Alex Cora knew that the Boston Red Sox should re-sign free agent starter Nathan Eovaldi before his postseason heroics made him a lock to return.
The narrative when the Boston Red Sox committed $68 million to Nathan Eovaldi this winter was that the right-hander earned this four-year deal with a brilliant postseason. While he certainly boosted his stock in October, his manager was convinced that he wanted Eovaldi back long before the playoffs started.
Eovaldi was arguably the best pitcher on the staff during their championship run, posting a 1.61 ERA and 0.80 WHIP in 22 1/3 innings. He earned the respect of his teammates and fans with a gutsy six-inning relief effort in Game 3 of the World Series. Initially scheduled to start Game 4, Eovaldi sacrificed that opportunity by putting the team ahead of his personal goals to close out the final half dozen frames of an 18-inning marathon. It didn’t matter to anyone in that clubhouse when Eovaldi gave up a walk-off home run. His heroics salvaged the pitching staff to enable them to fight another day without being encumbered by the fatigue of an exhausting extra-inning affair.
Shining under the bright lights of the World Series stage may have earned Eovaldi a larger contract but it’s not the main reason the Red Sox wanted to re-sign him. At least that’s what Alex Cora told Masslive’s Chris Cotillo.
"“We wanted him back even before what he did in October,” Cora said. “He’s a good pitcher. He’s healthy. He went through his injuries and all that but everything is fine. That’s the good thing. He was with us. So we knew everything about his shoulder and back, everything. His elbow, everything. We were pretty sure he was one of those guys we wanted back and have in that rotation.”"
Eovaldi has undergone Tommy John surgery twice in his career, with the most recent occurrence wiping out his 2017 season. Health was a primary factor when considering a new contract for a pitcher who has only once made more than 27 starts and has never reached 200 innings in a season. The four-year deal the Red Sox handed him confirms they are comfortable with how his arm held up in his comeback from the latest surgery.
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You wouldn’t look at his overall numbers from last season and think Eovaldi was worth $17 million per year. A 3.81 ERA, 1.12 WHIP, and 8.2 K/9 is solid production but not enough to warrant that type of deal. We can forgive some early-season stumbles as Eovaldi shook off the rust from a lost season though.
The Red Sox focused more on what they saw for themselves once he arrived in Boston. Eovaldi posted a 3.33 ERA in 12 regular season appearances, including 11 starts, following a mid-season trade with the Tampa Bay Rays. Not quite ace-caliber but Eovaldi would be well worth his price tag if he can replicate that type of performance.
Cora believes that stuff-wise, Eovaldi is one of the best pitchers in the league. He possesses a blazing fastball that can flirt with triple digits on the radar gun. His four-seam fastball averages 97.1 mph, among the highest average pitch speeds by a starting pitcher, per Statcast.
The manager also noticed the adjustments that Eovaldi made during the season. Cora explained that the right-hander found out a few things about himself as they were learning about him. The 29-year old has seven seasons of big league experience but still has room to grow.
Eovaldi became a legend in Boston for his postseason heroics but that’s hardly the only reason why he was handed a lucrative contract. The investment the Red Sox have made in him isn’t about what he’s done before, it’s based on what they believe he’ll become.