Red Sox converting Nathan Eovaldi to closer emphasizes offseason mistakes
By Sean Penney
The Boston Red Sox plan to transition Nathan Eovaldi into the closer role, a potential mistake that compounds past mistakes.
It took more than half a season but the Boston Red Sox finally settled on a closer. According to NESN’s Tom Caron, Nathan Eovaldi will be inserted into the ninth inning role when he returns from the injured list.
Eovaldi has been on the shelf since undergoing a procedure to remove loose bodies in his right elbow in April. Bringing him back as a reliever allows the Red Sox to reduce his workload down the stretch. While a return date hasn’t been confirmed yet, he won’t require a lengthy rehab assignment if he doesn’t need to be stretched out as a starter.
Boston desperately needs someone to solidify the closer role. The bullpen was brutal in the month of June and they now lead the American League with 17 blown saves while converting only half of their save opportunities.
Eovaldi provides a solution at the back end of the bullpen but he’s hardly an ideal choice. He thrived in eight innings of relief in last year’s World Series but has only eight regular-season relief appearances in his career and has never been in a save situation at the major league level. The last time Eovaldi tallied a save was in 2009 when he was in Single-A.
He throws hard and has been clutch in the postseason. That makes him a candidate to be a closer, right? The Red Sox made the mistake of assuming that was the case with Matt Barnes. It’s one thing to have a skill set that translates well to a relief role but being a closer is a different beast that requires a certain mentality. Maybe Eovaldi has it but he hasn’t proven it in this role.
The bigger concern is how Eovaldi’s workload will be managed. Pitching in relief means he’ll rack up fewer innings but that doesn’t mean the role will be any easier on an arm that’s been through several surgeries. Eovaldi said after he re-signed with Boston that he views himself as a starter and believes the routine of pitching every fifth day suits him best given his injury history. Can Eovaldi handle pitching on consecutive days? Three out of five days?
So, the Red Sox have finally admitted that their bullpen by committee approach has failed miserably. They plan on fixing the problem with a pitcher coming back from injury who may not be able to handle a sporadic workload, is unproven as a closer and doesn’t particularly want to be a reliever. What could go wrong?
The Red Sox are in this unenviable situation because of how they handled the offseason. Letting Craig Kimbrel walk away was justifiable considering the massive contract the 30-year old was demanding but they did nothing to replace him. The team with MLB’s highest payroll was understandably working on a budget but they didn’t commit any of their available funds to the bullpen.
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Instead, they rewarded postseason heroes Steve Pearce and Eovaldi with new deals that pay them a combined $23.25 million this season. It would have been a PR nightmare if they hadn’t taken care of those guys after what they did last October but the ramifications of those decisions are being felt now. The Red Sox have gotten nothing out of either of these players, as they’ve each spent most of the season on the injured list and significantly underperformed when they have taken the field.
Boston could have afforded two qualify relievers for what they spent on Eovaldi and Pearce. They didn’t want to spend a substantial amount on a closer yet they are now paying one $17 million with Eovaldi taking over the role. That’s more money than the Chicago Cubs are paying Kimbrel this season.
The decision of where to allocate their limited funds backfired and now the bullpen has been left exposed. They are trying to rectify the problem with a risky choice that could backfire on them once again. Correcting a mistake with another mistake isn’t a solution.
With very little room under a tight budget and few appealing trade chips to use at the deadline, finding a closer outside the organization is easier said than done. Eovaldi may very well be their best option at this point but the poor decisions they made in the offseason are why they are in this position to begin with.