The Blue Jays are one of the teams showing trade interest in Pirates right-hander Richard Rodriguez, according to MLB Network’s Jon Heyman (Twitter link). Toronto has already made one early move to upgrade its struggling bullpen, as righty Adam Cimber was acquired yesterday part of a four-player deal with the Marlins.
As MLBTR’s Steve Adams recently illustrated, Rodriguez figures to be one of the most sought-after players of this deadline season. The 31-year-old closer is not only inexpensive ($1.7MM salary for 2021) and controllable (through the 2023 season), but he also posted some of the best numbers of any reliever in baseball. Rodriguez has a 1.78 ERA/3.55 SIERA through 30 1/3 innings, with that higher SIERA reflective of such factors as a .215 BABIP and a 24.5% strikeout rate that is barely above average.
However, Rodriguez also has some elite control — he has issued only three walks, the fewest of any pitcher in the league with at least 30 innings pitched. The lack of strikeouts, as Steve notes, is more due to a change in pitch selection rather than any sudden inability to miss bats, as Rodriguez has increased focus on generating weak contact in the form of infield pop-ups. Rodriguez’s success in 2021 also isn’t coming out of nowhere, as he is now in his fourth season of delivering quality results out of the Pittsburgh bullpen.
The right-hander would solidify any relief corps, but he would be an especially major upgrade to a Toronto bullpen that has struggled badly in recent weeks. A rather stunning number of reliever injuries has thinned the Jays’ depth, and while a few of those arms will return, there isn’t much time to spare considering how many blown leads have already cost the Blue Jays several crucial victories in a very competitive AL East.
The acquisition of Cimber over a month before the trade deadline indicates that the Toronto front office is already being aggressive in exploring options, even if league-wide trade activity isn’t expected to really kick into gear until after the July 11-13 amateur draft is completed. The Pirates could be a particular team to monitor in this regard, considering the Bucs face the especially big decision of who to select with the first overall pick.
The Blue Jays have enough minor league depth to get the Pirates’ attention in what should be a very competitive market for Rodriguez, and Pittsburgh is certainly justified in demanding a big return. Pirates GM Ben Cherington worked in the Jays front office before being hired in his current role in November 2019, though while this connection has often linked the Jays and Pirates together as natural trade partners, the two clubs have yet to actually swing a deal during Cherington’s tenure.