Red Sox should gamble on Eduardo Rodriguez by extending a qualifying offer
The Red Sox should extend a qualifying offer to Eduardo Rodriguez
With Eduardo Rodriguez entering free agency, the Boston Red Sox must decide whether or not to extend a qualifying offer to the left-handed pitcher.
Players about to hit free agency can be extended a qualifying offer by their current team. If the player accepts, they will remain under the team’s control on a one-year deal worth $18.4 million. If they decline, the team will receive a compensation draft pick if the player signs elsewhere in free agency.
Rodriguez is an interesting case for the qualifying offer. He showed flashes of potential early in his career but various injuries limited him to fewer than 25 starts in each of his first four seasons. He developed into an emerging ace during a breakout 2019 season when he won 19 games and finished sixth on the AL Cy Young award ballot. Rodriguez was sidelined for the entire 2020 season due to myocarditis, a heart condition he developed as a side effect of COVID-19.
His return to the mound this season was riddled with inconsistency, although that’s hardly surprising from a pitcher who missed significant time with a serious medical condition. His 13-8 record, 4.74 ERA and 1.389 WHIP feels underwhelming but a closer analysis of his performance paints a more optimistic picture.
It took time to shake off the rust but Rodriguez showed promising improvement as the season went along. He owned a more appealing 3.71 ERA in the second half of the season, capped off by a 3-1 record with a 3.19 ERA over his final six regular season starts.
Was his strong finish enough of a sample to convince the Red Sox he’s worth the salary that comes attached with a qualifying offer? According to MassLive’s Chris Cotillo, when asked the question during Monday’s end of the season press conference, chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom sidestepped the opportunity to make that commitment.
"“We haven’t made any of those decisions yet,” Bloom said. “We kind of caught our breath over the weekend.”"
Bloom isn’t ruling out the option but he’s understandably hesitant to offer Rodriguez that much money. Only 14 major league pitchers are currently slated to earn more than $18.4 million in 2022, per Spotrac. Is Rodriguez considered a top-15 pitcher? Baseball-Reference doesn’t seem to think so, valuing him at a 1.9 WAR that barely places him inside the top-100 pitchers in baseball.
That rating ignores the strong finish that may be a better indicator of future success under the circumstances of Rodriguez returning from a lost season. Rodriguez was sixth among pitchers with 6.1 WAR in 2019. He certainly would have been worth this salary on the heels of that breakout campaign.
FanGraphs was far more enthusiastic about Rodriguez this year. They have the lefty tied for 19th among starting pitchers with 3.8 fWAR, which was slightly better than his 3.7 fWAR in 2019. Wait, how was Rodriguez better during this perceived down season than he was when he was a Cy Young candidate?
The stark gap in WAR between Baseball-Reference and FanGraphs exemplifies the difference in how each site evaluates pitchers. FanGraphs emphasizes Fielding Independent Pitching in their formula. While Rodriguez’s ERA this year was nearly a full run higher than it was in his last healthy season, his 3.32 FIP was actually better than it was in 2019 (3.86 FIP).
Rodriguez set personal bests with a 10.6 K/9 and 2.7 BB/9 while maintaining the same 1.1 HR/9 rate he owns for his career. FIP is built around strikeouts, walks and home runs, which explains why certain metrics view 2021 as a career year for Rodriguez despite that he posted his worst ERA.
It would be a stretch to actually consider this his best year. We also can’t chalk up the inflated ERA entirely to bad luck and a shaky Red Sox defense. However, it’s clear that Rodriguez pitched much better than his ERA reflects.
Why the Red Sox would consider extending a qualifying offer
Rodriguez probably wouldn’t get a deal on the open market that pays an average annual value higher than the qualifying offer but his second-half improvement should entice suitors to offer him a multi-year deal. Rodriguez will probably be tempted to lock in the security of a long-term deal considering his health and injury history. If he declines the qualifying offer and signs elsewhere, at least the Red Sox would get a draft pick.
Declining the qualifying offer doesn’t necessarily mean Rodriguez is going anywhere. The Red Sox can still try to work out a multi-year deal to keep him in town, they might just have some competition for his services in that case.
The danger in extending Rodriguez a qualifying offer is that he actually might accept it. We saw Marcus Stroman and Kevin Gausman do so last winter. Both pitchers had strong 2021 seasons to set themselves up for a bigger payday than they would have had a year ago. The window for the Red Sox to potentially lock up Rodriguez to a bargain deal would slam shut if he followed the same path. Would E-Rod be bold enough to bet on himself?
If he accepted the offer, the Red Sox would be on the hook for a bit more than they would expect to pay for Rodriguez. This would reduce the flexibility in their budget for next season and could have ramifications for how resources are allocated to address other needs.
Retaining Rodriguez with the qualifying offer wouldn’t be the worst outcome though. Overpaying for one season can be preferable to locking yourself into a long-term deal that could haunt them down the line. If Rodriguez struggles to return to form next season, the Red Sox could cut bait without clogging their future payroll with a regrettable contract. If he has a great season, they can feel better about handing him that lucrative extension next offseason.
A one-year deal also aligns Rodriguez with when Nathan Eovaldi’s contract expires. Chris Sale has the option to opt-out after the 2022 season. The remainder of David Price’s contract will finally be wiped from their books. Boston would have tremendous flexibility to reconfigure their rotation for 2023 in this scenario.
The Red Sox have five days following the end of the World Series to extend the offer and Rodriguez would then have one week to accept or decline. Time is running out to make a decision and the outcome will play a part in shaping Bloom’s offseason plan.
Extending the offer to Rodriguez would be a gamble but it’s one worth taking. The Red Sox should roll the dice by betting on the lefty to return to a level resembling his 2019 form when he was one of the league’s best pitchers and well worth the money they would be paying.