Some big news came out later Monday night as we learned at least part of the team’s strategy to improve the bullpen for the rest of the year. Tom Caron of NESN dropped the report that Nathan Eovaldi will be shifted to the bullpen and will serve as the team’s closer upon his return from the injured list.
It’s not hard to see the reasoning behind this. The Red Sox have obviously had massive problems in their bullpen of late, which everyone expected coming into the year. It’s clear they need help there and everyone is waiting for them to make a trade. Additionally, Eovaldi pitched extremely well in relief throughout last fall’s postseason and has always kind of been seen as that kind of pitcher. Throw in the fact that this should theoretically make his return quicker as he won’t have to get stretched back out, and you see all the explanations.
That being said, it also appears to be very reactionary. This is a move that was suggested by, well, everyone over the offseason. The counter was that Eovaldi did not want to pitch out of the bullpen. The righty had an injury history and he feels pitching every five days is a better way for him to stay healthy than having to be ready on any given day and potentially warming without coming in. To that point, I will give the organization the benefit of the doubt and assume they have talked with Eovaldi about this and he’s on board. If that’s not the case, this is clearly a bad move.
Even with him on board, though, there are other negatives. For one thing, just adding a new closer is not going to fix the bullpen’s problem. To me, this seems like a way for the team to potentially “fix” the relief without having to add new payroll to the roster. If that’s the thinking, it’s extremely flawed. They are still going to need more help. Furthermore, we still don’t know how far away he is from returning, never mind not knowing what he’s going to be like when he does get back.
The biggest issue, though, is that the rotation now has a glaring weakness at the very back. That fifth spot has been an issue all season since Eovaldi went down, but there seemed to be a light at the end of the tunnel whenever the righty was going to return. Now that he is not returning to that spot, there’s no indication as to who they think will fill this spot. Perhaps they think they can find a cheap replacement in a trade. Perhaps they think Brian Johnson will be back soon. Perhaps they think someone from the minors will be ready to come up and take that spot, though I can’t imagine who that would be. Perhaps they will put Steven Wright back in that role despite being wary of that as recently as this winter.
In any scenario, though, it sure seems like they are weakening one area for a potential upgrade in another. The most charitable reading of this situation is that Eovaldi wasn’t going to be able to make it back any time soon as a starter and this was the way to get him back to help the team before they potentially fell out of the race. A less charitable reading? Well, the team might just be panicking.