But the Tigers need a boost in the hitting department, and trading Rodriguez would allow president of baseball operations Scott Harris to acquire fresh talent for the organization.
The 30-year-old left-hander, who tied for sixth in American League Cy Young voting in 2019, is one of the best starting pitchers available ahead of the Aug. 1 trade deadline.
“Whatever happens in the future is not under my control,” Rodriguez said Tuesday. “The only thing I can control is going out there every five days to help my team win the game. … If my future is in somebody else’s hands, then it’s in somebody else’s hands.”
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The truth is, Rodriguez has full control of his future.
Not his immediate future, perhaps, but regardless of the team he plays for from Aug. 2 to the end of the season, Rodriguez will get to make a choice that could shape the rest of his career.
Rodriguez, who has a 10-team no-trade clause, also has an opt-out clause in his five-year, $77 million contract. If he exercises it, he will leave $49 million (over the next three seasons) on the table and return to free agency.
A bigger payday awaits him.
“I feel like I already signed for a lot of money,” Rodriguez said. “I feel like I have a really good contract, and I feel like I can take care of my family for the rest of my life with the money I’m already making.”
Becoming a free agent again is the expected outcome, but Rodriguez won’t tip his hand.
“I signed here for five years,” Rodriguez said. “If that’s part of the contract, it’s part of the contract. But right now, I really enjoy pitching over here, and I really enjoy all of my teammates. For me, just go out there and pitch every five days. That’s the only thing I can control. I can’t control anything else. Whatever happens, it happens. Right now, just go out and pitch as a Tiger.”
Rodriguez, barring a trade, is scheduled for three more starts before the Aug. 1 deadline. The three-start stretch begins Wednesday against the Kansas City Royals at Kauffman Stadium.
He has a 2.70 ERA with 18 walks (6% walk rate) and 81 strikeouts (26.8% strikeout rate) across 76⅔ innings over 13 starts this season. The eight-year MLB veteran missed 36 days on the injured list — from May 29-July 4 — with a ruptured pulley in his left index finger.
Rodriguez has allowed seven runs with two walks and 14 strikeouts in nine innings since returning from the injured list.
“I feel like I had my command back and had everything right where I wanted,” Rodriguez said. “You guys could see the difference between both starts, and that’s right where I want to be.”
Rodriguez is one of many starting pitchers contending teams are focused on leading up to the trade deadline. Some of the other starters who could be on the move include Michael Lorenzen (Tigers), Lucas Giolito (Chicago White Sox), Lance Lynn (White Sox), Jack Flaherty (St. Louis Cardinals), Jordan Montgomery (Cardinals) and Marcus Stroman (Chicago Cubs).
Rodriguez is arguably the Tigers’ best trade chip since outfielder Nick Castellanos in 2019.
The opt-out clause, by the way, hurts Rodriguez’s value because he will be viewed as a three-month rental. There’s an added risk for the team acquiring him that if he suffers a serious injury in those three months, he could decide to play out the final three years of his contract and cash in the remaining $49 million.
But Rodriguez isn’t talking about any of the scenarios.
“It’s been a non-topic,” Tigers manager A.J. Hinch said Tuesday. “He hasn’t really talked a ton, other than we’ve talked a little bit about his experience here, both the good and the challenges. He really likes our group. We focus on what we can control here and let the rumors be what they’re going to be.
“I know he likes what we’re building. I know he likes what’s going on here. He’s super-valuable to us. I love the fact that his mindset has been to do his thing. I haven’t sensed any stress from him. I haven’t gotten any questions from him, other than when his next start is.”
For now, Rodriguez is preparing for Wednesday’s start against the Royals.
He is preparing to locate his pitches, beginning with the establishment of his four-seam fastball, and he is preparing to put the Tigers — six games behind the first-place Minnesota Twins in the AL Central — in a position to win.
In two weeks, Rodriguez could be preparing to help a different team in pursuit of his second World Series championship.
“If it happens, it happens,” Rodriguez said. “If not, I’ll just enjoy where I’m at.”
Contact Evan Petzold at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold.