Red Sox agree with Eduardo Rodriguez, but other arbitration decisions could be telling

Eduardo Rodriguez could start on the mound after spending a month on the couch playing video games and few would be surprised if he collected double-digit strikeouts.
Thus is life with one of the game’s best changeups.
That doesn’t mean he can stop trying to get better, or that he doesn’t need to keep himself strong; it’s no coincidence the best season of his career came after showing up to spring training in the best shape of his life, a phrase that gets thrown around too often but is deserved in this instance.
It simply means that the Red Sox’ decision to keep Rodriguez on the roster and lock in his $8.3-million salary for 2021 was a no-brainer, regardless of his health issues.
Myocarditis can be life-threatening if not handled with care. Lucky for Rodriguez and the Red Sox, he’s progressed every step of the way after being sidelined for months over the summer with coronavirus complications. He had to start slowly; just getting out of bed and walking again is something that needs to be monitored for myocarditis patients. And after going the entire 2020 season without pitching a single inning, there’s no telling how rusty he’ll be in 2021, and how much of a workload he can realistically handle.
For that reason, it’d be a surprise if Rodriguez and the Sox were to negotiate a long-term contract before the 2021 season begins. There’s too many questions for a team now run by Chaim Bloom, who is proving to be just as efficient and careful as he was while working with the Rays, to commit big money to Rodriguez in his final year before free agency.
Tuesday’s news that the Sox had agreed with him on a matching $8.3 million contract from 2020 for 2021 wasn’t a surprise. To avoid arbitration and keep him around for at least one more year is the easy call here.
But it is a reminder of how in-flux the Red Sox will be as they prepare for an unsettling 2021 season in MLB.
Wednesday is the deadline for teams to agree to arbitration salaries or non-tender arbitration-eligible players. The Sox have already cut ties with Zack Godley, Jose Peraza and Andrew Triggs to save a few dollars on fringe players who didn’t help much in 2020.
They’ve got five more arbitration-eligible guys to deal with: Matt Barnes, Ryan Brasier, Austin Brice, Rafael Devers and Kevin Plawecki.
To non-tender any of those guys would be nuts for a Red Sox team that has spent between $197 million and $236 million on each of its last five Opening Day rosters.
But for a team now run by Bloom, whose former franchise just made it to the World Series with a $70 million payroll and then declined options to bring back two of its most expensive players (Charlie Morton and Mike Zunino), paired with the backdrop of a pandemic that’s wiped out revenues and created an uncertain economy in the game, nuts could be the new norm.
The question is whether or not the Red Sox are actually trying to compete in 2021, or if they’ll go into the season with a half-baked roster, a la their 2020 path.
Trading Mookie Betts and David Price for Alex Verdugo and prospects, without adding any other significant talent via free agency or trade, the Red Sox signaled they were in no-man’s land last March, when they were prepared to enter the season without a real chance at competing, but without much of an effort to rebuild, either.
“The Red Sox don’t rebuild” has been the mantra for two decades, but again, with Bloom at the helm and a clear desire from ownership to go in the opposite direction of that under Dave Dombrowski, a semi-rebuild doesn’t sound out of the realm of possibilities.
It’s not like this is a team that should be a contender in the American League. Rodriguez is a huge question mark, Chris Sale won’t be fully recovered from Tommy John surgery until sometime around May, Nathan Eovaldi can’t be relied upon and the bullpen needs to be revamped after the team traded its closer, Brandon Workman, and one of its best right-handers, Heath Hembree.
The most reliable pitcher on the staff, Martin Perez, had his $6.5 million option declined, but reliability isn’t exactly valuable when his ERA and WHIP are among the worst in MLB over the last three years.
All signs point to the Red Sox relying on its youth in 2021.
Tanner Houck made a big statement in three overpowering starts late in the year. Bryan Mata, Thad Ward, Jay Groome and a handful of others could prove to be worthy of an opportunity in 2021, particularly if the Sox stay financially efficient (or cheap, if that’s the word you prefer to use).
In Dombrowski’s final offseason before the 2019 season, the Red Sox had no problem covering up for their ineptitude with the farm system by paying millions to replacement-level players like Steve Pearce ($6 million), Mitch Moreland ($6.5 million), Eduardo Nunez ($5 million), Brock Holt ($3.5 million), Tyler Thornburg ($1.7 million) and Sandy Leon ($2.5 million).
Last year, the team’s first since Dombrowski was fired, Bloom’s only acquisitions were of the fringe player variety.
This time around, Brasier and Brice shouldn’t cost much and have big arms that should be worth a flier somewhere in the neighborhood of $1 million. The Sox don’t have much depth at catcher, so Plawecki could be set to return for something in the neighborhood of $1.5 million. Devers isn’t going anywhere and will earn a nice chunk in his first year of arbitration.
The question is whether or not Barnes will get a contract, as crazy as it would seem for a big-market team to ditch its best reliever rather than pay him $5 million in his final year before free agency.
Right now, anything is possible.

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