It’s a tired cliché to say a returning player is on the same level as actively adding talent to a roster.
But as it pertains to the Boston Red Sox and Eduardo Rodriguez, getting the left-handed pitcher back in the rotation for 2021 immediately upgrades the rotation. In the wake of a brutal 2020 performance from Boston’s starting pitchers, it’s a start, at least.
Rodriguez, of course, missed the entire 2020 campaign. The southpaw had a scary battle with myocarditis, a heart condition brought on by an equally brutal bout with COVID-19. Fortunately, Rodriguez is feeling better and says he’s on track to start the season — whenever and wherever that may be.
“I’m 100 percent and I can start doing everything,” Rodriguez recently told The Boston Globe’s Alex Speier. “I feel fine. I feel great.”
Rodriguez also expressed a refreshing outlook on life and his career in his conversation with Speier (which really is a good read). He also considered his future as a pitcher for the Red Sox.
“I want to stay in Boston as long as my career goes,” he told Speier. “I want to play in Boston forever. That’s where I got to the big leagues. That’s where I got an opportunity. That’s my family. That’s a ballpark where I really love to go pitch — the history, everything.
“We’ll see what goes on there, see where we’re at. Hopefully they want to do it. I want to do it.”
This seems like the perfect chance for the Red Sox and Rodriguez to get together and find common ground for a contract extension. The 27-year-old is a season away from free agency. Pitching is the biggest concern for the club right now. This should be a priority for Boston.
There are obvious question marks about Rodriguez. Despite his own declarations, it would be helpful to see him throw baseballs again. But there also are cautionary tales in recent Red Sox history.
This isn’t a Mookie Betts situation. Rodriguez isn’t the best at what he does. On the other hand, that one quote to Speier is a stronger endorsement of playing in Boston than Betts ever gave.
No, the more applicable comparison is Jon Lester. The Red Sox can’t afford to watch Rodriguez become the next Lester.
Like Rodriguez, Lester said he wanted to be in Boston for the long term — and sounded open to taking less than he’d ultimately get on the market. Ultimately, the Red Sox admit they fumbled negotiations before Lester’s walk year, and it led to him being traded before ultimately signing with the Cubs.
The calculus is a little more complicated this time around with Rodriguez given his health questions, but it’s not like we don’t know Rodriguez’s ceiling. The last time he was on a big league mound, he was going for his 20th win of the 2019 season. He fell short and had to “settle” for a 19-6 record with a 3.81 ERA and a career-high 203 innings. He answered durability questions, at least for a season, and earned himself a sixth-place finish in American League Cy Young Award voting.
If anything, Rodriguez’s uncertainty paired with an uncertain baseball economy, could mean a deal that is more “affordable” than otherwise imagined.
It’s probably no coincidence Rodriguez enjoyed his two best seasons with Alex Cora running the show. Rodriguez wasted no time celebrating the manager’s return, even more evidence he’s in a good headspace and committed to the cause for the long term.
Not only does he represent a solid piece and potential remedy to the Sox’s biggest ailment, he wants to be in Boston and could be a valuable piece to a core the club hopes will contend for World Series titles again sooner than later.