Next up: pitching depth.
With star catcher J.T. Realmuto finally agreeing to return on a five-year, $115.5 million contract, the Phillies can focus on finding more pitchers to throw to him. They added to their stable Tuesday by signing veteran right-hander Ivan Nova to a minor-league contract with a non-roster invitation to spring training.
Nova, a 34-year-old right-hander, will reportedly make $1.5 million if he wins a spot on the major-league roster. He struggled in the shortened 2020 season, posting an 8.53 ERA in 19 innings over four starts for the Detroit Tigers.
But Nova has been a classic innings-eater for the latter half of his 11-year major-league career. Over the last four full seasons (2016-19), in fact, after returning from Tommy John elbow surgery, he averaged 30 starts and 174 innings and posted a 4.31 ERA, slightly above average for major-league starting pitchers (4.39).
Every team’s biggest challenge in 2021 will be retraining pitchers for the rigors of a six-month season after a 60-game schedule in 2020. Success, then, may hinge on collecting as much depth as possible.
The Phillies have perilously little depth. Beyond Aaron Nola and Zack Wheeler, they lack starters who have worked more than 165 innings in a season. Young right-hander Spencer Howard, who projects as the Phillies’ fourth or fifth starter, has dealt with shoulder injuries over the last two years, logging a total of 123⅔ innings in 2019 and 2020.
Behind Howard and Vince Velasquez, lefties Ranger Suarez, Cole Irvin, and Damon Jones and right-handers Ramon Rosso and Adonis Medina have a total of 71 major-league appearances, including only eight starts.
Nova spent his first 6½ major-league seasons with the New York Yankees, who were managed by the Phillies’ Joe Girardi. With three weeks until spring training is scheduled to open, the Phillies are focused on adding other experienced pitchers on similar deals.
“We have some young arms who we really like. I’m not sure how close they are to contributing right now,” president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski said recently. “Maybe they could grow over the last year and step up. Ideally we’d like to add some depth.”