While baseball’s star-studded free agent market for position players continues to take shape slowly ahead of next week’s Winter Meetings in Las Vegas, and while the deep market for relievers remains largely untapped, the shelves are quickly selling out of high-end starting pitchers.
On Thursday, the Boston Red Sox reportedly agreed to a four-year, $67.5 million deal to retain right-hander Nathan Eovaldi, an indispensable and indefatigable part of the staff that led the team to the World Series title less than six weeks ago. Eovaldi, 29, has twice undergone Tommy John elbow surgery but made a strong comeback in 2018 and went 2-1 with a 1.61 ERA in six appearances (four of them in relief) during the postseason.
The Eovaldi signing comes two days after the Washington Nationals locked up the winter’s consensus top starting pitcher, lefty Patrick Corbin, to a reported six-year, $140 million deal.
While the remaining stock of available starting pitchers is relatively weak — headed by lefties Dallas Kuechel and J.A. Happ and right-hander Charlie Morton — there continues to be a strong presence of impact starters available in trades. The New York Yankees have already pried lefty James Paxton away from Seattle, and former Cy Young Award winners Corey Kluber (Cleveland) and Zack Greinke (Arizona) are also being shopped.
Eovaldi’s return to the Red Sox was perhaps the biggest slam dunk of this winter, as the defending champs had few other items on their offseason checklist, and Eovaldi had endeared himself to the team and its fan base forever with his remarkable, six-inning relief stint — on one day of rest — in the Red Sox’s 18-inning loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers in Game 3 of the World Series.
The 2019 Red Sox, thus, will look much like they did in 2018, particularly in the rotation, where Eovaldi will join holdovers Chris Sale, David Price, Rick Porcello and Eduardo Rodriguez is forming one of the top units in the game.
Eovaldi’s dazzling postseason run undoubtedly added tens of millions of dollars to his value this winter, but he is not without risk. Largely due to his elbow injuries and surgeries, he has made 30 or more starts only once in his career, and he sports a career ERA of 4.16. On the plus side, his odometer reads only 850 big league innings, and his fastball averaged 97 mph in 2018 and touched triple-digits in the postseason.