The Detroit Tigers are only three games under .500 with 33 games officially in the books early on in the 2023 campaign. While the offense has woken up a bit since the season-opening slumber, the Motor City Kitties’ lineup is far from ferocious, which has put the onus on the pitching staff to keep the franchise afloat in the early going.
The bullpen has performed admirably so far, but it has been the efforts of one particular pitcher who has helped the Ole English D but putting together a string of spectacular starts in the second season of his contract with AJ Hinch’s squad. That person is 30-year-old Eduardo Rodriguez.
The fanbase was a bit bearish on the veteran starter coming into the season after he missed a large part of last summer for still unknown reasons. However, from his very first outing against the Tampa Bay Rays, it was clear he is a man on a mission in 2023, putting up a 1.81 ERA and 3.31 FIP over 44 2⁄3 frames on 27 hits (four home runs) and eight walks while striking out 39. Rodriguez’s last outing may have been his best, hurling eight innings of shutout ball on four hits and a walk while striking out nine.
Which leads us to this week’s Bless You Boys roundtable discussion topic: “What should the Tigers do with Eduardo Rodriguez? Trade, keep or extend?” Take a look below at our respective answers to this favorable dilemma.
Peter Kwasniak: Yes.
Ashley MacLennan: F it, extend him, roll them dice.
Brady McAtamney: Ask me again in 2 months. If we’re still hovering near the top of the division and he’s pitching like this, an extension could be in order. If we’re within striking distance but he’s fallen back into his usual self, hold steady. But if we’re out of contention, we trade him.
Zane Harding: He should just opt in!
Patrick O’Kennedy: PAY THE MAN. If Rodriguez keeps pitching anything like what he’s done so far this season, he will almost certainly opt out. He has three years left at $18M, 16M and 15M. He can get a longer and more lucrative deal as a free agent. If he does opt out, the Tigers get nothing.
Rodriguez has a partial no-trade clause that lets him block trades to 10 teams. Agents usually present a list of the most likely teams to want such a trade, to maximize the chances of gaining that leverage over any deal. He certainly has surplus value with a team-friendly contract, but more likely it’s just part of one season remaining before he hits free agency. Pay him and make him part of the rotation for several more seasons.
Brady: The thing that supports an extension for ERod is that his repertoire should age well. He’s not a power guy at all, so he should really lose much as he gets older.
Mr. Sunshine: One thing that is probably important: how he views the team. They did give him a ton of time off last year, only kind of forcing it at the end of the season. Wondering if that helped or damaged the relationship. If he’s willing to stick around, I’d be totally ok extending him, but if he’d rather move along, trade him.
Rob Rogacki: Why would we trade our ace when we’re clearly going to win the World Series?
Zane: If we get that far, we are clearly sweeping the National League.
In regards to ERod: I don’t want to look silly by saying this now and having him not maintain this productivity all year, but I’d offer to raise the annual salary on the remaining three contract years right now to remove that opt-out. I think this profile should age well; he’s always had nice underlying metrics, and now he has the defense to back him up.
I don’t love the idea of trading him, since I think it’d be hard to recoup his current value to the team in anything. And just letting him go sounds like a better idea for Javy than Rodriguez to me.
Jay Markle: I can’t help but feel like we’ll come to regret any active decision on ERod. But that’s probably just my brain being calibrated to the doomer mentality of any of Avila’s baseball transactions.
Zane: We must adopt the Chad Holmes mindset of every decision will work and blindly trust Harris.
Frisbee Pilot: As others have said, pay the man. You’ve gotta build a team around something, right? Might as well be Eduardo. A five-start stretch is great, but if he’s still dealin’ in the dog days, then let’s do this. Besides, a ton of money comes off the books for ‘24, so there’ll be plenty o’ pizza cash floating around.
Once upon a time, a certain Ilitch threw a ton of money at a certain Rodríguez to join a terrible team, and he was one of the centerpieces of a World Series run after some young kids started doing some great things alongside him. That Ilitch was Mike, that Rodríguez was Pudge, and that World Series run was 2006. I’m ready for a repeat.
