Nathan Eovaldi was going to find himself as a free agent of some interest heading into the 2019 offseason. Following the playoffs, the flame-throwing right-hander may have made himself the most interesting free agent pitcher of all.
Position: Starting/Relief Pitcher
2018 Stats: Combined between the Tampa Bay Rays and Boston Red Sox, Eovaldi produced a FIP of 3.63, a WHIP of 1.13, a DRA of 3.23, a DRA- of 72.2 (remember, a lower DRA- is better), and a WARP of 2.6.
How He Fits: The old adage goes that you can never have enough starting pitching, and that remains as true as ever. We’ve seen the Chicago Cubs struggle in recent years with a lack of pitching depth throughout their minor league system. Some of that is true lack of depth, and some of that is, I believe at least, a manager not willing to go to minor leaguers when he should. Alas, the point still remains, starting pitching is valuable and the more major-league caliber starters a team can have, the better.
Eovaldi has three plus pitches. A four-seam fastball, sitting regularly at 98 mph and touching 100 quite often, along with a cutter that has good bite and a slider that he turned into a wipeout pitch in the playoffs. He also throws a splitter and curveball, although those are pitches that show flashes of being gold, they still need some work. When he’s on, Eovaldi looks as nasty as they come, but 2018 is really the first year where he managed to put all his pitches together to be more than they are separately.
All of Eovaldi’s numbers have been trending upward for the past few years he’s played. Since his return in 2018 Eovaldi has looked like a different pitcher—stronger and more consistent. I’m not one of those people who wants to see someone undergo any sort of surgery, but in the case of Eovaldi, it seems like the time off following Tommy John surgery and his reportedly different training habits have resulted in a much better version of himself.
Why It Won’t Work: The question with Eovaldi isn’t his stuff, but it’s his control. His WHIP has historically been high, though he was able to lower it to a near elite level in 2018. Maybe that will be an outlier, and maybe 2019 will see Eovaldi revert back to a pitcher who has trouble locating. Because he’s max effort most of the time, an Eovaldi who can’t locate doesn’t give you many innings. Perhaps this isn’t as much of a concern in a game that is cycling to expect fewer innings out of starters.
There’s also the issue of his Tommy John surgery, that being his second following a prior one in his high school days. That’s two surgeries on a right arm that likes to get the ball in the 100 mph range every time out. Maybe Eovaldi will never suffer another setback, that’s what we’d all want to see for the tall Texan. But, Tommy John surgery can’t be easily dismissed, especially going under the knife twice. The health of Eovaldi’s arm will always be a concern.
I’m pretty high on Eovaldi, but he will be asking for quite a bit of money in 2019. His great comeback in 2018 combined with how dominant he was in the playoffs pretty much ensures he gets the money he wants. The Cubs are a team with a few different pressing needs, and starting pitching is not one of them. When they are deciding where and how to spend their money they more than likely will go after their pressing needs before turning to a starter like Eovaldi.
Alternatives: Most of the Cubs options are internal when it comes to starters. They already have five (six?) starters locked into contracts for 2019, but who knows what Tyler Chatwood will be in the upcoming year. They also have minor league arms like Duane Underwood that have shown they are, at the least, deserving of a shot with the big league club. There’s also Mike Montgomery in the ‘pen who has expressed his desire to be a full-time starter. But, none of these options are as good as Eovaldi. The only internal fifth starter option better than Eovaldi—honestly this is a toss-up when you take into account age—is Cole Hamels, who will be with the 2019 club after the Cubs picked up his option last week. If you’re looking for a free agent who’s actually a better option than Eovaldi, the list begins and ends with Patrick Corbin.
Lead photo by Keith Allison from Hanover, MD, USA (Nathan Eovaldi) [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons