Red Sox Hope Eovaldi Deal is the Final Piece
By Jason Mastrodonato
BALTIMORE -- If this was the Boston Red Sox’s final acquisition of trade season, they’re in great shape.
After acquiring right-hander Nathan Eovaldi from the Tampa Bay Rays on Wednesday morning while trading away just a depth starter in left-hander Jalen Beeks, president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski may have put his final stamp on the 2018 roster and left the rest in manager Alex Cora’s hands.
If there’s any more work for Dombrowski to do, it’s to add one more versatile infielder that provides an extra option at second or third base. But even that is hardly a necessity with the Sox already sporting MLB’s most potent offense.
Eovaldi isn’t the type of deadline acquisition that will clog up all the news networks with wall-to-wall coverage, but it’s exactly the kind of trade the Red Sox were capable of. And the one they needed.
He was an under-the-radar signing with the Rays in 2017 while he recovered from Tommy John surgery, which is no longer a risky operation and instead is one that’s giving older pitchers new life as long as they’re willing to put in the work during the rehab process.
In his return to health, Eovaldi is throwing just as hard as he did pre-op, averaging 97-98 mph on his fastball. But it’s the way in which he’s pitched that’s opened some eyes across the game.
No longer is he relying on his fastball and slider. He’s been throwing a cutter instead, which gives him three pitches (four-seam, two-seam, cutter) that look almost identical to start, but with late break in two different directions. He pounds his four-seamer up in the zone, then flings the cutter across the plate.
The results have been inconsistent (4.26 ERA, 0.98 WHIP), but often illuminating. He has an astounding 53 strikeouts to just eight walks, one of the best strikeout-to-walk ratios in the league. And he’s carried a no-hitter into the sixth inning three times in 10 starts this year, which offers proof of dominance when he’s feeling right.
At his worse, Eovaldi is the starting depth the Red Sox needed to make sure they avoid another 2011 collapse late in the year.
Eduardo Rodriguez and Steven Wright remain out indefinitely with ankle and knee injuries, respectively, and Drew Pomeranz didn’t look so hot in his return on Tuesday night (four runs in 4 2-3 innings) after two months in the disabled list.
Eovaldi can push Pomeranz or Brian Johnson to the bullpen, giving the Sox a left-handed option in relief.
At his best, Eovaldi can be a true difference-maker who will provide Cora with a difficult choice come time for the postseason, when there’s Chris Sale and five or six others to choose from in Eovaldi, Rodriguez, Wright, Pomeranz, Rick Porcello and David Price for four spots in a playoff rotation.
Whoever isn’t picked can bolster a bullpen that ranks fifth in the majors in ERA.
It’s the opposite strategy being employed by the New York Yankees, who have starting pitching questions behind Luis Severino. Masahiro Tanaka is hit-or-miss, and though CC Sabathia is having a splendid season at 38 years old, there isn’t much depth behind them.
Instead, the Yankees have added Zach Britton, the Orioles closer who has the best ERA of any reliever since the start of 2014, to a bullpen that already ranks first in the majors in ERA and strikeouts.
Imagine a playoff series in which the Red Sox rely on the potential of their starters and the Yanks turn to the bullpen in the fifth inning on most nights.
One other benefit of the Eovaldi trade is that he’s making a salary of just $2 million this year. The Sox were close to the $237 million mark with their payroll for luxury tax purposes, and if they cross that line they’ll lose 10 spots on their first-round draft pick next year. Because Eovaldi’s contract is so cheap, it looks like they’ll avoid that penalty, and done so without giving up any substantial part of their future.
Beeks was having a strong season in the International League (2.89 ERA, 12.1 strikeouts per nine innings) but didn’t look great in two major league outings (12.79 ERA), nor did he project as more than a back-end starter.