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Tampa Bay Rays close to signing Nathan Eovaldi

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The hard-throwing righty went 9-8 with a 4.76 ERA in 24 games last season for the Yankees.

New York Yankees v San Diego Padres Photo by Denis Poroy/Getty Images

The Rays are on the verge of adding rotation depth for 2018 as the team is close to a major league deal with oft-injured right-hander Nathan Eovaldi, according to Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times. Eovaldi’s deal would include an option for 2018 when he’s expected to recover from elbow surgery.

If a deal is completed, the Rays will have to add Eovaldi to the 40-man roster and then put him on the 60-day disabled list, Topkin adds. The roster is currently full, therefore somebody will have to be removed to make room for Eovaldi.

Eovaldi, 26, spent the last two seasons with the New York Yankees. In 24 games (21 starts) last season, the Houston, Texas, native went 9-8 with a 4.76 ERA. After just one inning of an August 10, 2016, outing against the Boston Red Sox, Eovaldi left with right elbow discomfort. Days later, an MRI revealed a torn flexor tendon and a partially torn ulnar collateral ligament — requiring surgery for both ailments.

It was the second time in Eovaldi’s career — the first coming as a 17-year-old at Alvin High School — that he underwent Tommy John surgery. The Yankees elected to non-tender Eovaldi as he was set to go through his final round of arbitration.

The fireballing righty will miss all of 2017 but the Rays will hope Eovaldi will make a recovery be a part of their pitching staff next season. In 134 career games (127 starts) between the Yankees, Miami Marlins, and Los Angeles Dodgers, Eovaldi sports a 38-46 record with a 4.21 ERA.

What To Expect

While Eovaldi’s 2016 performance was nothing special, he did show signs of improvement. His average fastball velocity was a career-high 97 mph, per FanGraphs. Eovaldi also posted a career-best 9.3 percent swinging strike rate.

However, Eovaldi’s solid 49.6 percent groundball rate did not help him keep the ball in the yard as he surrendered a career-high 1.7 HR/9. Life as a starter for Eovaldi has been just like his fastball, strong enough to keep giving him a chance but inconsistent enough to warrant concern about his long-term future.

New York Yankees v Minnesota Twins Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

Considering his velocity and injury history, it’s possible that Eovaldi’s future rests in a major league bullpen. The Yankees considered utilizing Eovaldi — who missed the final month of the 2015 season due to elbow discomfort — out of the bullpen in the playoffs. While that never materialized, Eovaldi did make three relief appearances last season as he struggled in the rotation.

“I started as a starter and I want to finish as a starter,” Eovaldi said (via New York Daily News). “I see myself as a starter. I’m not seeing (the bullpen move as permanent) right now. I’m here to help the team and we’re short on guys. I’m ready.”

Looking at the Future

This is not the first time Tampa Bay signed injured pitcher expected to miss a full season a two-year deal with the focus on the following season. In September 2014, the team inked righty Neil Wagner to a two-year deal. Wagner had just undergone TJS and was invited to Spring Training 2016.

The Rays also claimed Chase Whitley from the Yankees in November 2015 after he also underwent TJS. While Whitley did make five appearances last season, his status for the 2016 season was unknown as the time of the claim.

Tampa Bay Rays v Texas Rangers Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images

The Yankees gave reliever David Aardsma (TJS) a two-year deal prior to the 2012 season; he ended up making one appearance that season before being designated for assignment in Spring Training the following season.

Compared to the other righties on this list, Eovaldi’s upside is considerably higher; the Rays will hope a second TJS isn’t a career-derailing obstacle for Eovaldi.