Red Sox Rumors: Free agent Nathan Eovaldi drawing interest as a closer

BOSTON, MA - AUGUST 21: Nathan Eovaldi #17 of the Boston Red Sox pitches in the first inning of a game against the Cleveland Indians at Fenway Park on August 21, 2018 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - AUGUST 21: Nathan Eovaldi #17 of the Boston Red Sox pitches in the first inning of a game against the Cleveland Indians at Fenway Park on August 21, 2018 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images) /

Some teams are rumored to be viewing Boston Red Sox free agent pitcher Nathan Eovaldi as a potential option to fill their closer role.

Nathan Eovaldi did it all for the Boston Red Sox this season, performing as a starter in the rotation and as a reliever. He’s proven to have the versatility to fill a variety of different roles yet one he’s never been tested in is the closer role. However, a resume devoid of any career saves hasn’t stopped some clubs from viewing the free agent pitcher as a potential ninth-inning solution.

WEEI’s Rob Bradford reports that multiple teams have expressed interest in signing Eovaldi with the intention of making him their closer.

It’s unclear if the Red Sox can be counted among those teams, although they may have a need for a closer if fellow free agent Craig Kimbrel signs elsewhere.

While he primarily was used in the rotation, the right-hander also thrived as a weapon out of the bullpen during the postseason. After winning each of his two starts through the first two rounds, we saw Eovaldi as a lights-out 8th inning setup man and as a long-reliever in an exhausting extra-innings affair during the World Series. Despite getting tagged with the loss, Eovaldi’s heroic six-inning relief effort to salvage the bullpen in Game 3’s 18-inning marathon was a highlight that endeared him to Red Sox Nation.

Eovaldi went 3-3 with a 3.22 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, and 7.87 K/9 over 11 regular season starts since the Red Sox acquired him mid-season from the Tampa Bay Rays. He allowed two runs over 3 2/3 innings in his only regular-season relief appearance.

Eovaldi defeated the New York Yankees in his lone ALDS start, holding the Bronx Bombers to one run over seven innings. He allowed two runs over six innings in a win over the Houston Astros in the ALCS. Eovaldi’s other four postseason appearances all came out of the bullpen, totaling 9 1/3 innings in which he allowed only one run.

While he may be open to the idea of a role change, it’s clear Eovaldi’s preference is to stay in the rotation.

"“I’m going into this as if I’m a starter,” Eovaldi said on the “30 with Murti” podcast. “I love starting, preparing for that one day. If I need to be a closer and that role opens up, I would also like to do that, too. I’ve never had an opportunity to close and didn’t have much relief work until the postseason this year. I enjoyed my time down there, as well. But I would like to stay in the starting rotation.”"

This could be an advantage for the Red Sox. If other teams view him as a closer, he may be more inclined to stay in Boston if they have a rotation spot open for him. Losing Eovaldi would put the Red Sox in the same position they were in prior to the deadline deal, cycling between fringe rotation options such as Brian Johnson and Hector Velazquez. The ongoing knee issues for Steven Wright make him an unreliable choice and Drew Pomeranz will almost certainly be heading for a fresh start somewhere else as a free agent.

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Perhaps the Red Sox are content to start the season with one of those underwhelming options and seek a mid-season upgrade again if necessary. They could also pivot toward cheaper free agent options this winter. However, there’s a clear need for a back of the rotation starter and Eovaldi is a better solution than any of their other options. The concern is that he’ll be able to command more money than a No. 4 or 5 starter is typically worth, which might price him out of Boston given their heavy financial commitment to the top of their rotation.

That may not be the case if other suitors want to pay him as a reliever. It’s hard to fathom any team giving Eovaldi a contract similar to what Kimbrel will earn as a top-tier “proven closer” to fill that role. They might be willing to pay him that type of money if they view him as a starting pitcher.

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Eovaldi will be a valuable asset in any role. The Red Sox have potential openings in their rotation and bullpen and should make re-signing him one of their top priorities regardless of how they plan to utilize him.