The Red Sox certainly need to invest in their bullpen, but this isn’t the right way to go about it.
When Nathan Eovaldi returns from the Injured List, perhaps as soon as next week, he’ll be plucked from the rotation and put in the ‘pen. Yesterday Dave Dombrowski told reporters in Toronto it’ll probably be in a traditional closer’s role.
This is one of the most desperate moves in recent memory. Here are five reasons Eovaldi closing makes no sense:
1. A new wrench in Nate’s routine
First things first, let’s take the player’s arm into consideration.
With serious medical issues — two Tommy John surgeries and back-to-back seasons with loose bodies in his elbow — is it really wise to ask the flamethrower to pitch more often? It’s an entirely different workload in the bullpen, and not always an easier one.
Consider how difficult it was for Joe Kelly to transition from starter to reliever. Kelly wasn’t able to throw on back-to-back days for most of 2017 because his body hadn’t adapted to the new stress placed on it. And that was with a clean bill of health.
Throwing with max effort multiple days a week could end badly. After an injury-filled first half, nobody knows how Eovaldi’s arm will respond to the new assignment.
2. There’s no proven track record
Eovaldi has been lionized for his Game 3 effort in Los Angeles. Deservedly so. Before allowing an 18th inning walk-off homer, Eovaldi went to the mound and picked up the ball for six straight scoreless innings — which really sounds more like starting, doesn’t it?
Beyond the small sample size in the 2018 postseason, Eovaldi has made eight relief appearances. He’s been in the league for eight seasons. It’s be one thing to roll the dice on him as the closer if he’d done it well in the past, but the fact is nobody knows how his stuff will play out of the ‘pen.
3. The 5th spot has been crippling
In Eovaldi’s absence, his spot in the rotation has been an absolute mess. There have been five different spot starters and none stuck.
Darwinzon Hernandez was too erratic, Ryan Weber and Josh Smith were both hit hard, Brian Johnson has been too often unavailable, and Hector Velazquez has posted a 5.04 ERA as a starter.
“We had meetings in spring training where we had some staff members who said, ‘Why don’t we just put Eovaldi back in the bullpen and let him close games for us?’” Dombrowski told reporters in Toronto. “My response at that point was that we think he could comfortably do it, but we needed him as a starter at the time.”
How is that need any different now than it was in February? Velazquez has only made it to the fifth inning in one of his starts.
Is this going to turn into an opener for a bullpen game, when the bullpen is the very thing the Red Sox are hoping to improve? It feels more like punting every fifth game.
4. What’s the answer down the road?
When he signed a four-year, $68 million contract this offseason, Eovaldi wasn’t penciled into the No. 5 slot. He was supposed to be Boston’s No. 3.
So let’s play this one out long term. Say the Red Sox wind up in the Wild Card Game and Chris Sale wins it. David Price obviously gets Game 1 of the ALDS.
Now what? Are you throwing Rick Porcello (5.07 ERA) or Eduardo Rodriguez (4.79) in Game 2? If he comes back healthy, Eovaldi is a far better option than either.
5. No CBT mandate, no excuses
The only logical explanation is that Dombrowski needs to stay under the highest luxury tax threshold and can’t add any more payroll, but the president of baseball operations shot that down yesterday.
“We have the highest payroll in baseball now, $246 [million], nobody has said you can’t exceed that, but you also have to be realistic,” Dombrowski said. “There’s some fiscal responsibility you always have based on where you are. I would like ideally to stay under 246 but we wanted to last year and we went over 246.”
Dombrowski also cited draft pick penalties. Last season the Red Sox dropped from No. 33 to 43 overall because they exceeded the threshold. The draft is 40 rounds.
Another shortsighted solution to a long-term problem, Eovaldi isn’t the answer in the Red Sox bullpen. There’s too much collateral damage. Trading for a proven high-leverage arm is the only real one.
Chris Mason is a Red Sox beat writer for the Eagle-Tribune and CNHI Sports Boston. Email him at email@example.com, and follow him on Twitter at @ByChrisMason