By Terry Cushman – @cushmanMLB
Three short years ago, everyone raved at the elite talent that would be hitting the free agency market following the 2018 season, specifically pitching. Clayton Kershaw was a perennial Cy Young winner, and perhaps the greatest of this generation. Matt Harvey had just bounced back from Tommy John surgery and pitched his New York Mets into the World Series. Jose Fernandez was exceeding the hype that had followed him into the league, maximized his potential, and was named the starting pitcher for the 2016 National League All Star game in San Diego.
Fast foward to the present… Kershaw agreed to an extension with the Dodgers, but is no where near the caliber pitcher he once was. Matt Harvey lost his girlfriend to Julian Edelman, and then his mind, and then was traded to the Cincinnati Reds for basically nothing. Last but certainly not least, Jose Fernandez snorted coke, got wasted, crashed his boat into a rock jetty, which consequentially took his life, and the lives of two of his friends.
Who are the top remaining pitchers headlining this market? Dallas Keuchel, Patrick Corbin, and thanks to his World Series performance, Nathan Eovaldi.
Corbin is coming off the best season of his career with the Arizona Diamondbacks with a 3.15 ERA. Not to mention an eye popping 246 strikeouts, as well as 200 innings pitched for only the second time in his career. That’s the good.
The bad? Corbin is fairly injury prone with multiple stints on the DL. He has struggled with his command in previous seasons, with a tendency to give up the long ball. I also have some serious concerns as to whether he can pitch effectively in a big market like New York or Boston.
Many Red Sox fans are clamoring for Nathan Eovaldi to be brought back on a new contract. From my own point of view, a two year deal makes the most sense. Unfortunately, the market is starting to suggest his actual value could be as high as four years, $65,000,000.
For a team that is finally shedding itself of Hanley Ramirez’ terrible four year, $88,000,000 contract, should they make another risky signing for a player who has the propensity to fall off a cliff, and has needed two Tommy John surgeries?
Fact is, only days coming into the October playoffs, nobody knew for sure if Eovaldi would even be pitching out of the Red Sox rotation. Beyond his first two starts with the team following the July trade with the Rays, that deal was largely looking like a disappointment. He could not pitch his way out of the fourth or fifth innings, which forced manager Alex Cora to give him a quick hook.
Red Sox fans will forever remember Eovaldi pitching into the 18th inning in game three of the World Series, as well as his brilliance throughout the entire playoff run. But one stellar month does not justify a four year contract. Eovaldi is a career 4.16 pitcher, and that is who he is.
Then you have Dallas Keuchel, who has won a Cy Young, and a World Series ring. He comes from a winning pedigree. However, the former Astro also comes with some concerns.
Keuchel will turn 31 years old on January 1st. Despite having a 3.74 ERA in 2018, he led the league in hits against. Does not throw with a ton of velocity, and has not pitched well in his previous appearances at Fenway Park.
The good news, however, is that if he joins the Red Sox, he will not be pitching against them at Fenway Park. Keuchel also has very good numbers for most of his career against the Yankees in the Bronx, including the 2015 one game wildcard in which he earned the victory.
Unlike any of the remaining free agents, Keuchel is not only proven as a winner, but has proven he can made the needed adjustments to remain one of baseball’s more effective starting pitchers. He has a career ERA of 3.66 in the regular season, and equally importantly a 3.31 ERA in ten post season starts.
With Chris Sale and David Price still atop Boston’s rotation, Keuchel despite being a lefty, will slot in nicely as a number three starter. His market currently projects him to get roughly a four year deal at $84,000,000 ($21M annually) overall. Which only projects to be an extra $4M over Eovaldi’s deal.
David Price and Eduardo Rodriguez are the only two starting pitchers currently with the Red Sox who are locked up long term. Chris Sale and Rick Porcello will both hit free agency after 2019, so it makes a lot of sense to lock up a guy like Keuchel as somewhat of an insurance policy.
At the July 31 trade deadline in 2019, it’ll be fairly easy to go find the next “Nathan Eovaldi,” and not cost many prospects. It’ll be far more difficult to land a Dallas Keuchel type player.
Bring Keuchel to Boston.
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