The Padres and Angels are both seeking starting pitching, with the two sides showing interest in top remaining free agent starter Nathan Eovaldi, according to Rob Bradford of WEEI. Bradford adds that one other unnamed AL East team is interested in Eovaldi. Meanwhile, Robert Murray of Fansided reports that the Padres are also among the teams “strongly in the mix” for free agent Johnny Cueto.
The Angels have a fairly solid five-man rotation on paper, but since Shohei Ohtani’s been around they’ve tended to opt for a six-man rotation. As such, the addition of Eovaldi to stabilize the rotation makes plenty of sense. Ohtani and Tyler Anderson look set to occupy the first two spots in their rotation, with Reid Detmers, Patrick Sandoval and Jose Suarez rounding out the five. That young trio has shown plenty of promise and the addition of a veteran like Eovaldi would give them a very formidable group of starters to go into the 2023 season with. Even if they don’t wind up signing Eovaldi, the Halos are keen to add more pitching, per Rhett Bollinger of MLB.com, and certainly could make a play for some of the other remaining options on the market.
For the Padres, they currently have Joe Musgrove, Yu Darvish and Blake Snell locked in to three spots in their rotation. They’ve indicated that they plan to start Nick Martinez and new signing Seth Lugo in their rotation in 2023, which would make the need for a starter less obvious. However, Lugo has been far more effective as a reliever over his career and hasn’t made a start since 2020, while Martinez only made ten last year, so there’s a little bit of uncertainty there.
As for the unnamed AL East team, the Yankees would appear an unlikely suitor given their needs in left-field and recent signing of Carlos Rodon while the Blue Jays signed Chris Bassitt and don’t seem to be focused on the rotation. Hitters appear to be more of a pressing need for the Rays, who signed Zach Eflin earlier in the off-season and have the makings of a strong rotation as things stand. That leaves the Orioles – who have been vocal about wanting to add starting pitching this winter – and a return to the Red Sox – who have an uncertain rotation picture – as the obvious options. Bradford’s report does note that the Red Sox do not appear to be the front-runner for Eovaldi, although that doesn’t preclude them from being the AL East team interested.
With most of the starting pitchers off the board, Eovaldi is the top remaining option. MLBTR ranked him as the 23rd best free agent this winter, and predicted a two-year, $34MM contract. He’s shown tremendous consistency over the past three years in Boston, pitching to ERAs of 3.72, 3.75 and 3.87 over 340 innings. Shoulder and back issues restricted him to 109 1/3 innings in 2022, but he’s been a dependable starter when fit. In 2022, he struck out batters at slightly above-average 22.4% clip against a walk rate of 4.4%.
The Red Sox did offer Eovaldi a qualifying offer at the end of the season, so any team (outside of Boston) that signed him would be giving up draft picks. The Padres already forfeited their second and fifth-highest picks in the 2023 draft, as well as $1MM in international bonus money, for signing Xander Bogaerts. So if they added Eovaldi, they’d be giving up their third and sixth-highest picks in the draft as well. The Angels would have to forfeit their second-highest pick, as well as take a $500K hit in international bonus money.
In San Diego’s case, it would seem to make it more likely they’d go after someone like Cueto, who wouldn’t require any draft pick forfeiture. Of course, the Padres are squarely in win-now mode and may view draft picks as a necessary cost to put their team over the top, but given Eovaldi will surely command a multi-year deal with a strong AAV, as well as the draft pick forfeiture and their less-obvious need for rotation help, it’d be a surprise if they won a bidding war for the veteran’s services.
Instead, Cueto could make a lot of sense to deepen their starting pitching stocks. Cueto, 37 in February, tossed 158 1/3 innings of 3.35 ERA ball for the White Sox in 2022, his best season since finishing sixth in NL Cy Young voting for the Giants back in 2016. While his strikeout rate was the worst of his 15-year big league career, Cueto offset that by posting a strong 5.1% walk rate, and keeping the ball in the park far more often. That came after posting a 4.59 ERA over 194 innings over the previous three seasons.
It seems likely Cueto will land a one-year deal, which could help the Padres as a means to insure them against Lugo and/or Martinez needing to be moved back to the bullpen. He also brings a wealth of experience and won a World Series with Kansas City in 2015. That could well appeal to a San Diego team determined to take the next step and win a championship.