Interest is growing for Red Sox free agent pitcher Eduardo Rodriguez
According to MLB Network’s Jon Morosi, the Detroit Tigers have shown interest in adding Rodriguez to their rotation. He points out that the lefty has a good relationship with Detroit’s assistant pitching coach, Juan Nieves.
Nieves was actually fired by the Red Sox a few weeks before Rodriguez made his major league debut on May 28, 2015. He was never technically E-Rod’s pitching coach at the major league level, although they must have interacted during spring training that year. It might only be a minor advantage but some familiarity with the pitching coach could appeal to Rodriguez if he were looking to leave Boston.
Morosi also reported that the Los Angeles Angels were working to add at least one, possibly two, starting pitchers in free agency. Rodriguez and Robbie Ray are a pair of lefties the Angels are showing interest in.
If the Red Sox are willing to let Rodriguez walk in pursuit of an upgrade at his rotation spot, Ray would be on the short list of targets. He’s a strong contender for the Cy Young award after leading the league with a 2.84 ERA, 1.045 WHIP and 248 strikeouts.
Ray will undoubtedly decline the qualifying offer that the Toronto Blue Jays extended to him but the penalties for signing those types of free agents might not be as much of a deterrent for the Red Sox as it has been in recent years. If the Angels, or any other team, were to lure Rodriguez away from Boston, Ray would be firmly on the radar of the Red Sox. If the Angels actually are motivated to shell out enough money for both lefties, the market would suddenly appear more limited.
The Red Sox extended a qualifying offer to Rodriguez and some have speculated that he might accept the $18.4 million deal to remain in Boston for the 2022 season. He’s coming off of a mildly disappointing year in which he went 13-8 with a 4.74 ERA and he missed the entire 2020 season due to myocarditis. Accepting the offer would allow Rodriguez to prove that he’s a better pitcher than the one we saw while he was shaking off the rust of his lost season. It would also mean entering free agency next year without a qualifying offer attached, which could improve his market.
If multiple teams are showing interest in Rodriguez, it’s quickly becoming less likely that he’ll accept the qualifying offer. Serious suitors aren’t going to come at him with a deal that pays less than the $18.4 million he’d receive if he accepts Boston’s offer. He should get multi-year offers and locking in more guaranteed money might be appealing to a pitcher with his history of health issues, even if the average annual value of the deal pays less than the qualifying offer would in the short term.
For what it’s worth, MLB Trade Rumors projects Rodriguez to receive a five-year, $70 million deal.
A contract in that ballpark could prove to be a bargain for a 28-year-old with his upside. On the surface, Rodriguez appears to have had a poor season but don’t be misguided by his bloated ERA. His 3.32 FIP, 10.6 K/9 and 2.7 BB/9 were all the best marks of his career. His ERA would have drastically improved if he didn’t have one of the league’s worst infield defenses behind him.
Rodriguez also significantly improved in the second half of the season when he went 7-3 with a 3.71 ERA. The further removed he is from the health concerns that wiped out his 2020 season, the better he has performed.
The Red Sox will receive a compensation draft pick if Rodriguez declines the qualifying offer and signs elsewhere. Declining the offer doesn’t necessarily mean Rodriguez is leaving though. According to MLB Network’s Jon Heyman, the Red Sox have a multi-year offer on the table for the lefty in addition to the qualifying offer.
Boston made several attempts to lock up Rodriguez in the past so it’s no surprise that they are trying again. There appears to be mutual interest in his return but Rodriguez is still going to test the market to see what else is out there.
Re-signing Rodriguez is among the top priorities for the Red Sox this winter but they will put a limit on what they are willing to offer. If growing interest in the lefty drives up the price, Chaim Bloom will draw a line somewhere and pivot to an alternative if other teams cross it. The qualifying offer protects the Red Sox by providing compensation if he leaves and it might help keep his market reasonable by eliminating teams that are hesitant to pay the penalties.
Some pitchers would struggle to find work if they hit free agency on the heels of the worst season of their career but Rodriguez won’t have that problem. It appears the Red Sox aren’t the only team wise enough to realize he’s more valuable than those surface numbers suggest.