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What the Nathan Eovaldi deal means for Mike Fiers’ trade value

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The Rays picked up a solid prospect for Eovaldi on Wednesday.

MLB: Cleveland Indians at Detroit Tigers Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

On Wednesday morning, the Tampa Bay Rays shipped righthander Nathan Eovaldi to the Boston Red Sox. Eovaldi was the first major starting pitching target to exchange hands during this trade deadline season. As such, it seems likely that this swap sets the market for starting pitching in trades to follow.

While Eovaldi isn’t the biggest fish in the pond, he is a good get in a year that offers little in the way of rotation upgrades. Detroit Tigers starter Mike Fiers fits right into the same category. He is far from a spectacular addition, but has had plenty of successes lately. A contender seeking to bolster the back end of their rotation with a reliable arm will bite. We can use the recent Eovaldi exchange to get an idea of the kind of player the Tigers will get back.

The Rays only received one player in return for Eovaldi: lefthander Jalen Beeks. While he was basically a non-prospect on draft day, Beeks has become a solid piece in the years that have followed. According to MLB.com, he now throws a fastball, cutter, and changeup that rate as above-average. Along with a curveball that lags well behind those three, the lefty used to throw a two-seamer and a slider, but has since abandoned those pitches. He commands his arsenal well enough but isn’t especially remarkable for any of his attributes.

While the stuff doesn’t scream “frontline starter,” he tore up Triple-A in his 16 starts with the Pawtucket Red Sox this season. Striking out an even 33 percent of hitters and walking only 2.58 batters per nine innings, Beeks is ready for the major leagues right now. That’s a decent return for a player in the midst of a thoroughly mediocre year. How does Fiers compare to Eovaldi, though? Will the return be comparable?

Mike Fiers v. Nathan Eovaldi

Pitcher IP ERA FIP K/9 BB/9 ERA (Last Five Starts)
Pitcher IP ERA FIP K/9 BB/9 ERA (Last Five Starts)
Fiers 111 3.49 4.58 6.65 1.95 1.62
Eovaldi 57 4.26 4.28 8.37 1.26 3.58

A quick perusal through their reveals what we already knew; Fiers and Eovaldi are both okay enough. FIP gives the nod to Eovaldi, but Fiers has performed much better as of late. Eovaldi’s successes, moderate as they may be, appear to be more trustworthy than Fiers’. From strikeout rate to walk rate to ground ball rate, soft contact percentage to swings on pitches outside the zone, Eovaldi has the edge. On the whole, though, these two pitchers are similar enough to command similar returns on the trade market.

Barring a major injury, the Red Sox now presumably out of the market for another starter. That leaves Oakland as the only confirmed suitor for Fiers, although ESPN’s Buster Olney reported that unnamed others are interested in him as well. Those could include the Yankees, Brewers, or the Braves, all of whom are seeking a fresh arm.

Of those teams, the Milwaukee Brewers have the largest collection of attainable, near-MLB ready talent. That puts them in a position to make an offer that most closely matches the trade between Boston and the Rays.

The Rays also traded Matt Andriese to the Arizona Diamondbacks on Wednesday. Two players were sent back: catcher Michael Perez and pitcher Brian Schaffer. Neither is a great prospect, though, and they do not rank on MLB.com’s new top 30 prospects list. Perez is another high-floor piece, pegged as an elite pitch framer. He will be with Tampa Bay’s major league club soon, if not already. Scheffer is doing well in the Midwest League, but is more or less a lottery ticket.

If Detroit’s brass are seeking quantity over quality, general manager Al Avila could strike a deal with just about any contending team in the league, with a return that resembles the Andriese swap. They could also aim for the best prospect possible, and potentially even kick in part of Fiers’ remaining salary to boost his trade value to certain teams (hi there, Oakland).

In the end, Mike Fiers is a back-end starter. The two trades that went down on Wednesday demonstrate that there is a market for those types of pitcher, but also that fans shouldn’t get their hopes up. Teams won’t be willing to pay through the nose for a guy that isn’t a sure bet to propel them to the playoffs, but Detroit should still come away with something before next week’s deadline.