Red Sox fans shouldn’t write off first free-agent signing of offseason

Sep 30, 2022; Atlanta, Georgia, USA; New York Mets relief pitcher Joely Rodriguez (30) reacts after rolling his sleeves up against the Atlanta Braves in the eighth inning at Truist Park. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 30, 2022; Atlanta, Georgia, USA; New York Mets relief pitcher Joely Rodriguez (30) reacts after rolling his sleeves up against the Atlanta Braves in the eighth inning at Truist Park. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports /
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Red Sox sign LHP Joely Rodríguez to 1-year deal full of performance incentives

The Boston Red Sox made their first free-agent signing of the offseason on Wednesday, inking Joely Rodríguez to a one-year deal with a club option for 2024.

As reported by Alex Speier, Rodríguez will earn at least $1.5M from the incentive-laden deal laden. He can earn additional $500K bonuses if he’s on the roster for 30, 60, 90, and 120 days, as well a $50K appearance bonus when he reaches 30, 40, 50, 60, and 70 games. The biggest incentive, however, is that the club option for 2024 would be a significant pay raise; he’ll earn $4.25M if the Sox pick up their option on him next fall. Otherwise, he’ll receive a $500K buyout.

The 30-year-old lefty spent the second half of 2021 and all of 2022 with the New York Mets, and previously pitched for the Philadelphia Phillies and Texas Rangers. Over 55 appearances this year, he posted a 4.47 ERA across 50 1/3 innings, in which he issued 26 walks and struck out 57 batters. He allowed 28 runs, 25 of them earned, but only three home runs. Opposing batters slashed .226/.322/.312 against him.

After such an abysmal season, and with a long history of underwhelming bullpen arms, it’s understandable that many Sox fans won’t look past the high ERA and give Rodríguez a chance, but it’s a mistake and unfair. Going deeper than his ERA and 12% walk rate, the southpaw actually has a lot to offer the Sox. His 1.4% home-run rate is less than half the league average, and he’s an above-average strikeout pitcher. He’s able to induce well-below-league-average contact; opponents averaged 84.6mph exit velocity and only a 32.1% hard-hit rate against him. According to the Boston Globe (subscription required), his 54.3% ground-ball rate ranked 19th among qualifying relievers and that exit velocity was 14th-best among all qualifying pitchers.

The Red Sox bullpen was a disaster in 2022, posting a 4.59 ERA (623 1/3 innings) that ranked fourth-worst in the majors and blowing 28 saves in 39 opportunities. It’s also mostly righties at the moment, so adding Rodríguez for the major-league equivalent of pennies, makes a lot of sense.

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