Nathan Eovaldi Well Worth a Shot for the Tampa Bay Rays

He’ll miss all of 2017, but picking up right-hander Nathan Eovaldi on a one-year deal with an option was a shrewd move for a team like the Tampa Bay Rays.

A small-market team such as the Tampa Bay Rays typically has to get a bit creative at times to compete. That means taking flyers on reclamation projects, an exercise the franchise knows well. The latest is former Yankees pitcher Nathan Eovaldi, who the Rays signed to a one-year major league contract with a club option, according to ESPN’s Buster Olney.

The deal will earn Eovaldi $2 million in 2017, but the hard-throwing right-hander will miss the entire season as he recovers from his second Tommy John surgery. The Rays are really signing him in hopes of what he can do upon returning to action in 2018. Per Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times, Eovaldi will also earn $2 million that year if Tampa Bay picks up the option.

Throughout his six-year major league career, Eovaldi has been a classic case of a hurler whose overpowering stuff just never seems to translate into consistent results on the mound. The man has a lot of zip on his fastball: It averaged 97 mph last season and frequently touched triple digits on the radar gun.

With that kind of heat, you would think Eovaldi would be mowing batters down with ease. That has surprisingly not been the case, however. He owns a modest 6.6 K/9 in his career, though last year’s 7.0 K/9 was his second-highest mark. For all his firepower, Eovaldi doesn’t do much to fool opponents and has been quite hittable as a big leaguer (career 9.5 H/9).

In the last two seasons with New York, Eovaldi posted a 4.45 ERA, 1.39 WHIP and 2.45 K/BB ratio over a total of 279 innings. At times it looked like he was fulfilling his potential, such as on April 25 of last year, when he carried a no-hitter through seven-plus innings against the Rangers in Texas. Unfortunately, he just as easily has outings like the one on June 16, 2015, opposite the Marlins, when he recorded only two outs against his former club and served up a whopping eight runs.

The conundrum of Eovaldi has not been unlike that of another talented but maddening Yankees pitcher in Michael Pineda. When his season ended in early August and it became clear Eovaldi would likely need to sit out all of 2017, it was an easy choice for the Yanks to release him in November.

The Rays, however, can afford to play the waiting game more than their AL East counterpart. They have plenty of experience developing pitchers and bringing arms back from Tommy John surgery. Matt Moore, Alex Cobb and another former Yankee in Chase Whitley, to name just a few.

Tampa Bay now has some time and an opportunity to see if they can “fix” Eovaldi. For $2-4 million, it’s not a costly gamble to take. He just turned 27 years old today, so he’s by no means a lost cause either. If he pans out, the Rays have a power arm in their rotation for the 2018 campaign. Depending on where they stand at midseason, he could also turn into an intriguing trade chip if he’s put up decent numbers.

Of course, all of that is contingent on how well Eovaldi comes back from the second major elbow surgery of his still relatively young career. There are certainly no guarantees there. But even if he is unable to put himself back together, it won’t have hurt much for the Rays to try.

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