The potential implications of E-Rod's injury

June 2nd, 2023

This story was excerpted from Jason Beck’s Tigers Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

A week ago, my colleague Mark Feinsand wrote about the Tigers’ potential conundrum with  who could be the top starting pitcher on the trade market. If the Tigers are in contention for the American League Central leading into the Aug. 1 Trade Deadline, would they entertain trading Rodriguez, who can opt out of his contract at season’s end? Or would they ride it out and take their chances of losing him as a free agent?

With Rodriguez now sidelined with an injured finger, that question might be moot. And yet, Rodriguez’s recovery could have a massive impact on the Tigers, not just for his season, but years to come.

Rodriguez has a ruptured A4 pulley in his finger. The pulley attaches the tendon to the bone, making it vital for a pitcher to grip the ball. A ruptured pulley is more common for rock climbers and bowlers than baseball players. Adam Wainwright missed about 10 weeks with a ruptured pulley in his middle finger in 2008. Former Mets pitcher John Maine missed just under six weeks for a similar injury in 2006. Former Padres pitcher Adam Eaton, not to be confused with the newly-retired outfielder by the same name, needed surgery for a torn pulley and missed half the 2006 season.

Then there’s Twins pitcher Randy Dobnak, who had multiple ruptures that have stalled his career over the last two seasons. That gives Rodriguez and the Tigers reason to be cautious.

One published study examining cases around baseball put a typical timetable at six weeks. With that in mind, for Rodriguez to return in mid-July and get a few starts before the Trade Deadline would appear to be a best-case scenario. But if that happens, will a starter-needy team want to risk giving up quality prospects and take on a contract that could potentially run through 2026?

If the injury becomes a long-term issue, that contract becomes a potential albatross for the Tigers, like Jordan Zimmermann’s contract became after his recurring neck issues. That could give the Tigers a big reason not to rush. On the flip side, if Rodriguez makes a full recovery and regains form down the stretch, he’ll have to decide whether to opt out and hit the market or take the security of his current contract, which has three years and $49 million remaining.

Given recent contracts for free-agent starters, keeping an in-form Rodriguez on his remaining deal wouldn’t be terrible for the Tigers