Adam Dubbin: My colleague Peter and I recently had a discussion in our Slack channel regarding the surplus of innings in comparison to the number of hurlers we had to soak up those frames. It became apparent that come August-September that we're going to need more warm bodies that are currently at our disposal.
While I expect plenty of roster churn along with plenty of miles logged on the Toledo-to-Detroit train, it would behoove the Tigers to have at least one dependable arm in the rotation that won’t wear down the bullpen every night out — and that person appears to be E-Rod.
So my take? Keep him, even if it means letting him go without any compensation after the end of the year. Why? Well, I’m not entirely sure I want to depend on him for seasons to come, but even if the Tigers aren’t in the thick of a playoff race, there is still plenty to gain by having an established veteran lay the foundation for the youngsters who are coming up.
Frisbee: Is there Amtrak service between Toledo and Detroit? If not, there should be.
Peter: As my informed colleague Adam mentioned above, innings will become an issue this year at some point due to the injuries suffered last year. Between E-Rod (119.0), Lorenzen (104.1), Manning (83.1), Wentz (81.0), Boyd (21.1), and Turnbull (0.0) these six Tigers starters threw a combined 409 innings last year, majors and minors.
Figure a conservative 33% increase on their arm workload, which gives you 544 innings this year. A major league season consists of roughly 1,458 innings needed by a team. That leaves 914 innings that are going to be needed from the bullpen. Even a 10-deep bullpen would need to soak up 91 innings a piece.
Now, you can probably squeeze a bit more out of some veteran starters but E-Rod is one of those arms you’re going to need to rely on getting 150-plus innings from. He’s incredibly important to this team just to cover the workload to get through a season.
My vote is to offer to buy out his opt-out by increasing his salary for the last three years of his deal and/or offer him an extension with it. Just bumping up his salary to $20M a year for three years would be $11M. That’s a steal. And It would put him near the level per year he’d command on the open market if he were to opt out.
Heck, they probably saved half that much when he was on the inactive list last year. The biggest question would be if he’d take a straight salary increase or would want more years added. I have no doubt he’d get at least $20M per year in free agency, but I’d be surprised if he was only offered a 3-year deal. Taijuan Walker (4/$72M), and Jameson Tallion (4/$68M) each managed to secure 4-year deals this winter and E-rod has been better than both in recent history.
He isn’t at the tier of Carlos Rodon (6/$162M) or Jacob DeGrom (5/$185M). Last year, Kevin Gausman (5/$110M), and Robbie Ray (5/$115M) signed deals alongside E-Rod, so while I think those would be the upper reasonable guidelines for a deal he’d get now, missing most of last year, and the face his numbers so far are quite above where he’s historically pitched at, makes me feel he’d probably be at the $20-21M per year mark over four years, maybe with a fifth-year option.
If I’m Scott Harris, I’d start some conversations with him to first, find out how he’d feel about sticking around Detroit long-term as he rebuilds the team, and if he’s open to it, I’d offer him a deal that would pay him $20M per year for the next 3 years (so $11M opt-out buyout) and then add a 4th year at $20M, with a 5th-year team option at $20M (potentially $51M in new money). His side will surely negotiate up but that would be a great starting point. With Mize and Skubal coming off injuries, and Boyd and Lorenzen being 1-year signings, a reliable starter like E-Rod is exactly what a rebuilding team needs in the rotation.
David Rosenberg: I think the answer with E-Rod comes down to how much you buy into the idea that he’s “fixed” after a very weird start to his Tigers career. Personal issues kept him from playing his best baseball last year, but he looks confident and elite on the mound in 2023. He’s given Detroit five-straight quality starts (I’m counting the 5 2/3 innings of one-run ball against Baltimore even though I shouldn’t). If this kind of play is sustainable, my immediate reaction is to extend him.
