Tigers making good on promise to be aggressive, sign Eduardo Rodriguez

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News

Detroit — Veteran starting catcher, check.

Veteran starting pitcher, check.

Tigers general manager Al Avila continues to make good on his vow to be aggressive this offseason.

Eduardo Rodriguez originally was signed by the Baltimore Orioles as an amateur free agent out of Venezuela.

After trading for catcher Tucker Barnhart, the Tigers Monday morning reached an agreement with veteran left-handed starting pitcher Eduardo Rodriguez on a five-year deal that will pay him at least $77 million, with a chance to opt out after two seasons.

He also received some no-trade protection and will be able to earn an additional $3 million in incentives.

The agreement, which is pending medicals, was first reported by The Athletic and Jon Heyman.

Rodriguez, who will turn 29 on April 7, made 31 starts for the Boston Red Sox last season and posted a career-best strikeout rate (10.6 per nine innings) and a career-low walk rate (2.7), covering 157.2 innings. He made three post-season starts for the Red Sox, as well.

Fifteen of his starts were against the heavy-hitting, right-handed dominant teams in the American League East, including five against the Yankees. Which is part of the reason why the opponent slash-line against him — .277/.328/.437 —  might be a little misleading.

According to Sports Info Solutions, given where and how hard balls were hit against him last year, the expected batting average against him was .240 with a .671 OPS and 69 runs allowed. His actual numbers were .277, .765 and 87.

Further, his .363 opponent average on balls in play was the highest in baseball among qualifying pitchers, which indicates he pitched in a lot of bad luck. Validating that, the average exit velocity on balls in play against him, 86.5 mph, was among the lowest 10 percent in baseball. 

The Tigers’ need for a veteran starter was acute, a "necessity," Avila said in October.

Subscribers: Idle thoughts: Winning offseason guarantees zip for Tigers, but, man, is it fun

Spencer Turnbull will not pitch in 2022 recovering from Tommy John surgery and Matthew Boyd will be out until June at least after flexor tendon surgery. Rodriguez, who finished sixth in the Cy Young voting in 2019, will anchor an otherwise young rotation next season.

Casey Mize, Tarik Skubal and Matt Manning will all be in their second season. The Tigers have 27-year-old Tyler Alexander penciled in as the fifth starter right now, but there is a chance Avila will look to add another veteran starter later this offseason.

After going 13-5 with a sub-4.00 ERA and pitching in the World Series in 2018, Rodriguez made a league-most 34 starts and won 19 games with a 3.81 ERA 2019. But he missed all of 2020 battling both COVID-19 and myocarditis.

The first part of his 2021 season was choppy. His velocity was down a tick and he didn’t have the same feel for his change-up and cutter. But as the season wore on, the command of his five-pitch mix sharpened and he was effectively working his four-seam fastball (92-93 mph) up in the zone and getting a 31% swing and miss rate.

He was arguably the Red Sox most consistent starter down the stretch. Which is why they gave him the $18.4 million qualifying offer, which he declined. Boston, along with the Blue Jays and Angels, were vying to sign Rodriguez along with the Tigers.

The signing of Rodriguez will cost the Tigers a draft pick.

One of the advantages the Tigers had in their courtship of Rodriguez, other than the five-year deal, was assistant pitching coach Juan Nieves. Nieves was the Red Sox pitching coach when Rodriguez broke into the big leagues in 2015 and the two maintained a close relationship over the years.

The last big item on the Avila’s offseason to-do list is acquiring one of the big-ticket shortstops. Avila made it known at the general managers meetings last week that he had preliminary conversations with agents from multiple free agent shortstops including Carlos Correa.

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Twitter: @cmccosky