On no-trade clauses and ‘losers’

Eduardo Rodriguez is stuck with a losing team for a couple more months, but it’s in a city his family doesn’t mind being in.

This article is free for anyone to read, but please consider becoming a Patreon subscriber to allow me to keep writing posts like this one. Sign up to receive articles like this one in your inbox here.

On Thursday, Ken Rosenthal wrote about the failed trade of Eduardo Rodriguez to the Dodgers for The Athletic. It broke down the trade that failed to materialize thanks to Rodriguez’s invocation of his no-trade clause, which came out of a desire to stay in Detroit, where his Miami-based family didn’t mind spending their summers. In the piece, Rosenthal says there are no winners here, that both the Tigers and Dodgers failed in different ways. That, there should be no problems with: the Tigers could have used some pieces to help a rebuild along, the Dodgers needed a starter like Rodriguez (who has a 2.96 ERA right now and who has been pretty damn good outside of his last year in Boston, which was just average) right now. Neither got what they wanted, and since Rodriguez can opt out of his Tigers’ deal at year’s end, and very well might do so given his performance so far this season, well. There won’t be another chance to collect on him.

What I take issue with is this line of thinking that followed:

While it might be harsh to call Rodriguez a loser, he also did not come out ahead. He could have enhanced his appeal as a free agent by pitching for a World Series contender in a large market, but instead potentially diminished his value by declining to leave the woebegone Tigers for the first-place Dodgers.

Rodriguez’s agent, Gene Mato, indicated in a statement the pitcher did not want to disrupt his wife and children, who are based in Miami and comfortable living in the Detroit area. If that alone was Rodriguez’s reason for declining the trade, his decision would be difficult to question, even if his stay in Los Angeles might only have a few lasted months. Rodriguez, 30, spent two months on the restricted list last summer dealing with a marital issue.

However, according to team sources briefed on the discussions, Rodriguez and Mato asked for financial and contractual enhancements for the pitcher to join the Dodgers, one of 10 teams to which he is contractually permitted to block a trade. When those enhancements were not granted, he invoked his no-trade protection.

It’s a little confusing that Rosenthal seems to think that Rodriguez attempting to work something out in order to make the Dodgers’ deal happen somehow goes against the claim that he wanted to stick in Detroit because it was best for his family. Rodriguez reportedly wanted another year tacked onto his deal should he decline to opt out, and for that to be worth $20 million: it’s entirely possible that guarantee of an additional $20 million, should Rodriguez decide to stick around, was what it would take to convince his wife that Los Angeles was the right call.

I actually don’t mean to pick on Ken too much here, because he structured this piece in a way that’s pretty clearly in favor of Rodriguez using his no-trade clause as leverage in whatever way he sees fit. It’s just that categorization of him as a “loser” or as maybe being a little untruthful as to why the deal was rejected by him doesn’t sit right. Rodriguez knows the situation he’s currently in, which is that in two months he’ll be done with Detroit and able to sign where he pleases. Going to Los Angeles would bring him to a competitive team, sure, but it could come with a change in performance that forces him to skip using his opt out, or a potentially deep postseason run, while appealing, might not be the best thing for someone who had to take time off last year in order to save his marriage.

We’re pretty conditioned to think that sports and being good at sports and winning at sports is all that matters about the industry, so when someone like Rodriguez has a chance to escape a going nowhere squad sooner than later, and to go to a first-place team no less, I do understand the questioning reactions when he doesn’t do that. And to assume that something doesn’t quite line up with the reasoning given is also natural. Calling Rodriguez a “loser” for being a little bit of a wife guy about it is unfair, however. Criticize the Tigers and Dodgers all you want for their various mistakes that led to this — the focus on sending Rodriguez a number of other places, or as part of larger deals, took away time that could have been used for simply figuring out how to get him right to Los Angeles in the way he would agree to — but to imply (or outright say) that Rodriguez is just as responsible and as much of a loser as they are seems harsh, especially given the context we have access to for the decision he made.

Visit my Patreon to become a supporter and help me continue to write articles like this one.