Don’t let the Detroit Tigers make all the moves, MLB teams.
The Tigers stayed active Monday, striking the largest free agent deal, so far, of the young 2021 offseason. Detroit agreed to a five-year contract worth $77 million with Eduardo Rodriguez, who has spent several seasons as a dependable Boston Red Sox left-hander. (The Tigers have also completed one of the lone notable trades of the offeseason, acquiring Gold Glove catcher Tucker Barnhart.)
Rodriguez shouldn’t be a complete stranger to Tigers fans, having pitched in the American League for about six seasons and three times at Comerica Park.
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Wondering why the Tigers are spending more than $12 million a year, depending on an opt-out clause, for a guy with a 2021 ERA approaching five? Get to know a little more about Rodriguez, and you may find the answer:
Who is Eduardo Rodriguez?
Rodriguez, a 28-year-old native of Venezuela, signed with the Baltimore Orioles as an international free agent in 2010 and eventually rose to become a top-five prospect within the organization.
He was traded to the Red Sox in 2014 for a one-season rental of former Tigers prized prospect Andrew Miller, then a rising star. Boston’s front office knew Rodriguez was their guy. As the Boston Herald reported, the Red Sox were adamant that any trade for Miller, who had a 2.34 ERA over 50 appearances and was in high demand that trade deadline, include Rodriguez.
The Orioles reportedly offered about “50 other” pitchers but Boston wouldn’t budge. They ended up with a one-for-one swap — which is kind of interesting considering that Miller was a star lefty already dominating MLB hitters. Rodriguez made his MLB debut the following year, pitching seven-plus shutout innings vs. the Texas Rangers. Outside of one demotion to Triple-A and a rehab assignment, he’s been in the majors ever since.
He won a World Series with the Red Sox in 2018, pitching a no-decision in Game 4. In 2019, Rodriguez finished sixth in Cy Young Award voting thanks to career bests in starts (34), innings (203), ERA (3.81) and strikeouts (213).
He throws a low-to-mid 90s fastball and slider, with a change-up he’s continued to improve over the years.
Rodriguez over 153 career starts (159 total appearances) is 64-39 with a 4.16 ERA, 1.31 WHIP and 892 strikeouts in 856 2/3 innings. In 22 postseason innings (11 appearances, four starts) he has a 3.75 ERA with 25 strikeouts and seven walks.
Battle with COVID-19
Following spring training in 2020, Rodriguez became one of the first MLB athletes to contract COVID-19. It was a devastating diagnosis, and not just because expectations were sky-high after his strong 2019 season.
Rodriguez tried to work back to the field in 2020 but felt fatigued almost to the point of fainting during a pitching session. He was eventually diagnosed with myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart. He had to rest for three months and didn’t pitch at all during 2020.
After his recovery, he made 31 starts this year, striking out 185 in 157 2/3 innings but pitching to a 4.77 ERA.
Advanced metrics show Rodriguez might have been at his best last season, though. No, he didn’t match the sheer totals of his near-All-Star 2019 campaign, but he seemed to be afflicted by bad luck.
Rodriguez’s walk rate (2.7 over nine innings) approached a career low while his strikout rate (10.6 over nine innings) was a career high. That’s why his Fielding Independent Pitching was down to 3.32, among the top-16 pitchers in all of baseball. That’s why the Tigers are banking on multiple strong seasons from Rodriguez, who will turn 29 in April 2022.
A guy everyone loves, unless you’re Manny Machado
The Tigers didn’t sign Rodriguez because he’s a clubhouse darling, they did it because he’s made at least 20 starts in each of his six seasons and has made 25 or more appearances the last three years he’s played.
But a little personality never hurts. And Rodriguez isn’t afraid to talk, just ask his teammates — or his opponents. There was the time he mimicked Carlos Correa’s “it’s my time” celebration in the 2021 American League Championship Series; Rodriguez tapped his wrist after finishing a three-run, six-inning performance to get the Game 3 win. (Correa thought the gesture was cool but the modest Rodriguez eventually apologized, probably at the behest of his manager Alex Cora — maybe that’s why the Houston Astros came back to win the series?)
He’ll let you know what’s what on Twitter, too. When noted celebrator Manny Machado took umbrage with a pitcher’s on-field joy during last year’s playoffs, Rodriguez called out the hypocrisy.
“So you can hit balls (to) the moon and almost dance at (the plate) why the pitcher (can’t) do wherever they want after they get you out?” Rodriguez tweeted that night.
The former AL East rivals haven’t met on the field since August 2019.
Let’s hope Rodriguez gets a start when the Padres and Tigers meet next July.
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