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It happened so early that many may have forgotten about it, but the move that opened the free agent floodgates was not made by the Rangers, nor the Mets.
It was the Detroit Tigers when they gave a five-year deal to Eduardo Rodriguez. That deal for Rodriguez can pay the left-hander up to $77 million, and like so many other deals as of late -- particularly for pitchers -- it contains an opt out, in this case after his second season.
So, why was Rodriguez the first of the names off the board? Impossible to know with certainty, but there are a number of factors. It’s fair to say that the Tigers had to pay the “bad team” tax; getting more years -- even with the opt out -- than a 28-year-old hurler generally gets on the market. But it’s certainly understandable why Detroit would want him as a member of their starting staff. While he finished with an ERA of 4.74, that number isn’t an accurate representation of how well he pitched in 2021. He finished with 185 strikeouts against 47 walks over his 157 2/3 frames, and his FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) of 3.32 speaks to how much poor luck he had in the campaign.
The question, of course, is if he’s capable of doing this again, and the metrics suggest there’s reason for optimism, and a smidgen of concern. There were very few pitchers that were better than Rodriguez in avoiding hard contact; he ranked in the 90th percentile in average exit velocity allowed, and he was just below that in hard hit percentage; ranking in the 87th percentile. He also was well above-average in chase rate and strikeout percentage while ranking among the best in walk rate, to boot. The smidgen of concern comes from the fact that Rodriguez does not have an elite fastball, and on top of it not being among the best in velocity, it also doesn’t offer a great deal of spin. That means the off-speed pitches have to be at their best for him to be successful, but over the past two seasons on the mound, they’ve been just that.
The other reason to be excited here is the divisional change. Rodriguez is going from an AL East that had four teams win at least 90 games (yes, Boston was one of them but that still meant facing three quite often) to a division that is basically the White Sox and three rebuilding clubs. Of course, the Tigers are still a young club that even with Rodriguez and the signing of Javier Baez are guaranteed to be in contention, but getting to square off against the Royals, Twins and Guardians seems a lot better on paper to the Blue Jays, Rays and Yankees, even if Chicago should present a formidable challenge with their talented right-handed hitters in the lineup.
There may not be as many win chances for Rodriguez as he had with the Red Sox or if he had signed with a more obvious contender than Detroit, but the strikeouts should still be there, and it’s very easy to imagine he’ll be a usable fantasy option throughout 2022.
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Quick Hits: Evan Drellich of The Athletic reports that MLB and MLB Players Association representatives are unlikely to discuss core economic issues at the epicenter of reaching a new Collective Bargaining Agreement until January … Peter Bendix has been promoted to the role of general manager with the Rays. This follows the September elevation of Erik Neander from GM to president of baseball operations … According to Jon Heyman of MLB Network, Rays bench coach Matt Quatraro made a "great impression" during his interview for the Mets' managerial opening … Yankees signed OF Ender Inciarte to a minor league contract … Padres signed OF Nomar Mazara to a minor league contract with an invitation to spring training.