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Eduardo Rodríguez in prime position for free agency following career year

After setting career highs in nearly all peripheral stats, Eduardo Rodríguez is set up for a payday, as long as teams are willing to look past his ERA.

Image: @RedSox/Twitter

Depending on what you choose to look at, it is entirely plausible to conclude either that Eduardo Rodríguez had the best or worst season of his career in 2021. After missing all of 2020 due to myocarditis, Rodríguez produced the highest ERA of his career across 157.2 innings. This number on its own is misleading though.

Eduardo managed this career-worst while simultaneously having career bests in most peripheral stats, including K% (27.4), BB% (7.0), FIP (3.32), xFIP (3.43), as well as fWAR (3.8). Much of the disparity can be attributed to some of the worst batted ball luck a pitcher can have, which is perhaps best represented by his .363 BABIP, miles above the 2021 league average of .292. Coupled with the poor infield defense behind him, and the result is a pitcher who could just as easily earn one of the biggest contracts of any pitcher this winter, as he could still be looking for a team in February.

Further complicating things is the rather strong class of pitchers looking for new teams this winter. While the market is headlined by a pair of Cy Young award finalists in Max Scherzer and Robbie Ray. Rodríguez seems to slot into the tier below these two, alongside names such as Kevin Gausman, Carlos Rodón, Noah Syndergaard, and Clayton Kershaw. As is proven every year, teams can never have too much pitching, so even this second tier of pitchers should draw interest from just about any team hoping to compete in 2021.

Early reports of Rodríguez’s market have identified the Red Sox, Angels, and Tigers as the teams most active in talks with the southpaw. The Red Sox even reportedly offered Rodríguez a multi-year offer in addition to the qualifying offer, which Rodríguez has until November 17th to accept or decline. Given how active his market seemingly already is, it would be shocking for him to accept.

The exact terms of the multi-year offer are not yet known, but assuming it’s a fair deal, something in the neighborhood of three to five years with an average annual value of around $20M would seem to be a wise guess for the 28-year-old. Eduardo stated before that he would like to spend his entire career in Boston, the organization he joined as the return for Andrew Miller in a 2014 deadline deal. In an interview with the Boston Globe’s Alex Speier in November of 2020, Rodríguez said:

“I want to stay in Boston as long as my career goes. I want to play in Boston forever. That’s where I got to the big leagues. That’s where I got an opportunity. That’s my family. That’s a ballpark where I really love to pitch - the history, everything. We’ll see what goes on there, see where we’re at. Hopefully, they want to do it. I want to do it.”

If the two teams can get close on terms, a reunion seems likely. If Rodríguez does leave for greener pastures, the team should be okay. Even if they choose to not add any other starters before the spring, the team can roll into 2022 with a starting five consisting of Nathan Eovaldi, Chris Sale, Nick Pivetta, Tanner Houck, and Garrett Whitlock. Chaim Bloom will almost certainly look to add to these five in some way, as Bloom has emphasized pitching depth since he arrived in Boston and other than Eovaldi, each of these pitchers have some question marks surrounding them, however minor or major those might be.

If Rodríguez does leave Boston, plenty of other teams will be interested. As mentioned before, the Tigers and Angels have each already been linked to the Venezuelan pitcher. The Tigers are an exciting, young team on the rise. Their recent farm-system graduates in the rotation of Casey Mize and Tarik Skubal could certainly benefit from the leadership and experience that a veteran such as Rodríguez can bring to a clubhouse. Other top prospects such as Ty Madden and 2021 first-rounder Jackson Jobe could also be in the big leagues during the duration of the contract.

The Angels have all the star power a team could ask for in their lineup with Trout, Ohtani, and Rendon. Several young pitchers showed flashes of their high potential down the stretch, including José Suarez, Patrick Sandoval, and Reid Detmers. Much like in Detroit, Rodríguez could step into a leadership role while also giving Los Angeles 30 starts of quality innings.

Just about every contender could use pitching, and I’d expect all of them to at the very least engage in conversations with Rodríguez and every other pitcher available on the market. The Blue Jays will need to find some way to fill the hole left by Robbie Ray. The White Sox need to replace Carlos Rodón. The Giants will need to replace Kevin Gausman, Anthony DeSclafani, and Alex Wood. The Astros barely managed to piece together their rotation in October, especially after the injury to Lance McCullers, reinforcing the idea that it is impossible to have too much pitching. The Dodgers have more question marks/impending free agents (Dustin May, Clayton Kershaw, Max Scherzer, Trevor Bauer) than they did true starting pitchers in October.

If Chaim Bloom is willing to give out the biggest contract of his Boston tenure (that title currently belongs to Enrique Hernández’s $14 million, two-year contract given last winter) to keep a fan favorite in Boston, it seems likely that Rodríguez will continue to call Fenway Park home. If Bloom is not prepared to make that commitment to the fourth-longest tenured active Red Sox player (Bogaerts, Vázquez, Barnes), then Eduardo will most likely have more than half the league calling his agent. While the Tigers and Angels have emerged as early favorites, the market for Eduardo Rodríguez remains wide open.

Matt O’Halloran is a junior mathematics major at the University of Massachusetts Lowell. He works in analytics with the school’s baseball program. He is a writer for Beyond the Box Score and an editor at Diamond Digest. He can be found on Twitter @matto20.