Tonight, Eduardo Rodriguez will make his first start for the 2016 Red Sox. While Ben Cherington hasn't been around to enjoy it, the trade he made to bring Rodriguez to Boston made the road back to contention far easier for the Red Sox. Rodriguez' strong rookie season in 2015 left Dave Dombrowski with considerably less work to do in the rotation, and while the Red Sox have gotten off to an impressive start even without him, Boston is certainly hoping his return will help them build their lead in the AL East even higher now that they won't be headed into two starts a week knowing they'll need to score seven or more just to stay competitive.
But if Ben Cherington was the one who brought Rodriguez to Fenway, Dave Dombrowski certainly played a part in the process as well. According to Jason Mastrodonato of the Boston Herald, had Dombrowski been a bit quicker on the draw at that 2014 deadline, Andrew Miller would never have gone to Baltimore, and Eduardo Rodriguez would likely be taking the mound against the Red Sox this season rather than for them.
The story goes that the Red Sox were involved with Dombrowski and the Tigers with some time to spare in July. The Red Sox wanted two of Dombrowski's prospects--unsurprising since the Tigers entered the season with one of the worst farm systems in the league--and Dombrowski was only willing to surrender one. By the time he changed his mind on July 31st, the Red Sox had made inroads with Baltimore on Rodriguez, who had spent the first half of 2014 making Double-A look uncharacteristically difficult.
In fact, when you think about it, it's entirely possible that it was ultimately Detroit's willingness to deal that finally pushed the Orioles over the edge. If Dombrowski hadn't acquiesced, the Orioles might never have traded for Miller, or the Red Sox might have been forced into accepting a lesser return. But he did give in, and was rebuffed when Baltimore and Boston made the swap, leaving the Tigers to go without. One year later, Dombrowski took over a Red Sox team that had an impressive young lefty starter to show for it.
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For any decision maker in baseball, the trades they don't make are often just as important as the ones that they do. Typically, though, that's because of the players they end up keeping around rather than the players they enable another team to trade away. That, of course, is because said decision makers don't typically take over their would-be trade partners in the season immediately thereafter.
For Dombrowski's part, he'll take that happy coincidence and run with it now that it's working in his favor. But he has to wonder what might have been had he pulled the trigger a little earlier. While the Orioles would ultimately sweep the Tigers in the ALDS, the last two games were decided by one run a piece. In the first, Andrew Miller turned in 1.2 innings of scoreless relief for Baltimore. In the second, Joba Chamberlain and Joakim Soria coughed up four runs in the process of recording three outs. Take Miller off the one team and add him to the other, and the Tigers might have been looking at a 2-1 series lead. Sure, they probably still run into the magic-powered Kansas City buzzsaw that swept Baltimore in the ACLS, but you never know. Maybe the Tigers win it all, and maybe Dombrowski never leaves Detroit in the first place.
The Red Sox, though, are glad it went the way it did. By Dombrowski's own admission, they got a better return from the Orioles than they would have from Detroit. Hopefully when Rodriguez takes the mound tonight against the team that traded him in the first place, he'll give Dombrowski plenty of reason to think twice before spending big on any rentals.