With the trade deadline now just a few days away, Tigers starter Eduardo Rodriguez is drawing plenty of trade interest. Mark Feinsand of MLB.com reports that scouts from several rival clubs having been keeping an eye on him, with the Rangers, Rays, Reds, Phillies and Diamondbacks among those keeping tabs.
It’s unsurprising that Rodriguez, 30, is garnering attention around the league. He’s been a solid major league starter for many years and is having arguably his best season to date. Coming into this year, he had thrown 947 2/3 innings with a 4.15 earned run average, striking out 23.9% of batters faced while walking 8.1% of them and keeping the ball on the ground at a 41.2% clip. Here in 2023, he has a 2.95 ERA, nudging his strikeout rate to 25.9% and lowering his walk rate to 6%, that latter number being a career best by a full point.
Those numbers would fit great in just about every rotation around the league. What makes his situation unique is his contract. He’s not a rental in a strict sense but will be treated similarly to one. The Tigers signed him to a five-year, $77MM deal going into 2022, but that deal gave him the ability to opt out after the second year. That opt-out opportunity is now just a few months away, when he will have to decide between hanging onto the three years and $49MM left on his contract versus returning to the open market.
The last time he was a free agent, he was coming off a season in which he had a 4.74 ERA and had rejected a qualifying offer. This time, it seems like he will have the ability to return to free agency with a stronger platform year and no QO attached, since players aren’t allowed to receive more than one in their careers. He will be two years older and the underlying numbers of his 2021 season were still strong, but all the factors taken into consideration would seem to point to him having a strong shot of getting past that $49MM guarantee in free agency. The most recent offseason saw mid-rotation pitchers like Chris Bassitt, Taijuan Walker and Jameson Taillon get between $63MM and $72MM, with Rodriguez having an argument for being in that range as well.
With that being the case, it makes sense for the Tigers to consider moving him for talent that can help them in future seasons. Their record is currently 46-55, which only puts them 6.5 games off the lead in the weak AL Central, but FanGraphs only gives them a 1.7% chance of making the playoffs with Baseball Prospectus at 0.3%.
The tricky thing is that, unlike other rental players, there’s more downside for the acquiring club. Although Rodriguez is trending towards opting out, there’s a chance he could experience a downturn in results or suffer an injury that causes him to take the bird in the hand. That’s something that other clubs would have to take into consideration when discussing deals, and it’s possible the Tigers get a lesser return than if Rodriguez were simply in the final year of his contract. The injury question mark is always a factor with pitchers and certainly with Rodriguez, who has only once topped 160 innings in a season.
Complications aside, each of the listed clubs would surely love to have Rodriguez in their rotation for the stretch run. The Rangers have lost Jacob deGrom and Jake Odorizzi to season-ending injuries, which has put a couple of dents in their depth. Dane Dunning has stepped up and has an ERA of 3.18 this year, but a 15.4% strikeout rate that casts some doubt on its sustainability. Martín Pérez and Andrew Heaney are each having lackluster seasons as well, with their respective ERAs hovering just under 5.00. They are still leading the AL West but the Astros are only two games back, with the Angels also aggressively making a push. They’ve already been connected to starters, with reported interest in Lance Lynn of the White Sox.
The Rays have some strong elements to their rotation with Shane McClanahan, Tyler Glasnow, Taj Bradley and Zach Eflin in four spots, but Eflin has dealt with persistent knee issues in his career and underwent an MRI on his left knee yesterday. It’s unclear if that will be a serious problem, but they are already without Jeffrey Springs and Drew Rasmussen for the rest of the season, with Josh Fleming on the 60-day IL as well. Like the Rangers, they’ve also been connected to Lynn in their pursuit of more starting pitching. They have slipped behind Baltimore in the East but still hold the top Wild Card spot in the American League.
The Reds have known for some time to be in the market for pitching, which makes plenty of sense. They were hoping to have their rotation fronted by Hunter Greene and Nick Lodolo but both have been on the IL for a while now with at least a few more weeks until their expected returns. Other starters like Justin Dunn and Connor Overton are on the IL with them. Luke Weaver is still clinging to a rotation spot despite his 7.20 ERA on the year, leaving plenty of room for an upgrade. They are currently holding a Wild Card spot and are just a game and a half behind the Brewers in the Central division.
The Phillies have a solid group of five in Zack Wheeler, Aaron Nola, Taijuan Walker, Ranger Suárez and Cristopher Sánchez, but their depth has been weakened by the Tommy John surgery of Andrew Painter and the struggles of Bailey Falter. The only member of their current rotation than can be optioned is Sanchez, who has a 2.98 ERA but a 4.06 FIP. But perhaps someone could wind up in the bullpen or they simply use a six-man rotation for a while. They currently hold one of the Wild Card spots in the tight NL race.
The Diamondbacks have a top-heavy rotation with Zac Gallen and Merrill Kelly at the front. Brandon Pfaadt was one of the top pitching prospects in the league coming into the year but has an 8.81 ERA through his first seven starts. Tommy Henry has a 4.01 ERA but with uninspiring peripherals and a 5.14 FIP. Ryne Nelson’s ERA is is 4.97. General manager Mike Hazen has already admitted the club will pursue pitching upgrades. It remains to be seen how aggressive they will be since they’ve been struggling lately, but they are still just half a game out of the playoff picture.