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Tigers make big free-agent splash, sign Eduardo Rodriguez to five-year, $77 million deal

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The Detroit Tigers sent a major sign Monday they intend to compete in 2022. The team inked starter Eduardo Rodriguez to a five-year, $77 million deal, according to Cody Stavenhagen of The Athletic.

It's a significant deal for Rodriguez, who spent his first six seasons with the Boston Red Sox. In 856 2/3 career innings, Rodriguez — a lefty — has a 4.16 ERA and 892 strikeouts. 

The deal reportedly provides Rodriguez with a no-trade clause, and contains performance incentives. Rodriguez also has the ability to opt out following the second year of the contract, according to Jon Heyman. 

By the numbers, Rodriguez isn't your typical ace starter. He was solid with the Red Sox, posting an above-average or league-average ERA in five of his six seasons with Boston, but never made an All-Star team.

Rodriguez's finest season came in 2019, when he posted a 3.81 ERA over 203 1/3 innings, finishing sixth in American League Cy Young voting.

Big things were expected of Rodriguez in 2020, but he missed the entire year while dealing with nasty side effects from COVID-19. Rodriguez developed myocarditis, a heart condition, and spent all of 2020 recovering from the illness.

Rodriguez was cleared to return in 2021, and put up a 4.74 ERA in 157 2/3 innings with Boston.

Eduardo Rodriguez shores up Tigers' young rotation

The move gives the Tigers a veteran starter to lead its young rotation. The Tigers' rotation relied on a trio of promising 24-year-olds last season. Casey Mize and Tarik Skubal made the starting rotation out of spring training, and Matt Manning wasn't far behind. The three were considered among the Tigers' best prospects coming into the season. Skubal ranked second, Mize third and Manning fourth on the team's prospect list, per Baseball America. 

Like most young pitchers, all three flashed inconsistency in 2021. Mize posted a 3.71 ERA, the best of the trio, but didn't show the strikeout upside of Skubal, who finished with 164 punch-outs in 149 1/3 innings. Manning struggled, posting a 5.80 ERA over 18 starts. He turned in his best performance in his final start of the season, giving up just two hits and striking out seven in five innings against the Chicago White Sox. 

Those growing pains led to the Tigers finishing 77-85 in 2021, good for third in the American League Central in their first season under new manager A.J. Hinch.

Eduardo Rodriguez with the Red Sox.
Eduardo Rodriguez signed a massive deal with the Tigers. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

Will Eduardo Rodriguez signing kickstart MLB free agency?

It's tough to predict whether Rodriguez's signing will kickstart MLB's offseason. The top-end of the free-agent market is strong, but the league's collective bargaining agreement (CBA) is set to expire in December. Negotiations are reportedly contentious, and the owners could move to lock out the players if the two sides can't come to an agreement. 

That uncertainty could lead to players — like Rodriguez — getting their money now before the new CBA potentially alters the market. It could also create a situation where players wait until labor issues are settled to sign. Player salaries are already a hot topic in negotiations, and some players won't want to sign until the game's economics are set in stone.

Rodriguez's deal prepares him for either scenario. If the landscape remains unchanged or gets worse with the new CBA, Rodriguez already has $77 million. But if the new CBA creates a more lucrative market for free agents, Rodriguez can always opt out after two seasons in Detroit and still secure himself another deal.