One of the biggest challenges for a Major League general manager is to find the flexibility to pivot when a plan goes awry, and to turn adversity into opportunity. For Dave Dombrowski, it was the ability to quickly land Prince Fielder before the 2012 season — helped in no small part by owner Mike Ilitch’s willingness to expand payroll — after Victor Martinez suffered a season-ending knee injury during offseason training.
Before that, it was the quick decision to land Sean Casey at the 2006 Trade Deadline once it became clear the Tigers wouldn’t grab Alfonso Soriano. Even further back, it was the signing of Magglio Ordonez in ’05 after missing out on a slew of free agents, including Carl Pavano, Steve Finley and Adrián Beltré.
Now it’s Scott Harris’ turn, as his first season as Tigers president of baseball operations winds down.
The combination of Rodriguez’s 10-team no-trade clause with the $49 million left on his contract over the next three seasons if he doesn’t opt out — a decision that might only happen if Rodriguez struggles down the stretch or if he is injured — presented a different market than for Michael Lorenzen. The Tigers had to focus on teams willing to take on the potential risk of Rodriguez’s remaining contract, or help take some of that financial risk off the table.
Rodriguez said the Tigers presented a couple of teams to him, and they honed in on the Dodgers leading into Tuesday’s Deadline.
That left the Tigers at the mercy of Rodriguez, who ultimately decided to stay in Detroit. On the flip side, the club now has a highly regarded veteran pitcher with a World Series ring and a history of clutch performances who has decided he’d rather stay in Detroit than head for Los Angeles. In the process, Rodriguez has raved about Detroit as a great place for him and his family, and he’s characterized the Tigers as a comfortable organization for him.
For a Major League executive trying to build a strong culture and a welcoming perception in a place that has often been low on free agents’ preference lists, there’s a potential opportunity in that.
“He wanted to stay in this organization, and he wants to help us in the second half,” Harris said. “At this point, I think we need to focus on what’s in front of us right now. If that means that Eduardo Rodriguez is going to stay with us and help us win every five days, that’s a big win for us.”
The Tigers headed into the Deadline with three options with Rodriguez: Trade him, extend him or potentially let him opt out and go elsewhere for nothing. That first option is now off the table. So the team and Harris have to focus on keeping him beyond this season. That might not begin in earnest until later in the season, when it becomes clearer whether he’ll opt out — based in large part, no doubt, on his stretch run.
“We are having conversations with our players all the time,” Harris said when asked if he plans to pursue an extension before season’s end. “The nature of those conversations, I think, should remain confidential.”
If Rodriguez opts out, he will become a free agent available to any team, and the Tigers will have to deliberate how much of their post-Miggy payroll to devote to starting pitching at a time when they need to improve their offense. But when you consider how hard Detroit has had to work to convince top free agents to seriously consider the team, having Rodriguez with a favorable view of the city and the organization is a nice starting point.
And if the Tigers can keep Rodriguez, he will become arguably their best recruiting tool to encourage free agents to give Detroit a look.