Last offseason, Tyler Chatwood was notably young for a free agent (28), possessed a nasty set of pitches, was a two-time Tommy John patient, and left a lot of teams dreaming on his upside.
The Cubs were the team that pounced most aggressively, splurging on a three-year, $38 million deal that surpassed pundit expectations for a guy who’d never really put it all together in Colorado, and who hadn’t even received a qualifying offer.
The bet made a lot of sense when you considered Chatwood’s raw stuff, his huge spin rate, and his top tier performance outside of Coors Field. Of course, the risk with Chatwood was always a lack of control, and that went completely off the rails in his first year with the Cubs. His eye-popping 19.6% walk rate was the highest for a starter with at least 100 innings in the last 30 years.
You could say that no one would could reasonably projected *THAT* level of yips, but then, there’s a reason Chatwood was viewed as far from a sure thing, and some level of wildness and mechanical oddities had preceded him. This was part of the risk the Cubs took. Now, it’s an open question whether he’ll even be given a shot to make starts for the Cubs next year in just the second year of his deal.
I mention this against the backdrop of another 28-year-old free agent starter who possesses a nasty set of pitches, is a two-time Tommy John patient, and currently has a lot of teams dreaming on his upside: Nathan Eovaldi.
Nick Cafardo reports that Eovaldi is already being pursued by at least nine teams: the Brewers, Phillies, Braves, Angels, Red Sox, White Sox, Blue Jays, Padres, and Giants. (Don’t expect to see the Cubs in pursuit, given their seven-ish starting options, including the recent re-up with Cole Hamels.) Even granting his uneven career before surgery, and the small sample of his comeback season in 2018 (an ERA and FIP about 11-13% better than league average over 111.0 innings), the dude is going to get a significant contract, and his agent will no doubt point to Chatwood’s deal as the absolute floor.
Like Chatwood, Eovaldi has had some solid seasons in the past and offers a number of peripherals to which you could point and say “yes! That! That’s who he REALLY is!”, but he also was relied upon heavily in the postseason by the Red Sox in his first year back from a second Tommy John surgery.
Eovaldi is not the same guy as Chatwood, but he does come with a lot of the same risk-reward calculus baked into his young, but worn arm. I’m not saying I’m glad the Cubs are not in a position to pursue Eovaldi – it’s always fun to dream on a great fastball – but it is definitely different to be observing this process from the outside, with so many teams/fan bases assured only of the upside and not the risk.
It’s pretty much exactly how too many of us were about the Chatwood pursuit and signing. Oops.
Now the Cubs just have to hope there’s a team out there that wants to take a second chance on Chatwood (for much, much less than the full freight of his remaining contract), or that Chatwood himself completely resets in the offseason, shakes loose whatever was blocking him mentally last year, and tightens up a more consistent mechanical approach.
When you sign these kinds of deals, that’s often what you’re left doing after the first year: hoping. That’s not to say they are to be avoided in the future, but we should all remember the risk side of the coin. Maybe Eovaldi turns out great for the team that signs him. Maybe it’ll even be the Brewers! But there will necessarily be a big ole chance of a rough first year.