In a vacuum, this is a welcome, if not totally surprising development. Who wouldn’t want Eovaldi back? He’s in the sweet spot of his prime at 28 years old, throws 101 miles an hour like it’s nothing, and bought real estate in permanent Red Sox lore this postseason with a sensational overall performance, including six innings of gutsy relief on almost no rest in the epic 18-inning Game 3 of the World Series.
To see a pitcher who has endured two Tommy John surgeries put his elbow at risk purely for the sake of the team weeks before he hits free agency is the modern definition of selflessness in baseball.
I’ve never seen anything exactly like it, though it did remind me a little of Tim Wakefield beginning the turn toward fulfillment in Red Sox history by taking the ball in a blowout in Game 3 of the 2004 American League Championship Series and sacrificing his own upcoming start. It was also somewhat reminiscent of Derek Lowe pitching beautifully on two days’ rest in Game 7 of that same ALCS.
That’s the company Eovaldi keeps, among the most cherished in clutch acts in this happy Red Sox era. Sentimentally — and also because he’s a pretty darn good pitcher — I hope the Red Sox keep him as well. I still get agitated thinking about how they let Lowe leave after ’04, replacing him with Matt Clement. Don’t break up the band yet, please.
But I must acknowledge that I also believe this: There has to be a point where it’s not financially worthwhile to re-sign Eovaldi. And I wonder if they’re nearer to that point than we realize.
For all of his ability — and the newest scar on his right elbow actually came with an uptick in velocity — Eovaldi is not especially accomplished as a major league pitcher. He’s pitched seven years for five teams and has totaled 9.0 WAR in his career. His adjusted ERA is 96 — slightly below average — and his top career statistical comps through age 28 are Dave Giusti, Jay Tibbs, and Jhoulys Chacin.
He has pitched more than 155 innings once, when he threw 199⅔ innings for the 2014 Marlins, leading the National League in hits allowed (223). His best season came for the 2015 Yankees, when he went 14-3 with a 4.20 ERA and allowed 175 hits in 154⅓ innings.
He was good after the Red Sox acquired him at the trade deadline this year (3-3, 3.33 ERA in 54 innings), but he was just OK for the Rays (3-4, 4.26 ERA, 98 adjusted ERA) before the deal.
His stuff and his makeup are clearly outstanding, and the fresh memory of his postseason excellence has brought him several suitors, including the Yankees. The suggestion in September that he might get $15 million a year now seems quaint.
Is it practical to pay him that much, or even more than that? Only if they are convinced that his ace stuff will translate to a consistent ace-caliber performance going forward.
Chris Sale’s contract is up after next season, and who knows how many zeroes will be on his next contract? Rick Porcello, who showed serious guts himself this postseason and is a far more accomplished pitcher than Eovaldi, is also up after this season.
Mookie Betts is going to need a new deal soon, J.D. Martinez can opt out of his after the ’19 season, and free agency is coming for Xander Bogaerts as well. The Red Sox are going to have to deal out hundreds of millions of dollars to keep the ’18 core relatively intact, and they’re going to have to do it sooner rather than later.
If they’re going to give Eovaldi an eight-figure piece of that pie annually, they’d better be convinced he’s worth it.
It’s going to be fascinating to see how the next few weeks play out for Eovaldi. His timing has not been great in his career until now. He pitched his best when the most was at stake, on the field and off, and now he’s going to get his just rewards.
You have to feel good for the guy, hitting free agency in the weeks after he was the best he has ever been. He’s 44-53 with a 4.16 ERA in his career, and his first real foray into free agency has a chance to be an all-out bidding war.
The memory of Eovaldi’s postseason leaves me hoping that the Red Sox win it — even if I’m not sure quite what they are getting if they do.