Nathan Eovaldi emerged as a dangerous, versatile weapon for the Red Sox in October, dominating opposing hitters as both a starter and late-inning reliever.
The right-hander's performance was a huge factor in Boston's World Series championship, but will Eovaldi's newfound flexibility help his cause when he hits the free-agent market later this week?
"I think it helps some," one American League executive said. "He's going to do well."
A National League executive seemed more skeptical that Eovaldi's relief work would have much of an impact on his next contract.
"I would expect teams to value him as a starting pitcher," the NL exec said.
That's probably good news for Eovaldi, given that starters tend to rake in more dollars than relievers. Wade Davis was the top reliever on last year's market, signing a three-year deal worth about $17.3 million per year. The previous year, Albertin Chapman, Kenley Jansen and Mark Melancon signed multiyear deals worth between $15.5 million and $17.2 million per season.
By comparison, Alex Cobb -- a mid-rotation starter who had topped the 150-inning mark only twice in his career -- inked a four-year, $57 million pact last offseason, a deal with an average annual value of $14.25 million. A year earlier, Rich Hill signed a three-year, $48 million deal as he was entering his age-37 season.
"In the past, the starter/reliever versatility might have helped because it could minimize risk; if need be, he could become a closer at some point," said an agent who does not represent Eovaldi. "But there are very few right-handed pitchers on the market, so he's going to get paid as a starter."
One possible exception would be a pitching-rich team that is thinking long-term, viewing Eovaldi as a starter during the regular season and a potential swing-man or bullpen weapon come October.
"If a team like the Nationals were to sign him, and they had Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and someone they viewed as a No. 3, they could possibly think ahead," the agent said. "But that seems like a farfetched scenario."
Eovaldi will be one of the more sought-after pitchers in the coming weeks and months, with some projecting him as the No. 2 starter on the market behind Arizona left-hander Patrick Corbin.
Other free-agent starters of note include Dallas Keuchel, J.A. Happ and Charlie Morton, though all three of them are already in their 30s. Both Corbin and Eovaldi are heading into their age-29 season, a more attractive option -- though likely a more expensive one -- as teams gauge the market.
Eovaldi made 11 starts and one long-relief appearance for the Red Sox after being acquired prior to the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline, pitching to a 3.33 ERA over 54 innings. Following a sparkling debut on July 29, things fell apart in August, as he went 1-3 with a 5.67 ERA in six starts.
Down the stretch, Eovaldi was superb, pitching to a 1.35 ERA in five September appearances, giving Boston the confidence that he would be a major contributor come October. But as good as he was, nobody could have predicted the ways he would be helping the Red Sox.
Eovaldi dominated the Yankees in Game 3 of the AL Division Series, holding his former team to one run over seven innings to help the Red Sox take control of that series. He followed that up with six strong innings of two-run ball in Game 3 of the AL Championship Series against the Astros, then recorded four crucial outs in Game 6, handing the ball off to Craig Kimbrel to close out that series.
Manager Alex Cora, knowing he wouldn't start Eovaldi in the World Series until at least Game 4, deployed the hard-throwing righty out of the bullpen in each of the first two games against the Dodgers.
Eovaldi fired a perfect eighth inning each time, helping Boston seize a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven series with a fastball that registered between 99 mph-100 mph and a refined arsenal of secondary pitches that have helped him evolve and improve over the past year.
Then, of course, there was Eovaldi's gutsy effort in Friday's 18-inning Game 3, in which he took over in the 12th inning, allowing only one unearned run over six innings before Player Page for Max Muncy hit a walk-off home run. Eovaldi took the loss in the game, though if not for Ian Kinsler's misplay in the 13th, the pitcher likely would have walked off the field with a win and the Red Sox holding a 3-0 lead in the World Series.
One executive projected a three- or four-year deal worth about $18 million per year for Eovaldi, noting that his injury issues -- he's undergone Tommy John surgery twice in his career, most recently in 2016 -- would "hold him back from real length."
Then again, as the agent pointed out, it's rare these days to see many pitchers land contracts for more than four years.
"Who is a candidate for more than four years anymore?" the agent said. "I think he gets three years. Some team would rather pay him more dollars than give him a fourth year."