By: Mark Lester
The Hot Stove is officially cooking. Well, maybe not cooking. But it’s definitely sizzling a little. One of the early prize targets that isn’t named Harper or Machado is pitcher Nathan Eovaldi, who had a rare standout season with the Rays and Red Sox after three straight years of pitching with an ERA over 4.00 with the Yankees and Marlins.
He was lights out in this years postseason, with an ERA of 1.61 over 22.1 innings of work. He also picked up a ring while he was at it. His postseason work has made him a sudden high profile free agency target, with almost every team in baseball having some level of interest in him. The number of teams that are fully committed to signing him is unknown, but teams that are allegedly interested include the Brewers, Phillies, Braves, Angels, White Sox, Blue Jays, Giants, Padres, and, of course, the Red Sox. Executives have his asking price around $18 million per year.
Eovaldi may be a very risky signing, however. Before his solid 2018 campaign, he has had a sketchy, injury-filled past that included two Tommy John surgeries and a career ERA of 4.16. His clean bill of health and recently great pitching will certainly be enough for any teams with the money to pursue him heavily, should the Red Sox not resign him.
Do the White Sox fit the profile?
Chicago is definitely in dire need of decent pitching, as their starters ranked 26th in the MLB in combined ERA (4.84), 28th in K/9 (7.89), and allowed the most walks per 9 innings in all of baseball. On top of that, their “ace” James Shields, who was pretty mediocre in his short tenure with the Sox is off to free agency and probably won’t re-sign. But is Nathan Eovaldi the answer to their pitching woes? And even if he is, will he be worth the price?
The White Sox certainly have the money to sign Eovaldi. They’re projected 2019 payroll is only $54 million, putting them about $150 million below the salary cap. Even if they sign Eovaldi, they’ll have more than enough money to go after the big guys like Harper to fill in their outfield, which definitely represents their biggest offseason need next to good pitching. Eovaldi and Harper, no matter which one the White Sox manage to sign, will be great pieces to build the outfield or pitching around. The difference is that
Eovaldi will be cheaper because of his injury-riddled, mediocre past. But if Eovaldi keeps up his 2018 pitching, he’ll be a great pickup. So teams going after him face a bit of a dilemma in deciding whether or not signing him is worth the risk.
When I started writing this article, I thought that signing Eovaldi wouldn’t be a smart move for Chicago, due to his sketchy past and his two Tommy John surgeries. But after looking at Eovaldi’s stats, especially his stats from 2018, I came to the conclusion that the White Sox are in a very ideal position to suit a pitcher like Eovaldi. They have a potential star in Michael Kopech coming back from Tommy John in 2020, and could end up with a great 1-2 punch with both pitchers. And Eovaldi’s still young; he’s only 29 years old. If he does choose to sign with Chicago, he could end up being the spearhead of the Sox rotation for a long time. And for a rebuilding team, a rock solid starting pitcher is exactly what they need to build around.
Even in the worst case scenario, where Eovaldi ends up being mediocre or oft-injured following his early career trends, it won’t necessarily be the end of the world. Chicago still has Kopech, and they will still have plenty of payroll left over, since Eovaldi won’t be asking for a ridiculous contract.
The bottom line is, the White Sox heavily going after Nathan Eovaldi is a small risk, high reward signing. And if Chicago is serious about rebuilding after a horrendous 2018 campaign, they will seize this opportunity to grab a quality pitcher for a pretty good price.