body of work - and for him to say, 'Maybe I can improve something and get better,' that fires me up," Taillon told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review's Kevin Gorman in February. "He's never going to stop getting better, which is a good trait, and that's someone we all look up to, so he's setting the tone for sure."
Nova will likely serve as simply a one-year fill-in, a guy to hold down a rotation spot while the White Sox wait for Kopech to recover and Dylan Cease to make his way to the major leagues. The just one year of team control left on his contract nearly assures that. But that doesn't mean there's no long-term value to be found, and the mentorship he could provide to the team's young pitching staff could wind up having a big impact down the road.