According to NESN’s Tom Caron, the Boston Red Sox will use Nathan Eovaldi exclusively as a closer when he returns from the injured list. Eovaldi, of course, was one of Boston’s most important pieces on the 2018 Red Sox and signed a four-year, $67.5 million contract in free agency. When healthy, Eovaldi is the third-best pitcher in the lineup and throwing him in the bullpen makes the Red Sox worse while actually putting Eovaldi more at-risk for injury.
Nathan Eovaldi Should Not Be Red Sox Closer
No matter how bad the bullpen is, the Red Sox need to keep Eovaldi in the starting rotation. Starters are more important than relievers, and the Red Sox don’t have a good option for the fifth starters spot. During Eovaldi’s absence, the team has used Brian Johnson, Hector Velazquez, Ryan Weber, and even Josh Smith as the fifth starter. This, predictably enough, hasn’t gone well, as none of these players are major league caliber arms.
The only possible fit in knuckleballer Steven Wright, and even that’s a stretch. Wright hasn’t maintained health since 2016 and breaks down when given a large workload. Keeping him in the bullpen is the only way he stands a chance at surviving the regular season. Additionally, Wright’s a knuckleballer, so you never know what you’re going to get.
This means the Red Sox will have to acquire a starting pitcher at the trade deadline. Starting pitchers are inherently more valuable than relievers, which means the Red Sox will need to part with some of their better prospects. Players like Greg Holland wouldn’t cost much to acquire, but the club might have to part with a top organizational prospect like Bobby Dalbec to get a starting pitcher.
There is a chance that Eovaldi simply isn’t healthy enough to return to the starting rotation. If this is the case, then putting him in the bullpen isn’t the worst idea in the world. The Red Sox did something similar with David Price in 2017, and the lefty helped solidify Boston’s bullpen down the stretch.
However, there are reasons to believe that putting Eovaldi in the bullpen would actually increase his risk of injury. Eovaldi has a well-documented history of elbow injuries, as the righty has had two Tommy John surgeries throughout his career. Even though he’ll throw fewer innings as a reliever, he’ll end up pitching more days. Pitching one out of every five days with a regulated recovery cycle could actually be easier on his arm than pitching three out of five days on a somewhat unpredictable basis.
Truthfully, this probably isn’t the Red Sox year. If Eovaldi truly cannot pitch in the rotation, the best thing to do is let him rest up until he’s 100%. Putting Eovaldi in the bullpen is a last-ditch move made by an organization desperately trying to mask a fundamentally flawed depth chart. Instead of trying to avoid the inevitable, the Red Sox should learn from their mistakes and go all-in on making the 2020 Red Sox as competitive as possible.