Over the last few years, I have often considered Nathan Eovaldi to be “the one that got away.” Acquired via trade from the Miami Marlins in the same deal that brought Domingo Germán to the Bronx, Eovaldi was touted as a high-throwing young pitcher with upside, but who had yet to put it all together to become a viable part of the rotation. His Yankees career certainly reflected that reputation, as he posted a 4.45 ERA in 51 appearances (48 starts) across 2015 and 2016 — he was just as likely to shut down an opposing lineup as he was to get knocked out in the first or second inning.
Then a torn UCL ended his 2016 season in early August, and with that, his Yankees career was over. Although the team attempted to re-sign him to a two-year minor league deal after non-tendering him after the season, he ultimately chose a one-year deal with a team option for 2018 with the Tampa Bay Rays, with whom he would make his first start back in the big leagues on May 30, 2018. He would make 10 starts with them before being shipped to the Boston Red Sox at the trade deadline, and unfortunately, became a critical piece of the 2018 World Series championship team (ugh, that still stings to say).
Eovaldi capitalized on that October to ink a four-year, $68 million deal to remain in Boston. His 2019 campaign saw injuries limit him to just 24 ineffective appearances (12 starts), 2021 saw him finish fourth in the Cy Young voting, and both 2020 and 2022 were somewhere in the middle. Yankees fans, of course, will probably have a warped perception of these years — he always seemed to pitch well against the Yankees, especially when the lights were shining brightest — but ultimately, how well he lived up to that deal is up for debate.
Despite having one of the top pitching staffs in 2022, the Yankees have very clearly been active on the pitching market this winter: they’ve been linked to Carlos Rodón since even before Aaron Judge re-signed, and they at least checked in on Justin Verlander and the other big-ticket pitchers that were available this winter. Although nobody in their right mind would place him among this tier, Eovaldi might make sense at the right price should the Yankees fail to reel in Rodón — after all, he’s just one year removed from a monster season in which he led the AL with 5.7 fWAR. (Per Jon Heyman, New York is indeed considering Eovaldi as a backup plan.)
There is, however, one reason to be concerned that Eovaldi is at the end of his peak, which firmly establishes him in that second tier of starters available: his Statcast data.
Yes, Eovaldi doesn’t walk that many hitters. Yes, he gets batters to chase out of the zone. But he also generates a lot of contact, most of it of the hard hit variety, and while he gets a not-insignificant amount of it on the ground (his 47 percent ground ball rate ranked 31st among the 140 pitchers with at least 100 innings last year), that has the potential for disaster in Yankee Stadium. Additionally, his average fastball dropped a full tick last year, from 96.8 to 95.7 mph, and his ability to generate whiffs declined on every pitch except the splitter.
While the combination of these stats does not guarantee that Eovaldi would struggle in pinstripes, they are nonetheless concerning for a pitcher entering his age-33 season. Add on the extensive injury history, and it’s clear to see why his market hasn’t been quite as active as those of the other starting pitchers available.
Eovaldi really isn’t the worst backup option for the Yankees, as he’s a veteran pitcher with big-game experience who can eat innings during the regular season and is more than comfortable pitching out of the bullpen when necessary. Even so, I would be extremely annoyed if he winds up in pinstripes, although that wouldn’t be his fault. If he’s a Yankee, then chances are that Carlos Rodón is not, and well, after bringing back Aaron Judge and going all-in on this current squad, why would you settle for a lesser arm when you can bring in arguably the best arm available?