The New York Yankees delivered a haymaker Tuesday by acquiring late-inning reliever Zach Britton from the Baltimore Orioles, and the Boston Red Sox swung back Wednesday by trading minor league pitcher Jalen Beeks to the Tampa Bay Rays in exchange for hard-throwing right-hander Nathan Eovaldi.
On the surface, acquiring Eovaldi might seem like a minor move by the Red Sox, especially on the heels of the Yankees landing Britton, widely considered the best bullpen arm still available on the trade market. But it’s actually a sneaky good trade for the Red Sox that could pay dividends, much like Boston’s recent addition of first baseman/outfielder Steve Pearce.
If there’s one thing Dave Dombrowski has proved since becoming the Red Sox’s president of baseball operations in August 2015, it’s that he’s well aware of Boston’s roster deficiencies and will take a proactive approach in addressing them midseason. In 2016, he swung a trade for Drew Pomeranz, an All-Star starter, to shore up Boston’s rotation after already acquiring Brad Ziegler to bolster the bullpen. In 2017, he traded for energetic utility man Eduardo Nunez and reliever Addison Reed.
Not every trade works out, but Dombrowski typically wastes little time in identifying areas of need and operating accordingly, and it’s become clear this season the Red Sox could use another starter and reliever in their quest to make a deep playoff run. Hence Wednesday’s trade, which satisfies one of those needs.
Eovaldi isn’t without flaws. He’s already undergone two Tommy John surgeries, doesn’t post huge strikeout numbers and sometimes can be susceptible to home runs. Overall, he’s battled inconsistency throughout his career, although some of that can be attributed to his injury problems.
That said, Eovaldi is a very intriguing pitcher who checks several boxes for the Red Sox: He’s a cheap rental, making just $2 million this season. He throws extremely hard, with only Noah Syndergaard and Luis Severino averaging a higher fastball velocity among qualified starters since the beginning of 2015. And he’s right-handed, something the Red Sox really could use in their left-handed-heavy rotation, especially against the Yankees’ onslaught of right-handed sluggers (namely Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton and Gary Sanchez).
Not to mention, Eovaldi, owner of a respectable career 4.22 ERA and 3.88 FIP, is generating more swings and misses than ever while also improving his groundball-to-flyball ratio. His 8.4 strikeouts and 1.3 walks per nine innings over 10 starts with the Rays this season make for a 6.63 strikeout-to-walk ratio, which is the third-best mark among American League pitchers with at least 50 innings pitched — behind Corey Kluber (7.44) and Justin Verlander (7.04) — and by far the best mark of his career. Eovaldi owns a 4.26 ERA, a 4.28 FIP and a 0.98 WHIP over 57 frames.
No one should expect Eovaldi to arrive in Boston and dominate every fifth day. You’d be setting yourself up for disappointment, because there inevitably will be some lows to accompany whatever highs he provides in a Red Sox uniform. But the Sox are facing several questions in their rotation thanks to Drew Pomeranz’s struggles — which now have sandwiched a disabled list stint — and injuries to Steven Wright and Eduardo Rodriguez. Eovaldi safeguards against the possibility of Wright and/or Rodriguez making a minimal impact from here on out while allowing for a southpaw — either Pomeranz or Brian Johnson — to join Boston’s right-handed-rich bullpen.
And who’s to say Eovaldi, who has spent almost his entire career as a starter, won’t transition to a relief role in October, when the rotation shrinks and spots figure to be occupied by Chris Sale, David Price, Rick Porcello and one other hurler? Eovaldi already sits at around 97 mph as a starter. The thought of his stuff playing up in short stints out of the ‘pen is tantalizing.
The Red Sox probably aren’t done wheeling and dealing ahead of the July 31 trade deadline. They still could use a reliever, as mentioned, and perhaps they’ll even consider second base options due to their limited production from the position in Dustin Pedroia’s absence.
But the Red Sox made a savvy move Wednesday. And they needed to do so after the Yankees landed a crushing blow in the teams’ heavyweight AL East showdown Tuesday by landing Britton.