Once a World Series roadblock for Tigers, Eduardo Rodriguez joins rebuild

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

Detroit — Eduardo Rodriguez once played a significant role, albeit inadvertent, in the end of the Tigers' wildly successful run from 2006-14. Now, he hopes to play a major role in helping them get back to the postseason and, ultimately, the World Series.

The Tigers on Tuesday made official the signing of Rodriguez, a veteran left-handed starter who signed a five-year, $77-million contract that could be worth up to $80 million with incentives.

It's the second-largest contract the Tigers ever have given to a free-agent starting pitcher from outside the organization, behind the five-year, $110 million given to Jordan Zimmermann. The Tigers signed Justin Verlander and Anibal Sanchez to more-lucrative deals, but they were signed to stay with the team. This marks the largest contract the Tigers have awarded since the 2015-16 offseason, when they signed Zimmermann and outfielder Justin Upton to nine-figure contracts.

Eduardo Rodriguez's strength if strikeout and swing-and-miss rate.

“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,” Tigers GM Al Avila said in a statement announcing the move. “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.”

Rodriguez, who turns 29 in April, comes to the Tigers after six seasons with the Boston Red Sox (he missed 2020 with myocarditis, after battling COVID-19). He was dealt to Boston from Baltimore in July 2014, for dominant reliever Andrew Miller.

The Tigers tried frantically to acquire Miller from Boston and thought they had a deal, until the Orioles jumped into the fray and offered Rodriguez. The Orioles swept the Tigers, with their woeful bullpen, in that year's American League Division Series. Miller recorded 3.1 hitless innings over two appearances, while the Tigers' bullpen was so bad, Orioles fans actually cheered when they made a pitching change from their dynamite starting rotation. Detroit hasn't been to the postseason since.

The Tigers' front office hopes that drought ends soon, and is spending as such. The Rodriguez signing is the second major move of the offseason for Detroit, which traded for Gold Glove catcher Tucker Barnhart, acquiring him from the Reds, before the Rodriguez signing. Shortstop is next on the shopping list.

“I am excited to be a Tiger and appreciate the commitment being made to building a winning team in Detroit,” Rodriguez said in a statement. “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 (manager) AJ (Hinch), 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.”

Rodriguez, a Venezuela native, is 64-39 with a 4.16 ERA for his major-league career. He was 13-8 with a 4.74 ERA in 2021, though his peripheral stats appeal more to the analytics crowd. He typically posts low walk rate in contrast to a high strikeout and swing-and-miss rate. Rodriguez's best season was 2019, when he was 19-6 with a 3.81 ERA and 213 strikeouts in 203.1 innings.

In Detroit, Rodriguez, whose deal includes an opt-out after two years as well as a no-trade clause, joins a rotation that also will include Casey Mize, Tarik Skubal and Matt Manning. The Tigers still could be in the market for another starting pitcher, perhaps on a shorter-term contract, with Spencer Turnbull out for the season because of Tommy John surgery and Matthew Boyd out until at least midseason after elbow surgery.

The Rodriguez signing (the second of The Detroit News top 50) brings the Tigers' 40-man roster to capacity.

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Twitter: @tonypaul1984