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Why the Yankees should sign Nathan Eovaldi

The Yankees have prioritized upgrading their starting rotation, and Nathan Eovaldi can pitch in the Bronx.

Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

The Yankees front office has made clear that the organization’s number one priority this offseason is to upgrade the starting rotation. General Manager Brian Cashman made the first big move on that front last week, when he acquired left-hander James Paxton from the Seattle Mariners. Although he previously re-signed veteran CC Sabathia to a team-friendly one-year deal, Sonny Gray is on the trade block, so Cashman is expected to acquire at least one more high-end starting pitcher before the winter is over.

The team has shown interest in Patrick Corbin, who is generally regarded as the top free agent starter. New York has also been linked to J.A. Happ, who helped the team nail down the top AL Wild Card berth after coming over from the Blue Jays at the end of July.

Somewhat surprisingly, the Yankees have shown no apparent interest in Nathan Eovaldi — not yet, anyway. The Boston Globe’s Nick Cafardo recently wrote that nine teams emerged as early suitors for the right-hander, but the Yankees weren’t among them. Cafardo added that he expects that to change — and well it should.

Eovaldi’s 3.81 ERA in 2018 was the second-best mark of his MLB career. His 8.2 K/9, 1.6 BB/9, 5.05 K/BB ratio, and 1.13 WHIP were all career bests. What’s remarkable is that Eovaldi didn’t return to action until the end of May, after undergoing Tommy John surgery in August of 2016 while a member of the Yankees.

In his first start in nearly 21 months, Eovaldi hurled six no-hit innings against the Athletics in Oakland. In a game reminiscent of David Cone’s return from his aneurysm 22 years prior, Eovaldi was pulled after throwing 70 pitches — with the only baserunner reaching on a first-inning walk.

As one might expect, Eovaldi experienced some ups and downs as he continued his comeback. His 4.26 ERA in 10 starts with Tampa Bay was rather pedestrian, but Eovaldi really hit his stride after getting dealt to Boston at the end of July. He posted a 3.33 ERA (2.88 FIP) across 54 innings, and held opponents to one earned run or fewer in seven of his 11 starts with the Red Sox.

The veteran kicked it up another notch in the playoffs, pitching to a 1.61 ERA and microscopic 0.81 WHIP over 22.1 innings against three of the best teams in baseball. Eovaldi threw seven innings of five-hit, one-run ball against the Bombers in New York during the Division Series, and then followed by beating the Astros in Game Three of the ALCS in Houston. He also contributed a quartet of stellar relief appearances in high-leverage situations to help the Red Sox win their championship.

One reason for Eovaldi’s success this year was the development of his new cutter, which accounted for nearly one-third of his pitches. We saw glimpses of his potential during his stint with the Yankees, but with the addition of this formidable new weapon, Eovaldi might finally be the finished product we longed to see two years ago. He still features a four-seam fastball, which had the third-highest average velocity in MLB this season at 97.2 mph.

Eovaldi’s biggest selling point may be his proven ability to pitch well in the Bronx. In addition to his dominant performance as an opposing player in front of a raucous and hostile crowd this October, Eovaldi boasts a 3.70 career ERA at Yankee Stadium. That’s nearly a half-run better than his overall mark.

Not everyone thrives pitching in New York. Sadly, Sonny Gray is just the latest example. A.J. Burnett, Javier Vazquez (twice), Carl Pavano, and Jaret Wright arrived in the Big Apple over the last 15 years after success elsewhere, but were unable to perform up to expectations on baseball’s biggest stage. That’s six huge flame-outs in a relatively short period of time.

The Yankees really can’t afford another big disappointment, especially one coming so closely on the heels of the Gray fiasco. They take that risk with just about any free agent currently on the market — except Eovaldi.

Sure, Happ pitched exceptionally well down the stretch for the Yankees last year, but his career peaked at 4.5 WAR in 2016. His production has declined each year since, and dropped to 3.3 in 2018. Entering his age-36 season, it is highly unlikely that Happ will suddenly become the ace the Yankees need. More likely, he’s headed for a continued decline, which is why the Yankees should pass on Happ, as Caitlin Rogers wrote last week.

Eovaldi turns 29 in February, so there’s good reason to believe he still has his best years ahead of him. The same might be said about Corbin, but he hasn’t been battle tested in the tough AL East, nor has he built a track record of success at Yankee Stadium the way Eovaldi has.

Despite these reservations, I think Corbin remains a desirable candidate for the Yankees rotation. If forced to choose between Corbin and Eovaldi, I would go with the latter for the reasons given. I prefer that the Yankees sign both, though. Adding Corbin and Eovaldi to Luis Severino, Masahiro Tanaka, and Paxton would give the team a formidable starting five. It would also push Sabathia to long relief and spot starts, and make him available to step into the rotation when the inevitable injury occurs.

What do you think about the Yankees potentially signing Eovaldi? Would you pick him over Corbin? Or should Cashman sign both? Let us know in the comments section below.