The 2021 season is an important one for the Red Sox organization to assess what they have in the players who are already here. Based on how said players perform during this upcoming season as well as their relative health, the front office will then make determinations about to whom they will extend contracts in 2022 and who they will target in free agency. One of the Red Sox players who will be under the most scrutiny during this season on that front is Eduardo Rodriguez, who is set to hit the open market next winter.
Rodriguez unfortunately missed the entire 2020 season after contracting COVID and subsequently developing myocarditis. This condition causes inflammation of the heart making it impossible to exercise or do any strenuous activity safely, which left him unable to even really workout until the offseason. The good news on that front, both for him personally and the team, is that Rodriguez says he is 100 percent healthy now. As he told the Boston Globe’s Julian McWilliams “I feel 100 percent. I will say everything is going to be fine.”
Before these complications Rodriguez had been coming off his best season of his career in 2019. There, he eclipsed 200 innings for the first time, finishing with 203 1⁄3, and posting a career-best 3.81 ERA. In the article linked above, McWilliams noted that Rodriguez had thrown 100 or more pitches in 22 of his 34 starts in 2019. That durability and consistency had been sorely lacking previously in Rodriguez’s career and is something he will be looking to repeat as he enters his age-28 season, his last before free agency.
With spring training now underway the roster is pretty much set for Opening Day barring injuries and/or minor acquisitions. As Chaim Bloom recently spoke about, this is the time when teams tend to start exploring extensions with key players. The four players who have been mentioned most when it comes to extensions have been Rafael Devers, Xander Bogaerts, Alex Verdugo and Rodriguez. It is my firm belief, and I should note has been since before 2020, that the Red Sox should not extend Rodriguez.
Dating back to his debut in 2015 through the end of 2019, Rodriguez has thrown 699 IP over 122 games started. He ranks 53rd over that timespan in innings pitched and 49th in games started. His ERA+ over that time is 113, which has him 50th in baseball, while his true ERA of 4.01 ranks 71st.
Despite ranking 53rd in innings among starters dating back to the beginning of 2015, Rodriguez has a whopping 24 games where he has allowed five or more earned runs as a starter. Only eight pitchers in that span had more such starts while throwing fewer innings. Getting blown up for five or more runs in 19.7 percent of your career starts is, well, not great, especially when you have struggled to make up for it with durability. Rick Porcello, who has become a punching bag for many Red Sox fans in recent years, has a blow up rate of 19.5 percent over the same time span while throwing 964 innings, 265 more than Rodriguez. This rate has not improved for Rodriguez even in that career year in 2019, a season in which he was blown up in seven of his 34 starts, a rate of 20.5 percent.
But as always, these conversations are about context. Anyone is a good extension candidate at the right price. So what would a Rodriguez extension look like? The Twitter account Red Sox Stats recently surmised that it might take something between what Zack Wheeler and Nathan Eovaldi earned in free agency: Five-years and $90 million dollars or about $18 million per year. I think that is a reasonable assumption based off of past contracts, and if that were indeed the baseline I would not feel comfortable giving Rodriguez based on his track record.
The other important part of this conversation is who they could look to in free agency next year as an alternative. The 2021-2022 offseason is rich with much more attractive starting pitching options including Clayton Kershaw, Max Scherzer, Zack Greinke, Lance Lynn, and many more who can you check out at that link. And it’s not just stars, but also pitchers who have had their struggles but have recently improved to become much different pitchers like Kevin Gausman and Dylan Bundy, as well as veterans like Justin Verlander, who should be making his way back from Tommy John surgery, and Charlie Morton, who could also decide to play another year.
Personally, I’d much rather spend the money to pair a healthy Chris Sale with high-end veterans on shorter deals like Scherzer, Greinke, or Lynn and try to develop the next wave of homegrown starters. My philosophy would be to spend to make sure Bogaerts and Devers are here for the next foreseeable future and spend on proven pitching. Just make sure those commitments aren’t long term and for guys with too many questions. Rodriguez has too many questions for my liking when you look at the entirety of his career.