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Orioles free agent target: Nathan Eovaldi

Could the Orioles stay in the division and swipe Nathan Eovaldi from the Red Sox?

MLB: Cleveland Guardians at Boston Red Sox Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports

The Orioles signing a blue-chip arm like Justin Verlander or Jacob deGrom may seem slightly more realistic than previous years, but reports still indicate that Baltimore will set its target below the top tier of free agent pitchers. However, Mike Elias and Brandon Hyde are pursuing options that would represent a significant improvement in the rotation next season.

Nathan Eovaldi slots toward the top of pitchers Baltimore could reasonably sign this offseason. Boston acquired Eovaldi as a rental during its 2018 World Series run and kept him on a four-year, $68 million dollar deal. The Red Sox extended Eovaldi a qualifying offer earlier this month, so signing the righty would cost the Orioles their third highest draft pick.

Eovaldi may not generate the same hype as some of the other free agents that received a QO, but few players move the needle like Verlander or deGrom. If the Sox were willing to give Eovaldi nearly $20 million to wear their colors next season, the guy is probably worth a look.

Let’s get the warts out of the way. Eovaldi missed significant time with shoulder and back inflammation last season. He will be 33 years old on Opening Day and has two Tommy John surgeries on record. Eovaldi lost a tick on the four-seam fastball (95.7 MPH), but it remains to be seen whether the velocity dip stemmed from an injury.

Eovaldi still delivered a 6-3 record and 3.87 ERA in 109.1 innings last season. He posted a minuscule 4.3 percent walk rate while holding opponents below a .200 average on both the curveball and splitter.

The Orioles saw Eovaldi at his best last season. The righty limited Baltimore to three hits in seven shutout innings at the end of April and went the distance in a complete-game victory against the O’s in May.

Both outings were indicative of the type of pitcher Eovaldi can be. He has plenty of experience pitching in the AL East and would likely benefit from a much deeper wall in left field.

He may hold some injury risk, but a healthy Eovaldi can eat innings at a high level. He made 32 starts and pitched 182.2 innings in 2021 with a 3.75 ERA. Eovaldi would represent a statistical improvement over former Orioles starter Jordan Lyles while hopefully filling a similar role.

Eovaldi would replace Lyles as the veteran in the rotation while bringing additional postseason experience. He made multiple Opening Day starts with the Red Sox, and should provide a steady hand during a playoff push.

The qualifying offer and injuries last season make Eovaldi an affordable option. MLB Trade Rumors projected a two-year deal worth $34 million, although Eovaldi has already received a multi-year offer to stay with Boston.

Swiping Eovaldi from the Red Sox could make things even sweeter for Baltimore. The Orioles have been mentioned as a suitable home for the starter and could potentially win him over with a third-year option or a few extra million.

Eovaldi’s low walk rate and five-pitch arsenal should help offset any drop in velocity as he enters his mid-30s. He would immediately provide credibility to an inexperienced Baltimore rotation with 11 postseason appearances under his belt.

Eovaldi has the potential to perform like a top of the rotation starter without being compensated like one. A two-year deal requires less commitment than the four-year contracts projected for Taijuan Walker or Jameson Taillon, and signing Eovaldi would not restrict Baltimore from adding additional free agents or even another starting pitcher to the mix.

Eovaldi and his agent are likely holding out for a better offer while mulling an eventual reunion with the Red Sox. Boston knows Eovaldi’s health situation better than anyone, so other suitors may take comfort in the Sox willingness to offer multiple years. Boston remains the only team capable of signing Eovaldi without losing draft pick compensation.

Good teams begin the season with more than five starting pitchers. The Orioles could decide Eovaldi is worth the bet while still bracing for any potential injuries. Free agency comes down to risk/reward, and Eovaldi certainly represents an interesting case this offseason.