The Blue Jays weren’t involved in the first major free agent signing of the offseason, but it may very well impact the market, and their plans.
There have been a handful of smaller moves that came before it, but the first semi-major domino of the free agent market fell on Monday when the news broke that Eduardo Rodriguez is joining the Detroit Tigers. There were plenty of reports that the Tigers planned to spend some significant money to get better, and they proved that very early by bringing in the long-time Boston Red Sox left-hander. Reports indicate that E-Rod’s next contract is worth 77 million over five years, but also includes an opt-out after the second season that could prove to be very valuable to the 28 year old.
According to Jon Morosi the Blue Jays were among the teams interested in Rodriguez, but it’s very hard to say just how serious things had gotten at this point. As I’ve talked about recently, the Blue Jays are known for being thorough and checking in on as many different options as they can as they evaluate the market, and it’s possible that’s what they were doing with Rodriguez. It’s also likely that they were making some back-up plans in the event that Robbie Ray signs elsewhere, as they’ll need to fill that hole in the rotation one way or another.
I’m honestly not reading a whole lot into the Blue Jays being connected to Rodriguez, but I do think there is something we can learn from his new contract in Detroit. In a small way, it might help them figure out what kind of value that Ray will receive with his next deal, and even more so with Steven Matz if they’re interested in a reunion there.
I wouldn’t say that E-Rod is a great comparison for either of the Blue Jays free agent starters, but I would argue that he serves as a pretty good middle ground of sorts. Some peripheral stats would say that E-Rod is just as valuable as Ray, especially looking ahead, but I still think that the likely AL Cy Young winner is a cut above. That’s especially the case because Rodriguez missed the 2020 season due to a heart issue related to his illness with Covid-19. It appears that the issue is in the rearview mirror for the 28 year old, but I’m willing to bet that it still factored into his free agency at least a little bit.
In some circles folks will tell you that the Tigers got a bit of a bargain by signing Rodriguez to a contract with an AAV of 15.5 million, but it’s not quite that simple. In my mind, Rodriguez was wise to get the best of both worlds, as he’ll secure a pretty hefty contract even if he struggles with his health over the next couple of seasons. On the other hand, if things go well and he pitches the way he did in 2019 when he finished 6th in AL Cy Young award voting, he can still opt out as a 30 year old and seek an even bigger contract.
I don’t think that Ray and the Blue Jays are going to find a creative way to affect the dollars and cents of a future deal, but I think Rodriguez’s contract has all but cemented a salary of 20 million or more for the 30 year old. That shouldn’t come as a huge surprise to anyone, but I feel like Rodriguez’s deal pretty much sets that much in stone, and probably the same for a five year term for Ray as well. Rodriguez is two years younger than Ray, but neither pitcher is old enough that five years should be a major roadblock for the winning bidder, and clearly it wasn’t with the Tigers in this case.
As for Matz, Rodriguez’s contract may have actually lowered his ability to leverage negotiations a bit. He was never going to receive a five-year contract, but the fact that E-Rod agreed to a contract that pays an AAV of 15.5 million likely isn’t going to help Matz’s case. Teams could look at that value and argue that Matz should be paid more in the 10-12 million range. Again, that may not come as a huge surprise either, but it wasn’t long ago that many people were arguing that the Blue Jays should also give him a Qualifying Offer as they did with Ray and Semien, which would have paid 18.4 million if he accepted (he would have). Granted, there are other reasons why fans wanted to see that happen, but it’s still a price point to keep in mind.
It remains to be seen if there will be much more for activity on the free agent market before a new Collective Bargaining Agreement in place, but in some ways it was good to see things get moving this week. While it doesn’t directly affect the Blue Jays, it might help them and the rest of baseball start to define the market a bit, and that’s never a bad thing for the news-hungry fans out there.