If you only decided to watch the 2021 Atlanta Braves in the playoffs, you probably wouldn’t have realized Richard Rodriguez was on the team.
First of all, the righthanded reliever was left off the roster for every series, and even when other bullpen options needed to be replaced, it wasn’t Rodriguez that got the call. Beyond that, the broadcast teams rarely, if ever, mentioned that the 31-year-old was also part of the frenzied trade deadline period that saw Alex Anthopoulos remake the Braves roster.
He was, of course. Rodriguez was acquired from the Pittsburgh Pirates in exchange for Ricky DeVito and Bryse Wilson to shore up a Braves’ bullpen that had been short on right-handed options. While he had struggled some in the weeks leading up to the deadline, the Dominican righty still carried a 2.82 ERA and 0.835 WHIP in 38 1/3 innings for Pittsburgh. Also recording 14 saves, Rodriguez was expected to potentially supplant or at least supplement Will Smith as closer.
He did neither of those things.
While Rodriguez’s 3.12 ERA and 1.077 WHIP for the Braves doesn’t look terrible, his 6.17 FIP over 26 innings tells a different story. Further, it was his work during the stretch run that sunk his chances of being a difference-maker in the playoffs. Over 12 innings in September and October, Rodriguez carded a 5.25 ERA with a 1.333 WHIP and surrendered a staggering five home runs in that stretch.
But the problems didn’t really begin in September, or even when he got to Atlanta. Without presenting any hard accusations, his struggles really seemed to begin in mid-June, around the time MLB cracked down on foreign substances. That memo was sent out on June 15, with Rodriguez carrying a 1.78 ERA through 25 1/3 innings and allowing opposing hitters an OPS of just .409. From that point on, Rodriguez pitched 39 innings with a 3.69 ERA while allowing a .743 OPS.
If he ever had a chance to make the postseason roster for the Braves, that evaporated on Oct. 2. Rodriguez lasted 2/3 of an inning, coughing up two runs on three hits, and that was the end of his season.
Now the Braves have another decision to make. Despite his age, Rodriguez doesn’t hit free agency until 2024 and will still be eligible for arbitration this offseason. According to projections from MLB Trade Rumors, he will likely be due around $3.1 million should the Braves wish to bring him back.
That amount makes this choice interesting for Atlanta. It would not be a crushing blow to the budget, and he’s certainly shown flashes of talent in relief. That said, it might make even more sense to non-tender a guy who you chose not to even add to the roster for the playoffs, despite multiple chances to do so.
We’ll see what the Braves do, but it seems wisest to move on and allot that money elsewhere.