Keeping playoff hero Eovaldi a risk Red Sox could afford to take

Kurkjian 'not surprised' by Eovaldi's big payday with Red Sox (1:00)

Tim Kurkjian explains that he was not surprised that the Red Sox brought back Nathan Eovaldi after his heroics during the 2018 postseason. (1:00)

One of my favorite moments of the postseason came when the Red Sox lost Game 3 of the World Series to the Dodgers, the 18-inning game that never ended. Nathan Eovaldi was the losing pitcher after serving up a walk-off home run to Max Muncy. He had already pitched in the first two games but still went six innings in Game 3, throwing 97 pitches and allowing just three hits. If Ian Kinsler doesn't make a throwing error in the bottom of the 13th, the Red Sox win the game and Eovaldi gets the W.

In the clubhouse after the loss, his Red Sox teammates gave him a standing ovation in appreciation of his effort. You knew then the Red Sox stood a good chance to re-sign the free-agent right-hander.

Sure enough, the Red Sox announced Thursday they had signed Eovaldi to a four-year, $67.5 million contract. That $17 million per season price tag lines up with the predicted contract Eovaldi would receive, so the Red Sox didn't retain his services on any kind of discount.

It's also not without a lot of risk, even for a pitcher, given that Eovaldi has two Tommy John surgeries in his past and a career 4.16 ERA. He had his best season in 2018, however, returning in late May after missing all of 2017 after surgery in August of 2016, then dramatically increased his stock with a huge performance in the postseason.

He started twice and pitched four times in relief, showcasing his 100-mph fastball and allowing just 15 hits and four earned runs in 22 1/3 innings against the loaded offenses of the Yankees, Astros and Dodgers. In both the ALDS and ALCS, he started Game 3 of a tied series and pitched well, allowing one run in seven innings against the Yankees and two runs in six innings against the Astros.

The injury history aside, there are several reasons to like Eovaldi's future, and you can make a strong claim that Eovaldi at $67.5 million over four seasons is a better signing than Patrick Corbin at $140 million over six years. Eovaldi, 29, obviously has the big fastball, but also began utilizing a cutter more often, throwing it 32 percent of the time after first unveiling it with the Yankees in 2016. That seemed to help his four-seam fastball, as his swing-and-miss rate with his fastball improved from a career rate of 15 percent to 25 percent.

He also showed improved command with a career-low walk rate of just 4.4 percent. Out of 140 pitchers with at least 100 innings, that was the seventh-lowest walk rate, right up there in Corey Kluber/Justin Verlander territory. So you have a guy who throws 100 and throws strikes, mixes in a cutter, splitter, slider and curveball and you can see why many believe he hasn't quite tapped his potential yet. After all, out of those 140 pitchers, Eovaldi was just middle of the pack -- 67th -- in strikeout rate.

Despite his impressive results out of the bullpen in October and Boston's need for bullpen help -- Craig Kimbrel and Joe Kelly are free agents -- I suspect the Red Sox will view Eovaldi as a starter. He would join a rotation that includes Chris Sale, David Price, Rick Porcello and Eduardo Rodriguez, giving manager Alex Cora maybe the best group of five in the majors right now (especially if Cleveland trades Kluber or Trevor Bauer). In a sense, front offices now have to construct two different teams: one that can win a division over the long 162-game season and one that can win the postseason. For now, Eovaldi still has more value as a starter.

It's also worth noting that the Red Sox are one team you don't hear about wanting to stay under the luxury tax. The Yankees and Dodgers, swimming in a huge revenue stream just like the Red Sox, remained under the cap in 2018. Maybe that's why the Red Sox will get those World Series rings while the Yankees and Dodgers didn't. The Red Sox had an Opening Day payroll of about $233 million last year and were projected to spend about $220 million in 2019 before Eovaldi.

The Yankees currently sit at about $164 million. Your move, Brian Cashman.