Tampa Bay Rays

Nathan Eovaldi to Rays: Latest Contract Details, Comments, Reaction

NEW YORK, NY - JULY 24:  Nathan Eovaldi #30 of the New York Yankees pitches in the first inning against the San Francisco Giants at Yankee Stadium on July 24, 2016 in the Bronx borough of New York City.  (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
Mike Stobe/Getty Images
Joseph ZuckerFeatured ColumnistFebruary 14, 2017

The Tampa Bay Rays took a flier on Nathan Eovaldi with a one-year deal that includes an option for a second year, the team announced on Tuesday:

ESPN's Buster Olney first reported a deal was in place on Sunday.

The chances Eovaldi pitches in 2017 are slim after he underwent Tommy John surgery last August. It was the second time he had the procedure, with the first coming when he was in high school.

The Rays are paying Eovaldi this year in the hope he can be a cost-effective starting option for them in 2018, which is a sensible gamble for a small-market franchise such as Tampa Bay.

Eovaldi had the worst year of his career in 2016. He set personal worsts in ERA (4.76) and FIP (4.98). Among pitchers who logged at least 120 innings, he tied for ninth in most home runs allowed per nine innings (1.66).

Declining velocity is generally a telltale sign a pitcher needs elbow surgery, but that's not necessarily the case for Eovaldi. According to Brooks Baseball, his fastball averaged 97.99 mph in 2016, up slightly from 2015 (97.58). Granted, his fastball velocity fell from 98.16 mph in July 2016 to 96.76 mph during his two starts in August.

Eovaldi said he was surprised to hear the extent of the damage in his elbow after getting it checked out, per MLB.com's Nick Suss:

It wasn't a particular pitch or something like that. I just felt a little pinch every time I threw a fastball. After the first inning [in his most recent start], my velocity was down a little bit, but I didn't feel like there was anything to really worry about. But then I got the MRI, and when I got the results, I was really surprised to see that I had torn the flexor tendon off the bone and damaged my UCL.

Given his injury history, signing Eovaldi is an obvious risk for Tampa Bay. The structure of his deal, though, provides the team with plenty of cover.

In the event they're not confident in Eovaldi this time next year, the Rays can decline the option and only be out $2 million. If he makes a full recovery, then Tampa Bay will have paid roughly $4 million for one season of a proven starting pitcher—a more than reasonable investment.

In comparison, Andrew Cashner is coming off an underwhelming 2015 campaign and a brutal 2016 season. He received a one-year, $10 million deal from the Texas Rangers.

Should Eovaldi deliver resembling his 2014 and 2015 performance levels, when he amassed 6.1 combined WAR, he could either be a solid rotation option for the Rays or a nice trade chip if they're not a contending team.

It's understandable why fans may not get excited about a player acquisition that won't pay any dividends until 2018 at the earliest. But adding Eovaldi is a low-risk move that could net a healthy return for the Rays down the road.

 

Stats are courtesy of FanGraphs unless otherwise noted.

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