The new expanded playoff format has thrown trade deadline season for a loop — with more teams feeling they have a chance to sneak into the postseason, the list of definite sellers shrinks considerably. As such, starting pitching figures to be the most coveted commodity on the trade market, and few pitchers have positioned themselves for a blockbuster move better than Eduardo Rodriguez.
2023 Stats: 13 starts, 2.70 ERA (158 ERA+), 3.26 FIP, 9.5 K/9, 2.1 BB/9, 1.004 WHIP, 1.8 fWAR
Contract Status: Signed five-year, $77 million contact prior to 2022 season. $1 million bonus for 180 IP in each of 2022, 2023, 2024. Can opt out after 2023 season, limited ten-team no trade protection.
It was a bit surprising to witness the Tigers attack free agency winter before last. Perhaps they viewed signing Javier Báez and Eduardo Rodriguez for a combined $217 million as the sort of window-opening statement that many other young, up-and-coming squads were making, however the existing infrastructure stood on much shakier ground and the general consensus was that Detroit was a bit further away from contention than perhaps they were signaling.
Lo and behold, the Tigers stumbled to a 96-loss season last year and are on a crash course for another 90-loss campaign this year. Their young corps of homegrown starting pitchers has been decimated by injury while the offense predictably has been a mess. Rodriguez missed over two months on the restricted list while attending to family matters and already less than a year into the contract some were beginning to question whether he was yet another failed investment of the since-concluded Al Avila Era in Detroit.
But then Rodriguez came out of the gate in 2023 with a renewed hunger. Through the first two months of the season, the 30 year old southpaw had the fourth-best ERA (2.13) of any qualified starter. He missed all of June with a left index finger injury but has since returned and regained his form after a shaky first start back.
On the whole, E-Rod’s pitching better than at any point in his career. There have been no drastic changes but rather incremental gains in areas that benefit from experience — namely command. He is logging personal bests in walk rate, first-pitch-strike rate, edge rate (percent of pitches on the edge of the zone) and CSW% (called strikes plus whiffs). When you are attacking the zone and commanding to the corners it puts hitters on the defensive, pushing Rodriguez into the elite tier of starting pitchers with a strikeout minus walk rate in excess of 20 percent.
Rodriguez did well during his time with the Red Sox against the Yankees, and that includes pitching at Yankee Stadium. In 11 career appearances in the Bronx, Rodriguez has a 3.69 ERA with 59 strikeouts in 63.1 innings. The few times the Yankees got to him, it was because of the free pass and the long ball, both of which he has found a way to limit in 2023.
Of course, no discussion about Rodriguez would be complete without mentioning his injury history. He underwent knee surgery to fix a dislocated kneecap in 2016 and missed time in 2017 after re-injuring the same knee. He then endured a scary bout of myocarditis in 2020, contracted as a complication of a previous bout with COVID-19. He’s also missed time to a sprained ankle, left elbow inflammation, migraines, and a rib injury. Rodriguez has only eclipsed the 200 inning mark once in 2019, with his next highest mark of 157.2 coming in 2021.
The murky understanding of who will be buyers and sellers, other trade targets going down with injury (Shane Bieber), and Rodriguez’s contract running through 2026 all converge to push the potential asking price for him into elevated territory. Unlike many of the players whose names are floating around in trade rumors, Rodriguez is not a pure rental, should he choose not to opt out after this season. Therefore, his contract is something of a double-edged sword — all teams covet those extra years of control but his price-point ($15.4MM AAV) might ward off clubs reluctant to increase payroll.
It all creates a somewhat limiting scenario should the Yankees find themselves in the market for a starting pitcher. They are bumping right up against the Steve Cohen tax threshold and have signaled zero willingness to exceed it. If Detroit is looking to increase the prospect return on top of what his multiple years of control will buy, they could pay down a chunk of the money owed to Rodriguez. Both of these possibilities stand at odds with the Yankees’ priorities — they don’t want to deplete their farm system of what few blue chips remain and they don’t want to up their tax bill — so it’s unlikely we’ll see Rodriguez pitching in pinstripes August 1st and beyond.