Tigers ink E. Rodriguez to 5-year deal

November 16th, 2021

DETROIT -- The Tigers have lit up baseball's Hot Stove season, though maybe not in the area many expected. Detroit agreed to terms with former Red Sox left-handed starter on a five-year contract, the team announced on Tuesday.

Terms were not disclosed, but a source told MLB.com that the deal is worth at least $77 million and includes an opt-out for Rodriguez after the second season, as well as incentives worth an additional $3 million.

The first major free-agent deal of this offseason continues the tone the Tigers have set for what is expected to be a busy stretch as they move out of their rebuilding phase and toward contention. Though shortstop has been the headline target in Detroit since before the season ended, general manager Al Avila noted starting pitcher as just as big of a need. Detroit began the offseason by acquiring catcher Tucker Barnhart from the Reds shortly after the World Series.

“Eduardo was clearly one of our top targets in this year’s free agent pitching class, and we are extremely happy to add someone of his caliber to our rotation,” Avila said in a press release announcing the signing. “There are a number of strong qualities that Eduardo brings to our ballclub, including his leadership abilities, and we look forward to the positive impact he will have on our team both on and off the field.”

The Red Sox extended a one-year, $18.4 million qualifying offer to Rodriguez earlier this month. By signing Rodriguez, the Tigers will give up their third-highest selection in next year’s MLB Draft, which will be their third-round pick. If the Tigers sign another free agent who had rejected a qualifying offer this offseason -- a group that includes most of the free-agent shortstops in this year’s market -- Detroit will also relinquish its fourth-round Draft pick.

Though the Tigers’ rebuild has been centered around young starting pitching, Spencer Turnbull is expected to spend most or all of next season recovering from Tommy John surgery, while Matthew Boyd is expected to miss the start of the season following surgery to repair the flexor tendon in his left elbow. Add in free agency for Wily Peralta, and that left Casey Mize, Tarik Skubal and Matt Manning -- all of whom were rookies in 2021 -- as the only returning members of Detroit’s rotation. Avila said last month the Tigers were interested in adding two starters.

Rodriguez fills one spot in a big way. The 28-year-old southpaw made 32 appearances (31 starts) in 2021, posting a 13-8 record with a 4.74 ERA, and shared the AL lead with 34 starts in 2019, when he was a 19-game winner with a 3.81 ERA and placed sixth in AL Cy Young voting. He missed the 2020 season recovering from COVID-related myocarditis.

Moreover, in a market dominated by older starting pitchers at the top of the market, Rodriguez showed reason for upside beyond his relatively young age. His 3.32 Fielding Independent Pitching and 10.56 strikeouts per nine innings in 2021 both ranked fourth among AL starters with at least 150 innings. He owned the eighth-best strikeout-to-walk ratio in that same group of pitchers at 3.94, and his 3.64 SIERA -- Skill-Interactive ERA, a variation of Fielding Independent Pitching that takes into account balls in play -- was fifth best.

Rodriguez was also stronger down the stretch, posting a 6-2 record and a 3.07 ERA after Aug. 1. Ironically, that stretch began with 10 strikeouts over five scoreless innings of two-hit ball on Aug. 4 at Comerica Park against the Tigers, whose first five outs against him came on swinging strikeouts.

“Here’s the good version of him,” Tigers manager A.J. Hinch said after that game. “He’s got the changeup you have to respect, and he will throw the cutter to keep you honest. He also throws a backdoor cutter.”

Rodriguez also reunites with former Red Sox pitching coach Juan Nieves, who is the Tigers’ assistant pitching coach. Nieves was Boston's pitching coach for Rodriguez's first Spring Training in 2015, though the team changed coaches a few weeks before Rodriguez made his Major League debut on May 28 of that season.

Rodriguez played a small role in ending the Tigers’ last postseason run. He was originally an Orioles prospect who was sent to Boston at the 2014 Trade Deadline for reliever Andrew Miller, whom the Tigers were close to acquiring at the time. Miller helped the Orioles sweep the Tigers in the 2014 AL Division Series, which remains Detroit’s last postseason visit.

If Rodriguez’s latest deal works as hoped, he now has a chance to help the Tigers get back to those days of postseason baseball.

“I am excited to be a Tiger and appreciate the commitment being made to building a winning team in Detroit,” Rodriguez said in the press release. “After some great years in Boston with amazing fans and teammates, I am blessed to be coming into a new situation where the fans in Detroit are some of the best in baseball. In speaking with Al and A.J., I knew this is a place that would be a good fit for me and my family. I can’t wait to join my new teammates and work towards a World Series title.”