Offseason: Red Sox, Twins, Phillies Make Savvy Moves on Thursday

Thursday was an exceptionally busy day around the league, as we saw a trio of major-league signings and another very solid move out of the National League East.

The big news was the Boston Red Sox signing of Nathan Eovaldi on a four-year contract worth $68 million. Fellow Baseball Essential correspondent Jason Kelly wrote an excellent piece on the matter upon the announcement of the deal that can be viewed here. The move makes sense for the Red Sox, but obviously carries a rather significant amount of risk.

Based on Eovaldi’s performance down the stretch run and into the postseason, on top of the high acquisition cost in Jalen Beeks, it makes plenty of sense that the Red Sox would have interest in a reunion. Furthermore, after a successful return in 2018, his age 28 season, that included a walk rate of 1.62 walks per nine innings and an average fastball velocity of 97.5 MPH, there’s legitimate reason to be encouraged. That being said, his injury history consisting of a pair of Tommy John surgeries and his tendency to be a bit inconsistent, could be cause for some concern. Despite a solid 3.81 ERA overall, he allowed four or more runs in seven of his 22 regular season starts in 2018.

This could become a bigger problem as he gets older, and loses some zip on the fastball, or if he falls victim to further injury. Based on his relative youth, Eovaldi could be in line to receive another significant contract at the conclusion of this one, as he will re-enter the free agent market right before he turns 33, which could give him more incentive to do whatever is necessary to sustain strong results.

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The Minnesota Twins made a pair of excellent signings on Thursday with a pair of recently non-tendered infielders joining their roster. The first and more notable addition is none other than Jonathan Schoop. Just a year removed from a performance that garnered American League Most Valuable Player Award consideration, as he finished 12th-place in voting, Schoop found himself on the free agent market after a lackluster season spent between Baltimore and Milwaukee, in which he slashed a cumulative .233/.266/.416. Schoop will earn $7.5 million guaranteed with a collection of incentives that could bring the figure up to $7.9 million:

  • $50,000 for 500 plate appearances
  • $25,000 for making an All Star appearance
  • $25,000 for a Gold Glove
  • $100,000 for an MVP win, $75,000 for 2nd place, $50,000 for 3rd place and $25,000 for a 4th through 6th place finish
  • $100,000 for the World Series MVP award
  • $50,000 for the AL Championship Series MVP award
  • $50,000 for Comeback Player of the Year

This deal is a savvy one for the Twins. While I certainly wouldn’t expect a return to his 2017 form, his batting average on balls in play (BABIP) was a very low .261 last season. This being the case, my projections have the 27-year-old slashing .265/.300/.455 with 23 homers over 137 games. While it wouldn’t hurt for him to take a few more pitches, this could very well turn out to be quite the bargain for the Twins. Schoop will become a free agent at season’s end, meaning that he could be one of the hottest trade chips on the market if the Twins are unable to compete in 2019.

As for the 26-year-old Ronald Torreyes, I have spoken very highly of him in the past. He brings with him contact ability, defensive versatility and above all, one of the most well-respected clubhouse personalities in the league. He fell victim to the insane depth of the 2018 New York Yankees, but had served as a pivotal bench player in 2016 and 2017. Throughout his career with the Yanks, he hit .281/.308/.374. His new contract with the Twins is an arbitration contract, meaning that it isn’t fully guaranteed, but assuming he breaks camp with the club he will earn $800,000 in 2019 and can be retained through the 2022 season.

Finally, the Philadelphia Phillies made an excellent move on Thursday evening acquiring lefty reliever Jose Alvarez from the Los Angeles Angels in exchange for righty reliever Luis Garcia. Both guys are arbitration eligible with very similar amounts of service time, although Alvarez is a year and a half younger.

I’m genuinely shocked that the Phillies were able to pull this deal off, as Alvarez has been one of the more consistent relievers in the league over the past four seasons. While I would expect a bit of regression in 2019 based on the fact that his home run to fly ball ratio (HR/FB) was 5.1% in 2018 compared to a career rate of 9.5%, the fact that the Phillies were able to acquire a reliever coming off of a 2.71 ERA, 3.05 fielding independent pitching season in exchange for a guy who would have probably been a roster casualty come spring training is absolutely astounding.

Alvarez typically sits in the low 90’s with his fastball and sports a well above-average slider and workable tertiary pitches including a change and a cutter. Despite the relative lack of velocity, he still logged strikeouts at a rather significant 8.43 per nine innings in 2018. He should be used in a set up capacity, as he doesn’t carry any obvious splits.

This deal could also foreshadow a possible trade of Adam Morgan. The Phillies have a deep bullpen including Seranthony Dominguez, Tommy Hunter, Pat Neshek, Edubray Ramos, Hector Neris, Victor Arano, James Pazos, and Juan Nicasio. Prior to the swap, the Phillies only had three left-handed relievers on the 40-man roster: Morgan, Pazos, and a young reliever named Austin Davis. Prior to Thursday’s deal, I had expected Pazos and Morgan to serve as the team’s lefties while Davis was the first promotion upon necessity. This trade could make Morgan expendable.

I like Morgan, and believe that he has the stuff to be an excellent reliever, but the Phillies’ bullpen is so crowded that he would have never been given the opportunity to see any high leverage innings. A trade could do him extremely well, as he’s very strong groundball pitcher who sits in the mid 90’s. He saw his average fastball velocity jump from 91.4 in 2016 to 94.5 in 2017, which was sustained in 2018, giving him some level of likelihood to find success in a lefty set-up role.

As for Garcia, the Phillies signed him out of the independent leagues in 2013. Despite the dreadful bottom line results from 2018 including a 6.07 ERA, his peripherals all suggest that he should improve going into the 2019 season, as he posted a 3.51 FIP while hitters logged a .354 BABIP. He also struck out 9.98 per nine compared to just 3.52 BB per nine. Another reason for Angels fans to have some hope is the fact that his average velocity has climbed every season, and sat at a rather astounding 97.8 in 2018. Garcia had been the second longest tenured player on the Phillies, as he made his debut on July 10, 2013. The only player ahead of him is Cesar Hernandez, who debuted about a month earlier on May 29, 2013.

Despite the encouraging peripherals on Garcia, I give the Phillies an edge on the deal based on need and price. While Garcia may turn in a great 2019, keep in mind that even without this deal, it seems exceptionally unlikely that he would have been included on the Phillies roster come Opening Day. While it’s not a total loss for the Angels, I think they could have gotten more production from Alvarez, or at least more in return, especially seeing as how their only lefty reliever remaining on the 40-man roster is Williams Jerez.

Only a few days left until the Winter Meeting commence, and with the way the market has flowed thus far, it should be interesting.

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