Your Detroit Tigers haven’t wasted any time so far this offseason. After dealing for catcher Tucker Barnhart on the first day of the offseason, they’ve now added left-handed starter Eduardo Rodriguez on a deal that locks him up in Detroit throughout his prime. The five-year, $77 million deal was first reported by Cody Stavenhagen of the Athletic Detroit and Jeff Passan of ESPN. Reports indicate that there are three million dollars in incentives available to Rodriguez, which could take the full value of the deal to $80 million, and Rodriguez will have an opt-out available after the 2023 season.
The 28-year-old leaves the Boston Red Sox after a fine 2021 campaign that saw him rebound from a serious bout with COVID-induced myocarditis that kept him on the sidelines in 2020. The deal with the Tigers is right in line with most projections for Rodriguez, and it’s somewhat notable that they didn’t really have to overpay to lure him out of Boston. FanGraphs had predicted a four-year contract for $80M, so by that standard the Tigers got a very nice deal here.
Assistant pitching coach Juan Nieves was Rodriguez’s first MLB pitching coach, and that relationship may have been crucial to convincing Rodriguez to come to Detroit. Getting to pitch in Comerica Park rather than Fenway probably didn’t hurt either, as the Tigers’ home park should be a fine fit for the big southpaw.
Eduardo Rodriguez 2017-2021
The 28-year-old Rodriguez is a big physical southpaw, standing six-foot, two inches, and weighing in at 231 pounds. Velocity is not his game however, as Rodriguez averages 92-93 mph on his fastball. Instead he uses an interesting mix of fastball types and an outstanding changeup to deal with opposing hitters.
Against lefties, Rodriguez largely relies on a mix of sinkers and fourseam fastballs, mixing in the changeup, cutter, and slider pretty judiciously. Against right-handers, Rodriguez typically attacks with fourseamers and changeups, mixing in the cutter a good deal as well. He hasn’t generally displayed pinpoint command, but he keeps the walks under control, strikes out plenty of hitters, and manages to avoid the home run ball pretty successfully.
Overall the sinker and the changeup graded out as his best pitches in 2021. The fourseamer was effective in terms of limiting damage, but per Statcast, Rodriguez also appears to have had pretty bad batted ball luck with it in 2021. His expected batting average and slugging percentage against the fourseamer are much lower than his actual results last season, which is presumably a function of a very poor Boston Red Sox infield. A .363 BABIP against for Rodriguez in 2021 helps explain the huge disparity between his stellar FIP number and the rather grim 4.74 ERA he posted. It certainly wasn’t because hitters were teeing off on him. His contact data makes that quite clear, and the Tigers can expect substantially better results.
Oversimplifying here because I'm ignoring the quality of the contact the P is allowing, but also, YEEESH— Mike Petriello (@mike_petriello) September 22, 2021
84% of Wainwright's GB have turned into outs. (Easily most)
67% of E Rodriguez' GB have turned into outs (worst)https://t.co/HFWefYWKkJ
Rodriguez appears to get a lot of seam-shifted wake movement on his stuff, particularly the sinker, slider, and cutter. He’s a low spin pitcher, and the SSW action helps explain why he’s so rarely barreled up. He has some deception in his delivery, sells the changeup very well out of his hand, and with stuff that moves differently than hitters expect based on the spin profile, he’s an extremely tricky and frustrating pitcher to face when he’s going well. Chris Fetter should have a lot of fun working with and tuning Rodriguez, and the partnership with Barnhart should be a strong one.
If there is room for real improvement somewhere, it’s probably in trying to tune up either the cutter or the slider and give him a better breaking ball to work with. Rodriguez gets a lot of whiffs on his fourseamer and changeup, while the sinker gets beaten into the dirt and rarely hit for home runs or even extra base hits. Finding a more consistent, bat-missing breaking ball would be the final piece of the puzzle for him. The Tigers emphasis on coordinating pitching plans and defensive alignments should be good for Rodriguez, assuming they also upgrade their middle infield with a strong defensive shortstop.
Are we happy with the deal?
We are! Rodriguez is the youngest of the proven starting pitchers out there, so locking him up for five years without having to overpay to get him out of Boston feels like a minor coup. The contract isn’t exactly a steal, but it will certainly look like one if the partnership of Rodriguez, Nieves, and Tigers’ pitching coach Chris Fetter can squeeze a little more out of Rodriguez’s game. The Tigers will surrender a draft pick to the Red Sox to add him, but we’re much more comfortable doing so for a durable starter just entering his prime years than for a short-term move.
What does it mean?
Well for one thing, this may mean goodbye to Matt Boyd. In Rodriguez, the Tigers now have another strong lefty to pair with Tarik Skubal. Taking three lefties in the rotation doesn’t seem terribly likely, particularly as Boyd is dealing with elbow trouble and due to make a little over seven million dollars in his final year of arbitration. Perhaps they can negotiate a cheap multi-year deal there if they’d like to keep Boyd around.
More importantly, this is the first long-term deal the Tigers have given out since signing Justin Upton way back in 2016. They could have played in the cheap end of the market. They could’ve taken a short-term, high-risk, high-reward swing with someone like Carlos Rodon or Justin Verlander. Or they could’ve opted for good starters over 30 years of age, like Kevin Gausman or Jon Gray.
Instead, they got a great mix of youth, durability, funky stuff, and experience available, and locked him up in Detroit for the same length of time as they’ll have team control over Casey Mize and Skubal. It’s a big commitment, and there’s no turning back now. While the big question mark remains at shortstop, this is a pretty clear sign to the league leaders that the Tigers are coming for them in 2022 and beyond.