News Now: A Baseball Legend Joins Atlanta Braves with a $90M Deal…

Former Tigers Pitcher Eduardo Rodriguez Poised to Join Atlanta Braves with $90M Deal.

Are the Atlanta Braves and Eduardo Rodriguez a match?

The Atlanta Braves remain in the market for a veteran starting pitcher. Various sources suggest that a former Red Sox and Tigers lefty fits the team’s needs and budget.

In Wednesday’s issue of The Athletic ($), Jim Bowden suggested that the Atlanta Braves should offer free-agent Eduardo Rodriguez a contract worth five years and $90M because he “would be a good fit with the Braves and could slot into the middle of their rotation.”  But who is he and how well does he actually fit?

A Brief History of E-Rod

The Orioles signed Rodriguez as a 17-year-old international free agent in January 2010. By the end of the 2013 season, he’d become a consensus Top-100 prospect and reached the Double-A level in the Orioles’ system. At the deadline, Baltimore was in the race for the AL East title and traded him to Boston for Andrew Miller. He made his Major League debut for the Sox on May 28, 2015, throwing 7 2/3 innings of three-hit ball against the Rangers, and ended the season 10-6 with a 3.85 ERA and 98 strikeouts in 121+ IP.

Rodriguez started 2016 on the IL with a dislocated knee cap and didn’t pitch for Boston until the end of May. He struggled in June but righted the ship in mid-July, pitching to a 3.24 ERA in 77 2/3 innings from July 16 on, despite losing a week to a strained hamstring in August. E-Rod started 2017 by pitching to a 3.54 ERA in 61 innings, including 10 starts and one appearance in relief before suffering a partial dislocation of his right knee cap. He returned after the All-Star break and made 14 starts but threw only 77 innings with a 4.72 ERA.

He had surgery to permanently repair his knee and over the next two seasons, Rodriguez threw 333 innings in 61 games – including 57 starts – while pitching to a 3.81 ERA, striking out 359 and walking 120. He led the AL with 34 starts in 2019 and finished sixth in AL Cy Young voting.

Post COVID-19 Rodriguez

Rodriguez was diagnosed with COVID-19 in July 2020, which led to myocarditis that caused him to miss the rest of the season. He returned in 2021 and posted a career-high 10.6 K/9 but his ERA jumped to 4.74. Despite his seemingly mismatched numbers, the Tigers signed him to a five-year, $77M deal with a player option after the 2023 season.

His strikeouts returned to career norms in 2022 and his ERA came down slightly in the first two months of the season before a lat strain sent him to the IL. While on the IL, family issues forced him to ask for administrative leave and he didn’t return until August 21. While his ERA dropped to 3.81 in his last nine starts, his FIP jumped to 4.75.

Rodriguez was named opening day starter for the fifth time this year and started strong, pitching to a 2.13 ERA, 3.14 FIP, and 1.005 WHIP over 67.2 innings in 11 starts before rupturing an A4 pulley in his left index finger, making it painful to flex the finger. He returned before the deadline and pitched well enough that the Dodgers attempted to acquire him.

No Deal

The Dodgers and Tigers agreed to the deal, and the Tigers believed Rodriguez would waive his no-trade. But when they contacted him to formalize his approval, he reversed course and exercised his no-trade clause, killing the deal According to Ken Rosenthal in The Athletic ($), while Rodriguez said family issues drove his decision, money would have changed his mind.

“… according to team sources briefed on the discussions, Rodriguez and Mato asked for financial and contractual enhancements for the pitcher to join the Dodgers…Mato declined comment when asked about one of the enhancements sources said he proposed — an additional year on Rodriguez’s contract at $20 million if he declined to opt out…”

His agent tried other avenues to organize the deal but time ran out. The injury limited Rodriguez to 152 ⅔ innings with a career-high 3.30 ERA and 1.153 WHIP. However, his K/9 rate and BB rates returned to something close to career norms.

What’s Not To Like?

When healthy, Rodriguez looks like what you’d expect of a mid-rotation starter but he’s had enough injuries to warrant a second look, and he’s 31, so those injuries don’t heal as quickly. I understand that he had to deal with family issues but completely breaking off contact with the club – even via his agent – is concerning. It’s none of our business what those issues were, but the club has a right to know when it can expect its player to return.

The no-trade clause gave Rodriguez the right to veto the trade, and after his 2022 absence, family issues are a strong reason for exercising it. Still, one wonders how an additional guaranteed year at $20M would make those issues easier to overcome. He doesn’t have to explain but it clouds the issue.

MLBTR projects Rodriguez to get four years and $82M, an AAV of $20.5M, while Bowden suggested five years and $90M, an AAV of $18M. I wouldn’t want to give him more than four years and $70M, a $17.5M AAV. I’m not opposed to incentives for starts and innings pitched to take it higher. If I’m handing out a five-year deal, I’d prefer Imanaga for five years at $85M; that’s the same $17.5M AAV for a pitcher with experience in big games, no significant injury history, and a reputation as a strike thrower.

That’s A Wrap

Eduardo Rodriguez, Atlanta Braves

In his interviews after the 2023 deadline, Atlanta Braves GM Alex Anthopoulos said that they tried to land a starting pitcher, but there were no deals they liked. He went on to say that a deal for a starter popped up with five minutes to go, but there wasn’t time to work out the details.

I believed then and still think that the pitcher they were offered was Eduardo Rodriguez. This is likely why Bowden and others think the Braves are a good fit.

The Braves are closer to his family home in Miami and would have moved him to a contender, making it less likely he’d opt out after the season. So, the speculation now makes sense but while he’s probably on their list of options, I doubt he’s at the top. If Anthopoulos was willing to make a deal at the deadline, he was also going to have to include one or more of the club’s better prospects.

If he was ready to do it then, he’s ready to do it now, so if you’re in love with an Atlanta Braves prospect, get your ice cream and tissues out and be prepared to say goodbye. I believe a trade for a controllable pitcher is more likely than a big signing. Dylan Cease is the pitcher who most closely fits that profile, but there are others. When it happens, we’ll let you know here at the House That Hank Built.

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