When free agent lefthander Patrick Corbin accepted a six-year, $140 million contract from the Washington Nationals on Tuesday, it marked the beginning of what figures to be a fast-paced market for starting pitchers.
Two of the teams vying for upgrades will be the Red Sox and Yankees.
The Red Sox, who already have lefthanders David Price, Eduardo Rodriguez, and Chris Sale in their rotation, were not involved with Corbin. But the Yankees coveted the 29-year-old, who was 11-7 with a 3.15 earned run average in 33 starts for Arizona last season.
Corbin grew up in Syracuse, N.Y., rooting for the Yankees and had expressed a desire to play in the Bronx. He also visited Yankee Stadium last week to meet with general manager Brian Cashman and manager Aaron Boone.
The Nationals topped sentiment by adding a guaranteed sixth season. Corbin easily bettered the most lucrative deal for a free agent starter last winter, the six years and $126 million Yu Darvish received from the Chicago Cubs.
That all directly impacts the Red Sox, who are focused on bringing back righthander Nathan Eovaldi and now may have more competition.
“He’s a guy that we’d love to keep,” president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski said Monday.
With Corbin off the board, Eovaldi, Dallas Keuchel, and J.A. Happ are the top remaining free agent starters. With the Red Sox, Yankees, Phillies, and Astros all in need of rotation help, Dombrowski suggested that decisions could be made before the start of the winter meetings in Las Vegas on Monday.
Eovaldi’s agents, Sam and Seth Levinson, also have a reputation for working quickly.
Another option would be waiting on Yusei Kikuchi, a lefthander the Seibu Lions are expected to make available this week via the posting system. There are no indications the Red Sox are interested in Kikuchi.
Happ was 7-0 with a 2.69 ERA in 11 starts for the Yankees last season after being acquired from Toronto. The 36-year-old would be a shorter-term solution.
The Yankees traded for Eovaldi before the 2015 season. He was 23-11 with a 4.45 ERA over two seasons before suffering an elbow injury in a game against the Red Sox at Fenway Park.
Eovaldi needed what was his second Tommy John surgery and missed the entire 2017 season.
He then had arthroscopic surgery just before the start of last season and did not pitch for the Tampa Bay Rays until May 30. The Red Sox acquired him on July 25, and he went 3-3 with a 3.33 ERA in 12 games.
Eovaldi, 28, appeared in six postseason games, two as a starter, and allowed only four earned runs over 22⅓ innings.
There are concerns. Eovaldi has averaged only 130 innings per season in his last three seasons (excluding 2017) because of injuries. But he was durable for the Red Sox and impressed teammates with his hard work between starts.
The Sox also believe Eovaldi benefited from his work with pitching coaches Dana LeVangie and Brian Bannister.
“He’s a game-changer,” manager Alex Cora said on Monday. “We know the stuff he has. He got better with time. He went through the process of mixing up his pitches, attacking guys in different spots.”
If the Red Sox do not add a starter, they would be left with Brian Johnson, Hector Velazquez, and Steven Wright competing for a spot. But the clear intent is to retain Eovaldi.
“We could get better because we’re going for Eovaldi,” Dombrowski said. “That would help our rotation, and we’ll go from there.”