Red Sox acquire RHP Nathan Eovaldi from Rays
BALTIMORE — Only a few hours after the rival Yankees traded within the American League East to land Baltimore Orioles closer Zach Britton, the Red Sox took a similar route to fill one of their needs by obtaining Tampa Bay Rays righthander Nathan Eovaldi.
The Yankees finished their trade late Tuesday night. At roughly the same time, Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski had an agreement in place to send Triple A lefthander Jalen Beeks to Tampa Bay for Eovaldi.
The deal was finished Wednesday morning after medical records were exchanged.
These are unusual times in the neighborhood. The Red Sox had made only one prior trade with the Ray, that coming in 1999.
“Good teams try to get better,” Sox manager Alex Cora said. “He’s going to help us.”
The 28-year-old Eovaldi was 3-4 with a 4.26 earned run average in 10 starts for the Rays. He had been scheduled to face the Yankees on Wednesday afternoon.
Instead, Eovaldi will be added to the Red Sox roster on Thursday and start against the Minnesota Twins on Sunday afternoon at Fenway Park.
“When they said it was Boston I can’t help but be excited about that. First place in our division, that says a lot,” Eovaldi told reporters at Tropicana Field. “Really excited going over there and helping that team.”
Eovaldi missed the 2017 season recovering from a second Tommy John surgery on his elbow. He then had an arthroscopic procedure on March 30 to remove “loose bodies” from his elbow.
Eovaldi came off the disabled list on May 30 and has pitched effectively since with the exception of a July 13 start against the Twins when he allowed eight runs in 2⅔ innings.
With Steven Wright and Eduardo Rodriguez on the disabled list, the Red Sox needed rotation help. Adding a righthander to a rotation that had four lefties also creates balance.
“This was a big need for us. It gives us an extra arm that we really like,” Dombrowski said.
Eovaldi — which is pronounced ee-VAUL-dee — has long been a pitcher regarded to have high-end abilities. His fastball is 97-99 miles per hour and he has a split-finger fastball, slider, and cutter.
“Good stuff, good stuff,” Cora said. “For everything that we heard from everybody that was involved in the process, his stuff is playing.”
The Red Sox feel Eovaldi should incorporate his splitter more often instead of relying as much on the cutter.
That righthanded hitters have a .630 OPS against Eovaldi suggests he would be a good bullpen option for the postseason.
“It’s hard to look at our team and see where we can get better. But pitching depth is huge,” Red Sox ace Chris Sale said. “[Eovaldi] has a big arm. I think we’re all happy he’s here.”
Brian Johnson is scheduled to start on Thursday then drop into the bullpen. The Sox will continue starting Drew Pomeranz, who is 1-4 with a 6.91 ERA in nine starts.
Eovaldi has roughly $730,000 remaining on his contract for this season. So while the Red Sox are up against the highest tier of baseball’s luxury tax threshold of $237 million, the addition of Eovaldi shouldn’t impact their willingness to make other deals.
Both Cora and Dombrowski downplayed the idea of the Sox needing to add a relief pitcher even given the sharp downturn by Joe Kelly.
“I feel comfortable. I can’t say we’re done for sure. We’ll kind of wait and see what happens,” said Dombrowski, who will meet with his top scouts in Boston on Thursday and Friday.
But outside of Matt Barnes and Heath Hembree, the Sox lack trustworthy setup men behind Craig Kimbrel.
Cora mentioned rookie Ryan Brasier, who has appeared in six games, as taking on a larger role. But it seems more likely Dombrowski’s next move will be for a late-inning reliever.
Eovaldi will be a free agent after the season and it has long been evident the Rays would trade him. The Sox have scouted his starts in preparation and Dombrowski told the Rays he was interested “a couple of weeks ago.”
The negotiations picked up on Tuesday with the Rays agreeing to take Beeks.
Eovaldi has played parts of seven seasons in the majors and the Red Sox will be his fifth team. He is 41-50 with a 4.22 ERA in 144 career games.
Eovaldi has not appeared in the postseason but was 14-3 with a 4.20 ERA for the 2015 Yankees when they held on to earn a wild card.
“He’s been a very effective pitcher, part of a pennant race in the AL East,” Dombrowski said. “There’s a lot of things we liked.”
A 12th round draft pick in 2014, Beeks emerged as a prospect over the last two seasons. The 5-foot-11-inch lefthander does not throw hard but averaged 12.1 strikeouts per nine innings in 16 starts for Triple A Pawtucket this season.
He was 5-5 with a 2.89 ERA for Pawtucket. In two appearances for the Red Sox, however, Beeks allowed nine earned runs on 11 hits and four walks over 6⅓ innings.
Beeks was the organization’s minor league pitcher of the year in 2017.
The last Rays-Red Sox deal was July 21, 1999. The Sox obtained righthander Julio Santana for a player to be named later.
Santana never pitched for the Sox. Lefthander Will Silverthorn went to the Rays and was released a year later.