From a pure on-paper baseball perspective, this is an awesome move. This fills out the Red Sox rotation: Chris Sale, David Price, Rick Porcello, Eduardo Rodriguez, and Nathan Eovaldi. Brian Johnson is still there, too, and he’s a decent “sixth” starter. Also, if Eovaldi’s arm holds up, he’ll be an anchor for the rotation along with the recently-extended Chris Sale after Rick Porcello leaves in free agency - although not a given, it’s very likely he will leave for “greener” pastures.
Let’s look at it as far as projections are concerned. Eovaldi projects for a 3 WAR in 2019 according ot Steamer. That feels about right. A 3.75 ERA, 8.3 K/9 (strikeout rate), and 2.3 BB/9 (walk rate) aren’t ridiculous to expect - although I’ll point out that his career walk rate is 2.74 BB/9. If he keeps the home runs down like he has throughout his career, though, a few more walks doesn’t hurt him that badly.
We’ll say that a “win” or 1 WAR of value is worth $8 million. So, 3 WAR/season would be worth about $24 million on the open market. Of course, Eovaldi has had two Tommy John (elbow ligament) surgeries in his career. So, there is certainly a discount on that injury uncertainty - but that really is true of any pitcher. At only 29 years of age in 2019, we can easily project him on a gentle aging curve
2019: 3 WAR (age 29)
2020: 2.7 WAR (age 30)
2021: 2.4 WAR (age 31)
2022: 2.1 WAR (age 32)
These projections do “guess” that he’s going to wear down as he reaches his age-32 season. But, as we’ve seen in the past, successful comebacks from Tommy John surgeries do tend to help a pitcher’s overall longevity. So, he could be a 3 win pitcher every year, and this contract is an absolute bargain. It’s not insane to think.
Of course, with that basic projection, you’re talking about a pitcher who’s worth 10.2 WAR over four years, or roughly 2.5 WAR. That makes a $16-17 million annual salary still feel slightly like a bargain. So, why is there skepticism?
Simply put, most long-term contracts for pitchers tend to look pretty bad. Look at Jordan Zimmermann, who signed with the Tigers for 5 years and $110 million, after being a very solid pitcher for the Nationals. Eovaldi’s stuff is probably a bit better than Zimmermann’s, but look how far south Zimmermann went. His contract is now an albatross.
Of course, Eovaldi is owed about two-thirds of the money as Zimmermann, and Dombrowski didn’t offer that contract, as he joined the Red Sox a few months before that contract was signed. When Dombrowski signs a player, he feels the risk is worth it. (Miguel Cabrera’s monster mega-deal was forced on him by management in Detroit.) We’ve seen how well J.D. Martinez’s contract is working out so far - and that contract has an opt-out clause that is likely to be used.
Eovaldi’s contract isn’t going to kill the Red Sox, even if he suddenly declines - of which there isn’t any indication right now. This is a move that is made with 2020, 2021, and 2022 in mind. While this guaranteed salary does push the Sox close to their limit with offseason spending, it’s highly likely they don’t resign Kimbrel - and this was probably the better use of money anyway.
While I’m not sure that Eovaldi actually meets those fairly reasonable projections, this is a good deal on paper. Baseball experts agreed that Eovaldi would probably get a four-year deal in the $60 million range because of his age and past results. This isn’t an overpay for a World Series hero. Eovaldi is good and good right now. He’s not old, going into what should be the prime of his career. In fact, in relation to recent deals, even the very solid Patrick Corbin who got a ton from the Nationals, he’s actually a bargain.