It’s the early days of the offseason yet, but it sounds almost certain that the Yankees will be adding pitching via the free agent market, having already been connected to both the Yoshinobu Yamamoto sweepstakes and, on a less splashy level, old rotation stalwart Jordan Montgomery. Given his recent playoff heroics — and the bad taste left over from the failure of the trade that sent him to St. Louis for Harrison Bader — Montgomery will certainly be an attractive target for teams and fans alike. But he’s not the only solid lefty available that the Yankees are familiar with. Let’s talk about Eduardo Rodríguez, who’s now free to sign anywhere after opting out of the final three years of the deal he signed with Detrot prior to the 2022 season.
2023 Statistics: 26 starts, 152.2 IP, 3.30 ERA (134 ERA+), 3.66 FIP, 4.06 xFIP, 23.0 percent K%, 7.7 percent BB%, 3.0 fWAR
2024 FanGraphs Depth Charts Projections: 31 starts, 174 IP, 3.97 ERA, 4.08 FIP, 22.7.0 percent K%, 7.6 percent BB%, 2.8 fWAR
Previous Contract: Five-years, $77 million with opt-out after year two (exercised).
To get to the point, the main hook for E-Rod is simply that he was a very solid pitcher last year — the kind the Yankees desperately could have used in lieu of 20+ starts of Jhony Brito, Randy Vásquez, and Luke Weaver — and he’s projected to be more or less the exact same pitcher in 2024. There’s no aspect of his game that’s particularly elite, but he also doesn’t have any real weaknesses, either. He hasn’t run exceptional strikeout rates the last two seasons, but you can also be confident he’s not going to walk any more than the league average pitcher, either. The 92-93 mph range his fastball lives in isn’t going to blow anyone away, for a left-handed starter with at least average command, it’s perfectly capable of getting through a lineup two or even sometimes three times. You’re not going to see his arsenal on many Pitching Ninja GIFs, but it’s five pitches deep, and he commands all of them well enough that you don’t have to worry about extreme platoon splits.
Rodríguez doesn’t bias strongly towards being a heavily groundball or fly ball-dependent pitcher, and after suffering from a little homer proneness his first few seasons in the league, he’s generally been better-than-average at keeping the ball in the park as of late, an always-important trait for someone throwing at Yankee stadium, particularly one who doesn’t throw terribly hard and is going to give up their share of pulled fly balls. Put it all together, and you’ve got a pitcher that won’t compete for any Cy Young Awards, but one that Thanos would absolutely love: Perfectly balanced, as all things should be.
Although it feels like he’s been around forever — he was the headliner in an Andrew Miller trade back when “Andrew Miller, stud reliever” was a novel concept — he’ll still be just 30-years-old on Opening Day, a hair younger than Montgomery. And while he hasn’t been a paragon of health, only once surpassing 160 innings in a season, he’s never had any significant arm injuries, unlike Montgomery, which is certainly something a team will want to consider when committing money to a pitcher into their mid-thirties. The myocarditis and knee surgery that have caused him to miss time in the past aren’t small potatoes, to be sure, but past injury is the most reliable predictor of future injury, and his arm’s clean history will definitely be a point in his favor as he presumably searches for at least a four-year deal.
On the nitty-gritty side, Rodríguez also has some interesting pitch traits that might be of interest to the Yankees’ always-active pitching development staff. He cuts his fastball pretty significantly, with his four-seamer’s spin efficiency typically sitting in the low-80s the last few years. But he also parlays his bias towards supination — that is, the fact that he naturally releases the ball with slight breaking-ball wrist action — to his advantage. He’s made a cutter his top secondary pitch as of late, and manipulating that cutter into a gyro slider with an extra 13 inches of drop is one of his main weapons against left-handed hitters.
At the same time, he’s got enough ability to supinate — the opposite of pronating — to throw a changeup with a pretty good amount of arm-side run. But he’s not able to generate that same run on his sinker, a relatively unremarkable offering that mostly seems to exist to keep hitters honest on his four-seamer. Given that working with sinkers has become something of a trademark of Matt Blake’s operation, it could be an interesting opportunity to see if there’s something more to be found there.
Pitching is easily the strength of this free agent class, but like I talked about last weekend, the Yankees are going to have plenty of competition for some of the better fallback options to the Yamamotos and Ohtanis of the world. Rodríguez and Montgomery are going to have plenty of suitors, and if the Yankees want one of them, they’re going to have to pay up. If you’re going to pay up when you’re creeping up on the luxury tax, you want certainty. And while there’s no such thing as certainty when it comes to pitching, E-Rod looks to be about as reliable as it gets, especially if you don’t necessarily need an ace.