Eduardo Rodríguez has been the Red Sox most reliable starter this year. Sitting on 196.1 innings entering today’s final start against the Orioles, Rodríguez stands a good shot of eclipsing 200 innings for the first time in his career, which would make him one of only 15 pitchers to do so this season. His strikeout (24.6%) and walk (8.8%) rates are right in line with his previous career work, but a massive uptick in ground balls and improved health have helped the 26 year-old to a career-best season, with the high innings total paired with a solid 3.80 ERA.
With Rodríguez having emerged as a mid-rotation starter, many teams would be interested in locking him up long-term. The Red Sox, though, haven’t initiated any such conversations, he tells Rob Bradford of WEEI. Nevertheless, the hurler indicated he’d be amenable to a long-term arrangement if the team were to come knocking. “I still have two more years here. We’ll see how that goes. I love it here and I want to stay here for a long time. If they want me to, I’ll stay here,” Rodríguez said. “I haven’t had that conversation yet so I don’t know how that feels.”
That there haven’t been any talks as of yet isn’t too surprising considering the current state of the organization. Having fired Dave Dombrowski, the Sox are operating with a four-person crew heading up baseball operations for the stretch run, with the organization’s permanent leader still to be determined. No doubt, Boston will look to put a long-term front office structure in place before turning to key offseason roster decisions.
Also throwing a wrench into matters is the organization’s seemingly forthcoming effort to slash payroll significantly. Red Sox ownership expressed a desire this week to get underneath the competitive balance tax threshold of $208MM in 2020, a huge cut from the team’s estimated $240MM+ luxury tax figure this season. With the club already having $150MM+ on the books next season, not counting arbitration raises, there figures to be quite a bit of roster turnover.
While most of the attention has been focused on Mookie Betts, who is on track to become a free agent after next season, the situation with Rodríguez could likewise go a number of ways. Rodríguez and the Sox agreed to a $4.3MM salary to avoid arbitration last offseason, with two more years of arb forthcoming. Between his innings total, run prevention and 19 wins (which surely won’t matter to the Sox’s new front office head but will factor into his arbitration status), E-Rod looks poised for a significant raise in the coming months.
Buying out free agent seasons would only exacerbate the organization’s CBT concerns. Luxury tax calculations are based on average annual value of the players’ contracts, not actual yearly sum. Even if the Sox were to backload a Rodríguez extension, the present CBT calculation of any deal would be rather lofty, certainly higher than if the parties again settled on a one-year agreement to avoid arbitration.
If Boston indeed follows through on cutting payroll, there’s a chance Rodríguez even becomes an offseason trade candidate instead. Again, however, there’s little indication on how the organization plans to proceed until they bring in a new head of baseball ops. Dealing away Rodríguez would be difficult for a team that no doubt plans to contend in 2020, as the Sox’s rotation mix is filled with uncertainty. Chris Sale, Nathan Eovaldi and David Price all have their health question marks, while Rick Porcello is slated to hit free agency.
How the Red Sox choose to proceed this offseason will be among the winter’s most fascinating stories. Whether any arrangement can be hammered out to keep the youngest member of the rotation in the fold for the long-term certainly bears monitoring.