Red Sox moving Nathan Eovaldi to closer would be disastrous panic move

Alex Reimer
July 02, 2019 - 10:57 am

The Red Sox have not added a single credible Major League-caliber reliever to their roster since losing both Craig Kimbrel and Joe Kelly to free agency last offseason. As a result, their woefully undermanned bullpen has blown an American League-leading 17 saves, including three within the last nine days. The nadir came Sunday in London, when Marcus Walden, Matt Barnes and Co. allowed the Yankees to score nine times in the decisive seventh inning, expanding the Red Sox’ deficit in the AL East to an insurmountable 12 games. 

And now, to alleviate this season-destroying problem, the Red Sox will move Nathan Eovaldi to the closer position when he returns from the Injured List, according to NESN’s Tom Caron. It is the definition of a panic move, and would only further compound the Red Sox’ issues.

The Red Sox inked Eovaldi to a four-year, $67.5 million contract over the winter, which is the kind of money teams typically pay pitchers to start games. Eovaldi says he entertained multiple suitors, but ultimately signed with the Red Sox, because they said they intend to keep him in the rotation. “There were a lot of teams that reached out, wanted me to be a closer. I view myself as a starter,” Eovaldi explained at the time, per the Boston Globe. “If I had that choice, I still wanted to be a starter.”

Though Eovaldi excelled in the rover role last October –– his magnum opus came when he heroically threw six innings out of the bullpen in Game 3 of the World Series –– it’s far from certain he would even succeed as closer. Despite his 100 mile per hour fastball, Eovaldi only strikes out 6.8 batters per nine innings. That would rank him dead last among all 27 regular closers. 

Eovaldi has also undergone two Tommy John surgeries and missed the last two months with additional elbow issues. The sporadic and high-intensity workload of the bullpen, especially on a team bereft of reliable late-game options, would probably not serve Eovaldi well. 

But most of all, shifting Eovaldi to the bullpen creates a massive hole in the rotation. Since Eovaldi last pitched April 17, his rotation slot has posted a 7.27 ERA. The Red Sox have gone 6-7 in those contests, deploying a pu-pu platter of stiffs such as Ryan Weber, Hector Velazquez and Brian Johnson. 

The motivation for this reported shift may stem from John Henry's apparent decision to not allocate additional resources towards the $232 million Red Sox, which he explained recently to WEEI's Rob Bradford. But it usually costs far more, in terms of prospects and salary, to acquire another starting pitcher opposed to deadline bullpen reinforcements.

That is, unless the Red Sox are content with their makeshift rotation the rest of the way, which would be inexcusable. 

Dave Dombrowski has failed to do his job and bring in competent late-inning arms. The Red Sox should not weaken themselves elsewhere, and put their fifth highest-paid player in jeopardy, in order to cover for his negligence.