On Thursday, the Red Sox announced they signed RHP Nathan Eovaldi to a four-year $67.5 million contract. The extra year seemed to be the difference between the Red Sox’ offer and the Yankees’ offer, but it is unsurprising that Eovaldi’s services were in high demand after a successful late-season stint with the Sox. Eovaldi earned his contract in large part due to a solid postseason workload that included a gutsy six inning, one earned run, five-strikeout relief outing in one of the longest postseason games in MLB history.
Eovaldi has always been highly regarded as an incredibly talented pitcher, but historically, had his durability derailed due to arm injuries, including two Tommy John surgeries. While it’s now common practice for a hard-throwing pitcher to have to endure TJS, having to for someone who is only 28 years old makes him a riskier bet than a healthy 28-year-old pitcher. But in 2018, talent wins out, and in many cases, rightly so.
The Red Sox inked themselves a strong right-handed pitcher, and are expected to add him to the rotation that includes southpaws Chris Sale and David Price, as well as Rick Porcello (among other potentials). While a strong Eovaldi would reap significant rewards from April to October, Eovaldi is trying to defy the odds in that endeavor.
Over the course of his eight year career, Eovaldi has only thrown a total of 850 innings, only stringing together 150+ innings in two seasons. It’s probably unreasonable to expect that he tosses 180+ innings. In fact, the Red Sox could use Eovaldi in a more creative role, projecting 100-120 innings, which would be a more reasonable expectation. He’s certainly too valuable (and expensive) to toss in the pen as only a middle-reliever. With this contract, and even with that track record, it makes sense for him to be more than a reliever. But there’s a middle ground here.
One interesting way the Red Sox could get the most out of Eovaldi while also preserving innings for September / October would be to use him as a fireman/swingman most days, with spot-starts when needed.
Very few teams get through the season with their projected five starters, so having Eovaldi available for starts every ten to twelve days, or during a stretch when someone else inevitably goes on the disabled list, while also being the relied upon arm for high-leverage innings in the middle of a game would generate some serious surplus value.
It’s no secret that the classic ‘starter’ role is evolving significantly, someone with Eovaldi’s skillset, and injury history could be the next step in the shifting roles.
Let’s say Eovaldi starts a Sunday afternoon game as an opener, goes two or three innings and calls it a day. He would likely be rested enough to throw another inning or two on Wednesday, and then again Friday or Saturday, depending on the situation. All-told, he could amass six to seven innings that week across three outings as opposed to one, and Boston skipper Alex Cora could decide to utilize him in high leverage situations when necessary, inevitably saving stress on his arm if the team has a comfortable lead. His innings could also be managed to mitigate the risk of injury or overwork.
Flexibility is becoming the name of the game in baseball. The Red Sox will likely use Eovaldi in the classic starter role to start the season, but depending on health, and how the season is going, there’s the potential for much more. Considering the success of Dave Dombrowski and Alex Cora so far, it wouldn’t be surprising to see them pull all the right moves.