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Nathan Eovaldi is the most important Red Sox player

I’m not sure it’s particularly close.

Boston Red Sox Summer Camp Workout Photo by Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images

I’m having an extremely difficult time figuring out how in the world we’re supposed to analyze and preview the upcoming season, which by the way is somehow just about two weeks away. There’s the obvious issue of COVID-19 and players testing positive left and right for the virus. Obviously there are tangible effects on the on-field product when players have to miss time, but I really can’t get over the gross feeling that comes with talking about players testing positive for a virus with unknown long-term effects in that light. Which is not to say that stuff shouldn’t be mentioned or anyone doing so is bad or wrong, but moreso that I am still trying to figure out how exactly to toe that line.

It’s not even just the COVID stuff, though. Just the simple fact that we are dealing with a 60-game season makes previewing and analyzing a beast that, frankly, I am not used to. We’ve never seen a season with this kind of prepatory stage with three weeks, almost none of which include real games, at a home park before a season. We’ve never seen a season this short, at least in the time that I’ve been watching baseball. Generally speaking history plays a big role in how we guess what will happen in the future, but when there’s no history, figuring out the future becomes even more impossible, which is not a turn of phrase that makes sense. And yet it’s where we are, and anyone who says they have any sort of idea of what will happen this season is lying to you.

All of that being said, as we get ready for the season to start and I get ready to cover it, there will be some sense of normalcy in the coverage because, well, that’s all I know. Obviously context and framing will be different in some areas, but also we have to analyze the on-field stuff like we normally do. Along those lines, I was thinking about the most important players for the Red Sox this season, and beyond the obvious “who the hell knows?” I came to realize that the answer is, frankly, pretty obvious. It’s Nathan Eovaldi, and I really don’t think there’s a particularly close second.

A lot of the reasoning here is pretty obvious, and it all starts with the state of the Red Sox rotation. I believe the official terminology for what the Red Sox rotation is like right now is “poo-like.” It’s like poo, you guys. I’ve already talked about it some this week in my suggestion that they go with piggybacking in the last few spots, which tells you all you need to know. That Eduardo Rodriguez has tested positive for COVID makes things even murkier, but as I said at the top I’m not super comfortable at this point talking about a negative test through that lens, at least not entirely.

The point stands with our without Rodriguez, though. Even if everyone is 100 percent healthy, this rotation stinks. Let’s just be honest about it. The issue for the season is going to be the degree to which it stinks, and that’s where Eovaldi comes in. Beyond Rodriguez, Eovaldi is, in my view, the one guy among the many starting pitching options with a chance to be good. Not a chance to be average, but a chance to be good. Some might argue that Martín Pérez belongs in that group, but I would not be among them. I think he’s frankly pretty bad, but that’s a discussion for another day. Eovaldi is someone I think who has a legitimate chance at being good, which is different than being average and also different from me knowing he’ll be good.

That last part is important to this discussion of most important, which is obviously a subjective designation. Like, I wouldn’t argue if you said Xander Bogaerts or J.D. Martinez is more important because they’re the best hitters and the offense will likely need to carry the team. The difference is I know they’ll be good, or at least I’m about as confident in them being good as I am for any non-Trout player in the game. You can call it the most important X-Factor if you want, the point is that the team needs Eovaldi to be good, which is possible but far from a guarantee. He is the most important player from that pool of Red Sox. I would also argue he has the highest ceiling of those players (though that’s certainly up for debate) and it clearly helps that he is a member of the worst position group on the roster.

As for Eovaldi himself, we’ve already seen both sides of the coin for the righty. We saw him in 2018, which to be honest feels like it’s somehow gotten underrated, an absurd thought for a playoff hero. The narrative has seem to shift into him just being paid for the postseason, though, and he was very good in the regular season as well. He was really solid for the Rays that year then came to Boston and was even better, finishing up the regular season pitching to a 3.23 ERA with a 2.91 FIP and a 3.28 DRA over 10 starts with the Red Sox. And that’s before the postseason. Then, obviously, last season was an unmitigated disaster where he had to pitch out of the bullpen for a good chunk of the season and finished the year with an ERA just below 6.00. Injuries were a major issue, but it’s not like we can just forget about injuries for injury-prone players after a condensed ramp up period.

The point is, we’ve seen what Eovaldi can do when he’s right and we’ve seen what happens when he’s not right. The Red Sox need the right version, which means leaning on that high-velocity cutter, getting swings on pitches out of the zone and not giving up free baserunners. The Red Sox need all the help they can get in the rotation, and Eovaldi is the best chance at a success story compared to 2019 performance. I’ll put his importance this way: There is no scenario I see in which the Red Sox have a good, playoff-bound 2020 if Eovaldi is not an above-average contributor at the top of the rotation.