Welcome back to Free Averency, in which our own Avery Hamel takes a look at all of the Sox in-house free agents ahead of the crucial 2022-23 offseason. Previously, she looked at Michael Wacha and J.D. Martinez. Today, she examines rotation mainstay Nate Eovaldi.
In the last year of his four-year, $68 million contract with the Boston Red Sox, Nathan Eovaldi was still able to amass 109 innings pitched, even after being shut down for a month-and-a-half towards the end of the season. Eovaldi finished with a 3.87 ERA, 2.73 FIP, and 1.65 BB/9: the third-lowest mark of his career. The problem for him in 2022, though, was the increase in long balls, as he gave up one whole additional home run per nine innings from the following year. Although 2021 was one of the best performances of his career, a full-run increase was very dramatic for Eovaldi, who has a history of not allowing many home runs.
All in all, Eovaldi still proved to be a valuable piece of Boston’s rotation in 2022, finishing with the second-best marks in ERA and xFIP on the team and collecting 1.5 bWAR.
Considering these marks, what should Boston do regarding Eovaldi’s pending free agency? Eovaldi has been a “fan-favorite” since joining the team in late 2018, and he has a track record of being a good and consistent pitcher. In order to answer these questions, let’s take a look at some comparable pitchers across the league (according to Baseball Savant’s affinity system).
2018 Joe Musgrove:
Although he was still arbitration eligible in 2018, Musgrove just recently signed an extension with the Padres that begins following this season (his last as an arbitration-eligible player). This five-year, $100 million extension truly speaks to Musgrove’s prowess as a young pitcher in the game. But before this in 2018 as a 25-year-old starter with Pittsburgh, Musgrove had a very similar season to Eovaldi’s 2022. He posted a 4.06 ERA (3.37 xERA), 3.59 FIP (3.92 xFIP), and 1.2 bWAR in 115.1 IP in a season where he too had multiple trips to the injured list.
After this performance, Musgrove got an $11,500 raise in his arbitration salary, and the following year upped his contract total to $2.8 million with a similar year minus the injuries.
Curiously enough, Eovaldi does not have many accurate affinity ratings past this— I’d presume due to time missed with injury. However, Spotrac provides some comparable players based on age, contract status, and statistics that we can take a look at to better estimate Eovaldi’s future contract.
These statistical lines are made from the starters two years before signing the contract.
So with these numbers available for comparison, let’s estimate what a possible contract might look like for Eovaldi this winter.
Right now, Nathan Eovaldi’s AAV is $17 million (compared to Hyun-Jin Ryu’s $20 million, Marcus Stroman’s $23.6 million, and Madison Bumgarner’s $17 million). Luckily, Spotrac also provides a base calculated value for Eovaldi as well by adjusting the above contracts if they were signed at Eovaldi’s age of 32 and performing a linear regression. This puts Eovaldi’s contract value at ~$16.6 million. Although this value is not adjusted to include market value and other free agents from his class, I think it is a rather accurate number. Right now, Spotrac has Eovaldi ranked as the No. 22 starting pitcher in the league, which would increase this AAV number slightly for his next contract.
With this number in place, the next question is the number of years that Eovaldi would be looking to sign for. He is top-10 in the class of free-agent starting pitchers, and plenty of teams should be interested in adding him after he placed fourth in Cy Young voting in 2021, an uninjured season. That being said though, I don’t think Eovaldi will sign for anything much higher than his current $17 million AAV.
Considering his age, the most probable option for Eovaldi would be for him to sign a two or three-year contract. With this in mind, the most likely contract that I can predict would be about three years, ~$50 million.
What should the Red Sox do?
With the free agents that are leaving, the Red Sox have potentially $121.5 million coming off the books to play with this winter. Eovaldi should definitely get an offer back from the Red Sox. Similar to Wacha, Eovaldi is a stronghold in the middle of the rotation and will be a hot commodity on the market.
Because of this, it is possible that the Red Sox may offer Eovaldi a qualifying offer of $19 million (as is also possible with J.D. Martinez). Although this number is over Eovaldi’s slated $16.7 million market value, it is likely that he is looking for a multi-year deal, meaning he would be much less likely to accept a one-year deal from Boston even with this higher price tag. Plus, by offering this the Red Sox would ensure the addition of a compensatory draft pick if Eovaldi does leave in free agency.
Outside of this, idea, though I think the Red Sox should seriously consider bringing Eovaldi back on an offer similar to the three-year, $50 million deal that I discussed prior. They are thin on pitching, especially starting pitching, and Eovaldi’s presence as a team leader is similarly unmatched.
What should the Red Sox do with Nathan Eovaldi?
This poll is closed
Offer a ~3-year deal for around $50 million
Give him the qualifying offer
Let him walk