It’s been too long since the Tigers have had someone at the top of the rotation the fans can trust, and E-Rod can be that ace. Detroit can’t afford to lose a pitcher like that to an opt-out, and at some point, you have to stop trading winning pieces for prospects/the future. Yes, it’s a gamble, but if Rodriguez is still flirting with a monthly ERA under 2.00 in July, the answer is to lock him in and build and around him.
Frisbee: Preach, Brother Rosenberg.
Cameron Kaiser: It’s been a long time since the Tigers were playing winning baseball, and while they still find themselves under .500, the team looks more competent than they have in years. Rodriguez is obviously a big part of that, in the midst of one of the best stretches of his career. His location has been on point, and he’s showing the type of arsenal that should age pretty well.
He’s not overpowering hitters, but rather carving them up with his impeccable command and allowing a very good defense to make plays behind him. I don’t think anyone expects Rodriguez to finish the season with a sub-2 ERA, or even a sub-3 ERA, but a guy with an ERA hovering around 3.50 with 180-plus innings is exceptionally valuable in today’s game. With those numbers, it’s a pretty safe bet that he’d opt out of the remainder of his contract as well.
Given all that information, that’s where what the Tigers are doing in two months comes into play. I’m hopeful that this recent stretch of baseball is more indicative of who they are over the mess of games that they’ve played against the AL East. If they’re hovering around .500 or within striking distance of the division, which looks to once again be pretty weak, working with Rodriguez to buy him out of that buy-out by upping the value by a few million and adding a year all of a sudden looks like the right move. Rodriguez is not an ace and will not get ace money, but he should be a quality start machine, and this young Tigers team desperately needs that type of stability.
If the Tigers take another nosedive, dangling Rodriguez for a top-100 prospect is the move. The logical reason for Rodriguez to opt out is because he knows his skills are valuable to the rest of the league. The same reasoning holds in a possible trade scenario. Rodriguez has been a solid-to-above-average pitcher for his entire career and has playoff experience.
While it would be nice to have Rodriguez around a few more seasons as the Tigers (hopefully) turn the corner, you have to maximize his value in regard to where the team is at now. Adding a top-100 prospect to Scott Harris’s development team is the smarter play for the team’s future if this current group of players isn’t showing any signs of life come the trade deadline.
Brandon Day: It is tricky, and I don’t want to get carried away by four really good starts. I liked the signing, and I like it more now, particularly considering what 5th starter types are getting on short-term deals. Because of the opt-out, the Tigers are going to have a hard time getting that much for him unless he just stays in ace mode into July, which seems a bad bet to place. On the other hand, Harris is here, among other reasons, to be better at winning trades, so if he can get someone he likes, go right ahead.
So, I’m open to them buying out the opt-out, but I don’t want to give him much more than he’s already getting. Adding another year to the deal at $16-17M is probably fine but I wouldn’t go much further than that. Don’t really want to be paying him when he’s 34-35. Some of this depends on future payroll calculations, and that’s where it’s hard to know what to do. If the Tigers are going to spend $130-140M, like the have the past two years? Sure keep him on.
The starting payroll next offseason is only $70M even if Eduardo and Javier stick around, and I assume that payroll range is about where Ilitch is willing to go, at least until this team looks like a potential contender. Plenty of room there to add serious offensive help and continue to bolster the pitching staff with small signings.
So, yes it’s probably a good idea to check in and see if Eduardo is open to negotiating on the opt-out. If they don’t want to talk about until the season is over? Then I’d be looking to trade him, and Harris can spend that money on pitching next offseason knowing he’s got Skubal back, and Casey Mize returning.
Peter: I want to add on how important it is for the Tigers to remain in contention and for Harris to have a good plan to return to contention soon if they want to keep Rodgriguez. If they’re not committed to going for it in his prime years, he’s going to require ace-level money to stick around. These are his best earning potential years, so he’s going to have to be open to sticking around, for any reasonable amount of money.
So that is what the Bless You Boys staff has to offer. Give us your takes in the comments below!
What should the Tigers do with Eduardo Rodriguez? Trade, keep or extend?
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