The Boston Red Sox took their first significant step toward bolstering their bullpen Wednesday, signing left-handed reliever Joely Rodríguez to a one-year contract that also includes a club option for 2024.
The Athletic’s Chad Jennings reported the deal carries a $1.5 million base salary for 2023, with the 2024 option checking in at $4.25 million (or a $500,000 buyout). According to Jennings, various bonuses could push the total expenditure to just over $8 million for the two years.
This is a relatively modest price point considering Rodríguez’s upside. While his surface numbers aren’t eye-popping, a look under the hood reveals there’s a lot to like about the 31-year-old southpaw. And the Red Sox needed another lefty arm in their ‘pen with Matt Strahm hitting free agency three months after Boston traded Jake Diekman to the Chicago White Sox for catcher Reese McGuire.
Rodríguez is coming off a 2022 season in which he posted a 4.47 ERA in 55 appearances (50 1/3 innings) with the New York Mets. The underlying metrics suggest Rodríguez pitched better than that, though. He ranked in the 96th percentile in average exit velocity, the 95th percentile in barrel percentage and the 94th percentile in chase rate. Rodríguez had a 3.23 FIP while striking out 10.2 batters per nine innings.
In short, Rodríguez induces weak contact (a lot of ground balls) and misses bats. Walks have been his bugaboo — he ranked in the sixth percentile in walk rate in 2022, with 4.6 free passes per nine frames — but the rest of Rodríguez’s profile is very intriguing, especially for a team that ranked 27th in bullpen fWAR last season and has several holes to fill on its pitching staff. Rodríguez was equally tough on left-handed hitters and right-handed hitters during his one-year stop in Queens.
Rodríguez spent two seasons with the Philadelphia Phillies to begin his Major League Baseball career. He then spent two seasons with the Chunichi Dragons of Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball before returning to MLB, where he’s since pitched for the Texas Rangers and New York Yankees in addition to the Mets.