The first trade deadline for Tigers’ President of Baseball Ops Scott Harris went over like the proverbial lead balloon on Tuesday. After making a solid, if uninspiring deal to send Michael Lorenzen to Philadelphia for infield prospect Hao-Yu Lee, Harris and the Los Angeles Dodgers had apparently negotiated a trade for left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez in the final hours running up to the 6:00 p.m. ET cutoff. We don’t know if Rodriguez’s representatives were involved by that point or not, but ultimately Rodriguez refused to waive his 10 team no-trade clause and the clock ran out before another deal could be found elsewhere.
There is no sugarcoating the fact that this is a pretty huge whiff from the first year President of Baseball Ops and acting GM. Rodriguez’s deal was very good for the Tigers when the veteran signed during the 2021-2022 offseason for five years and $77 million. That looks like an absolute steal considering his performance this year, though the 2022 season left plenty to be desired. However, the contract was full of player friendly landmines from the team’s perspective, from a two-year player opt-out clause Rodriguez can exercise this offseason, to the 10-team no-trade clause, some of whose particulars were finally revealed as rumors bled out of the negotiations.
Rodriguez has his own reasons, and to his credit, his agent negotiated a deal that gave him significant control over his future. He appears to value that more than taking a crack at winning something in LA. Reports indicate that Rodriguez simply doesn’t want to be any further west than Detroit, because his extended family is located on the east coast. Is that accurate or not? We have only one vague report to go on.
Now, that certainly seems like a peculiar concern for someone worth millions of dollars. It’s a flight to or from the east coast to meet up either way, whether he’s in Detroit or Los Angeles, with a difference of a few hours being the only difference. One would think this wouldn’t be an impediment to having an opportunity to win a World Series, but apparently Rodriguez values the family proximity more. Can’t blame him for that even if it’s rather baffling.
The blame for this falls right on Scott Harris.
Reports over the past few days indicated that Harris was holding out and maintaining a high asking price for Rodriguez. When the New York Mets decided to trade Max Scherzer to the Texas Rangers on Monday, and then Justin Verlander back to the Astros this afternoon, the trade market seemed to be on hold, with Harris presumably expecting that once the biggest fish was out of the way, interest in Rodriguez as arguably the most attractive starting pitching option on the market would peak.
Instead, Harris seems to have had all his chips on the Dodgers deal despite the no-trade clause, and once Rodriguez declined it there was apparently no time to work something else out with the limited number of teams left to deal with, and/or other potential buyers had already moved on to other available arms.
While it wasn’t public information, Harris went into this knowing Rodriguez’s no-trade list was an obstacle they’d have to deal with. Presidents and GM’s don’t generally communicate directly with the player about this sort of thing, as most players prefer to leave this all up to their representatives. There has to be a deal in place to either accept or reject. The players’ agent is the intermediary and their sole concern is for their players. So there’s no, “hey will Eduardo waive the no-trade in advance?”
Agents don’t just negotiate for those clauses to retain control over where their player goes, either. They’re all used as bargaining chips in the event of a trade. However, knowing it’s an issue, one would think an executive who knows his player well would be aware if there’s some complete deal breaker along the lines of Rodriguez’ apparent stance: “I’m not going to the west coast no matter what.”
Admittedly, I can’t even think of many times where a player has turned down the chance to play for a contender in this situation, so perhaps they just never anticipated that he’d veto the deal in the first place. In almost every case, the player just wants some compensation for waiving their prerogatives. They were obviously wrong in thinking that was the case here.
Under those circumstances, waiting until the final hour when the deal was axed left them without any other options. Certainly the no-trade and the opt-out complicated the process of making a deal for Rodriguez, but they knew all that going in. This isn’t Harris’ first rodeo running a team and making deadline deals.
We can tell him that this isn’t going to cut it as an explanation, though.
Scott Harris: We were communicating with Eduardo and we reached an agreement that he was not comfortable with. "We are happy to have Eduardo in Detroit."— Jennifer Hammond (@HammerFox2) August 1, 2023
Arguably the way to salvage the situation, if any exists, is to find a way to keep Eduardo Rodriguez without having to add too much onto his current deal to get him to forego the opt-out. The problem is that bridges are getting burned here. Everyone knows Harris wanted to trade him. They can’t very well turn around and say they were always hoping to keep him.
Meanwhile, Rodriguez is in the awkward position of having a deal agreed on and reported as such, and then being the one that killed it. None of this bodes well for fan relations. If he really does want to stay here and simply values not having to move his kids again, credit to him, but it would probably be a good idea to say so and get onto to working something out to make that a reality now rather than later. Considering the returns for a lot of lesser starting pitchers, this is a wound that is going to fester the rest of the season otherwise as everyone expects him to walk and the Tigers to be left with nothing.
Rodriguez already had every reason to opt-out for what would certainly be a bigger payday than his current deal. And if being on the east coast means this much to Rodriguez, it’s real hard to believe they’re going to be able to convince him to stay in Detroit with just another year added onto the remaining three years, $49 million on his deal, for example. Then again, Rodriguez clearly isn’t your average player guided by the usual concerns.
We’ll see what happens, but even if he’s a Tiger next year, they can’t just pitch the opposition to death. There were numerous top 100 position prospects traded over the last few days, and the Tigers didn’t land a single one. The Tigers’ offense is still among the worst in the game, and thus far Harris has done nothing to address it. He won’t find much of note in free agency to help this offseason either. Harris will have an opportunity to try and deal for a good bat winter, but you’re going to be hard pressed to find fans with confidence he’s going to be able to pull that off. The honeymoon is over.
The baseball calendar has four seasons for front offices. There’s the offseason. There’s spring camp, claiming and releasing players, and setting the 40-man roster for the year. There’s the draft. And then there is the trade deadline. By that accounting, Harris has now run the Tigers for a year, and so far he’s added a pair of decent position prospects in Justyn-Henry Malloy and Hao-Yu Lee, and a small selection of relievers and role players. That’s it. Otherwise this is still almost totally Al Avila’s team. And this deadline looked incredibly familiar to those who paid attention during the Avila years.
Maybe we’ll never know what the Dodgers were offering. But whether they evaluated the potential return well or not, they missed in the most basic part of this, which is understanding their own player and his desires in a situation where he held a lot of power over his future. As a result, after a wild day packed with trades, Harris was the one without a dance partner when the deadline passed.