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Alex Speier

How much will Nathan Eovaldi command in free agency?

It’s safe to say Nathan Eovaldi’s stock soared during his time with the Red Sox.Jim Davis/Globe Staff

Globe coverage of the 2018 Red Sox season and playoffs is available in a 128-page commemorative book.

It’s been almost exactly one month — 32 days, to be exact — since Nathan Eovaldi stepped onto the mound at Yankee Stadium and transformed from journeyman to October force. Against a Yankees team that was an offensive juggernaut in its home park, Eovaldi delivered a memorable performance, allowing one run on five hits (all singles) over seven innings, the start of a brilliant postseason in which the Red Sox righthander went 2-1 with a 1.61 ERA, 16 strikeouts, and 3 walks in 22⅓ innings.


“He’s going into free agency,” Red Sox pitching coach Dana LeVangie noted after that Division Series Game 3 start. “Tonight got him some big money.”

Now that Eovaldi is a free agent, it is fair to ask: How much?

Eovaldi’s stock soared during his time with the Red Sox. In late July, as the trade deadline neared, he garnered only modest interest on the market. When the Sox landed him from the Rays for lefthander Jalen Beeks, most viewed him as a solid addition while also suggesting that Beeks — a potential back-of-the-rotation starter — represented about as solid a return as Tampa Bay could have hoped for.

Now the interest in Eovaldi will be very different. The big righthander showed the same sort of power that has been his calling card throughout his career, regularly working at 97-100 miles per hour and topping out at 102, but he also showed a striking ability to mix his offerings.

At times, he dominated with a three-pitch mix (fastball, cutter, slider). At others, he expanded that to five (incorporating a heavier diet of curveballs and splits), a combination that proved remarkably unsettling for hitters who still had to account for his extreme velocity.


From September through October, Eovaldi implemented a number of changes with the input of LeVangie and the Red Sox staff that took him to another competitive level. He had a 1.49 ERA in his final 42⅓ innings of the year, dominating repeatedly against elite lineups.

In the past, it might have been possible to shrug off some of those results as a small sample. Yet in recent years, with teams increasingly focused on future production rather than past performance in free agency, such signs of transformation — even if brief — are treated very differently.

Take, for instance, Rich Hill. In 2015, the Red Sox plucked the lefthander out of independent ball after he’d been released by the Nationals. He reached the big leagues in September, dominated for a handful of starts, landed a one-year, $6 million deal with the A’s, and then, after 110⅓ strong innings (12-5, 2.12 ERA) with the Dodgers and A’s in 2016 and three playoff starts, secured a three-year, $48 million deal to stay in Los Angeles.

Last year, righthander Tyler Chatwood — coming off an age-27 season in which he went 8-15 with a 4.69 ERA for the Rockies — landed a three-year, $38 million deal from the Cubs based on his relative youth, his solid numbers on the road, and Statcast-driven pitch data that suggested a world of untapped potential.

Eovaldi is coming off an age-28 season in which he logged 111 regular-season innings (nearly identical to Hill’s volume in 2016). Whereas Chatwood represented something of a speculative bet, Eovaldi already has shown the ability to make adjustments in a way that took his game to a level of distinction. Down the stretch, once Eovaldi made some adjustments to his delivery (such as his position on the rubber) and game plan, he performed at an elite level.


As ever, the market for starting pitchers should be robust. The precedents of Hill and Chatwood suggest that Eovaldi should be in line for at least a three-year deal, and even as a two-time recipient of Tommy John surgery (Chatwood and Hill each had one), it would come as little surprise if he lands a four-year deal.

It’s hard to imagine him getting less than Chatwood, suggesting that his floor is probably at least three years and roughly $40 million or four years and $52 million. Eovaldi doesn’t represent the same sort of strikeout potential as Hill, and his track record of dominance is over roughly two months. Hill had a season and a month of delivering standout results.

Those factors create questions about whether Eovaldi has the same baseline expectations as Hill when on the mound, but at the least, it’s close — and there’s a chance that Eovaldi may be capable of providing more durability once on the mound. But it’s not unreasonable to view Hill’s salary — $16 million a year — as a potential bar for Eovaldi to near or, depending on demand, clear, suggesting that in a best-case market scenario, he could be in line for four years and $60 million-$65 million.


Can the Red Sox afford that?

Sure — though if they did so, their current projected commitments would be around $225 million-$228 million, leaving limited flexibility to add up to two bullpen arms (to replace or re-sign Craig Kimbrel and/or Joe Kelly) and to replace or re-sign Steve Pearce.

Still, with Chris Sale and Rick Porcello slated to reach free agency after 2019, and the Red Sox having interesting late-innings options (Darwinzon Hernandez and Durbin Feltman) who look like they may be ready to contribute at some point in 2019, it makes a ton of sense for them to pursue a return of Eovaldi.

But they won’t be alone in such a pursuit. A pitcher who was arguably underappreciated leading up to the trade deadline won’t be overlooked again.

Alex Speier can be reached at alex.speier@globe.com. Follow him on twitter at @alexspeier.