At no point this season did anyone seriously expect Detroit Tigers left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez to opt into the remaining three years and $49 million left on the five year pact signed in the 2021-2022 offseason. And with not even the hint of a rumor of re-negotiating the deal during the season, after a very strange and disconnected situation at the 2023 trade deadline between player and organization, it seemed unlikely that Rodriguez would be staying in Detroit. And then, on Friday evening, Jon Morosi of MLB Network reported that the Tigers and Rodriguez’s agent, Gene Mato, are engaged in talks about restructuring the contract.
Rodriguez’s original deal was for five years, $72 million, a term that would keep him in Detroit through the 2026 season. However, Rodriguez’s representation also got a player option included after year two of the deal and which is now coming due to use or decline. He now faces a deadline on Saturday to either use or decline the option for three more years, and if he uses it he’ll become an unrestricted free agent.
For five days after the end of the World Series, teams have the right to negotiate with their pending free agents before they become fully unrestricted free agents able to talk to the other 29 teams. It looks like the Tigers are trying their best not to let it get to that point. The question is how much Rodriguez wants to stay, and how much Mato expects to add on to the original deal.
Source: The Tigers and Eduardo Rodríguez’s agent remained in discussions Friday about potentially restructuring his contract.— Jon Morosi (@jonmorosi) November 4, 2023
Rodríguez has a Saturday deadline to exercise his opt-out clause.@MLBNetwork @MLB
Rodriguez has been worth the money in his two years with the Tigers, and easily Al Avila’s most successful free agent signing during his seven-year tenure running the team. Family issues that landed him on the restricted list and out of communication with the team for month’s in 2022, along with a pulley rupture on his throwing hand at the end of May 2023 that cost him about five weeks, have limited him to 243 2⁄3 innings with the Tigers. However, he threw 152 2⁄3 innings in 2023 anyway, posting a 3.30 ERA and 3.66 FIP for a really good season worth 3.5 WAR according to Baseball Reference, and 3.0 WAR by FanGraphs’ calculations.
In total, Rodriguez was worth 3.7 WAR by both FanGraphs and Baseball Reference’s WAR calculations over his two seasons as a Tiger, earning $14 million per season. Currently, he’s owed $18 million in 2024, $16 million in 2025, and $15 million in 2026. for a total of $49 million.
Rodriguez is only 30 years old. He’s a lefty. He’s been durable his whole career, suffering no significant injuries and throwing 203 1⁄3 innings in 2019, 157 2⁄3 innings in 2021, 91 innings in 2022, with the lengthy disappearing act missing over two months, and then 152 2⁄3 innings in 2023. That’s about as durable as they come these days, and Rodriguez holds a 3.96 ERA and 3.75 FIP over that span. He looks primed for at least several more good seasons as number 2⁄3 type starting pitcher.
That’s a fairly valuable player. It wouldn’t be terribly surprising if he got a contract offer of five years, $100 million in free agency should he opt-out. One would expect the two parties could come to terms on a five-year deal worth something like $85 million, perhaps with some incentives built in.
Should a deal be reached, that would solve the Tigers biggest problem entering the offseason. Not only would they keep their rotation intact and not have to shop among the bigger sharks in the market for good free agent starter, they’d also retain two good southpaw starters in the rotation, a minor advantage which isn’t so easy to come by.
They could move right on to adding another depth starter, with ample payroll room available to outbid teams in a one or two-year deal scenario, and try to address the bullpen with another good arm. Neither of those two items is particularly complex to deal with, leaving themselves free to make offers on those players, without having to distract much focus from trying to come up with a trade to upgrade the offense.
There are some caveats, of course. Rodriguez no doubt made the team a little wary by going completely out of touch for a long stretch during the 2022 season. And while this is on Scott Harris and the Tigers’ front office, there was clearly a disconnect about Rodriguez’s willingness to forego his no-trade clause for the failed trade with the Dodgers at this summer’s trade deadline.
However, assuming negotiations are serious and ongoing as reported, those items clearly haven’t soured the Tigers on the veteran starter, nor Rodriguez and Mato on the Tigers. The range of outcomes for a player in his position would make this a fairly straightforward deal to conclude, with both parties presumably understanding the rough parameters of such a restructuring to the contract.
Retaining Rodriguez isn’t exactly a sexy move to make, but he seems to like playing in Detroit, and appears to be a fairly popular teammate as well. He also seems like the rare player who really values stability and familiarity, both for himself and for his family. So, perhaps the fit is better than it seemed at times this summer.
If the two parties come to terms, that might make for an even quieter offseason than expected, but it also takes the one must-have item off the table as a concern, allowing the front office to focus on making upgrades in other areas without locking up in major bidding wars in free agency. We should know within 24 hours if they’ve managed to get this done.