Eovaldi Signing Makes Sense for Red Sox
By Jason Mastrodonato
BOSTON -- The Boston Red Sox made a large investment in a pitcher with two Tommy John surgeries, 44 career wins and a 4.15 ERA.
Signing the 29-year-old right-hander Nathan Eovaldi to a four-year deal worth $68 million this week, the Sox placed a big bet on Eovaldi’s breakout performance in 2018.
But they had other reasons to make sure Eovaldi stayed in Boston:
1. They’ll need him in 2020.
It’s not that 2019 isn’t just as important. Actually, it’s more important, given it’s the best chance the Red Sox have at another title before the core starts to rapidly dissemble. But even without Eovaldi, the Sox would have a stellar rotation in 2019.
In 2020, though, Chris Sale and Rick Porcello are eligible for free agency. And while spending $68 million on Eovaldi signals that that the Sox are uncertain if they’ll be willing or able to extend Sale, Eovaldi provides insurance.
A 2020 rotation that starts with David Price, Eovaldi and Eduardo Rodriguez may not be overwhelming, but it’s certainly formidable. And the Sox don’t want to be left with just Price and Rodriguez as they look at a 2020 free agent class that includes just a handful of quality starters: Madison Bumgarner (30), Gerrit Cole (29), Cole Hamels (36), Rich Hill (40), Miles Mikolas (31), Jake Odorizzi (30), Hyun-Jin Ryu (33) Justin Verlander (37) and Michael Wacha (28), Zack Wheeler (30) and Alex Wood (29).
2. The Yankees also need a starter.
Imagine how different the American League Division Series would’ve been in 2018 if Eovaldi was pitching for, instead of against, the New York Yankees.
It was a real possibility in 2019 if the Red Sox didn’t pony up. The Yanks made their big splash by acquiring James Paxton from Seattle to front their 2019 rotation, but they still want one more starter to go with Luis Severino, Masahiro Tanaka and CC Sabathia.
One can guess how this situation would’ve been handled in the George Steinbrenner days. Would he have let the Sox get their most coveted free agent prize without more of a fight? Maybe not. But this signing wasn’t just a win for the Sox, it was a loss for the Yankees, who are now left kicking the tires on free agent J.A. Happ again.
3. The average dollar value is high, but in line with other No. 2 starters.
Here’s one way to look at this contract: Eovaldi just became tied for the 35th-highest paid starting pitcher (based on annual salary) in baseball history.
Here’s another way to look at it: He’ll be paid less annually than Porcello, Tanaka, Homer Bailey, Jeff Samardzija, Johnny Cueto, Jordan Zimmermann and Felix Hernandez.
These days, a good No. 2 starter with upside makes $20 million per season.
And teams continuously make a habit of shelling out dough to players who shine in the postseason. That’s why Red Sox pitching coach Dana LeVangie was so confident in his prediction after the ALDS that Eovaldi “just made himself a lot of money.”
It’s not an over-pay. It’s an expected-pay.
4. Pay for stuff, not stats.
These days, baseball evaluators are more interested in what kind of weapons are in a player’s arsenal than how many strikeouts, walks and hits a pitcher may have allowed in the previous year.
It’s why the Sox were so high on Joe Kelly going into the postseason, despite Kelly’s 6.13 ERA from June 1 through the end of the regular season. They didn’t see a 6.13 ERA. They saw a 100-mph fastball with a filthy breaking ball and redefined change-up.
The Red Sox can look around Eovaldi’s past performance and focus on his 100-mph heater and arsenal of weapons, including a cutter that become much more heavily used when he arrived in Boston. It paints the picture of a potential No. 1 starter, the kind of arm they saw in the playoffs.
5. With Eovaldi signed, there’s less pressure to add elsewhere.
Of course the Sox still need some relief pitching. But with Eovaldi locked in, the Sox have five top-tier starters and can now look at Steven Wright, Brian Johnson and Hector Velazquez as options out of relief (in addition to providing insurance in the rotation).
There’s less pressure to go add two quality arms in relief. Now, maybe just one will do. Or one top-tier reliever and one from the middle tier.
Come October, Eovaldi could be in the bullpen anyways. Or Price. Or Sale. Alex Cora will have options.
Musings around the league
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Carlos Carrasco’s extension in Cleveland shows that some players still value negating risk over the long-term rather than waiting till free agency to maximize their contract. Carrasco is one of the American League’s best starters over the last five years (3.27 ERA), but the 31-year-old, due to be a free agent after 2020, will make just $44 million over the next four years in exchange for two additional years of security after age 33.