BALTIMORE — On Tuesday night the Red Sox will watch the season debut of Eduardo Rodriguez, a pitcher that president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski believes “has the potential to be a top of the rotation type of guy.”
“It’s like making a trade, really, to get a guy like that,” Dombrowski said Monday morning from the Red Sox dugout in Camden Yards before a four-game series against the Sox’ American League East rivals.
As lucky as Dombrowski feels to be the benefactor of a trade made by former Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington — a trade that could end up being the best deal of the 2014 trading deadline — Dombrowski was a quick trigger away from altering Red Sox history.
As the Red Sox crumbled further into last place in July, 2014, and began shopping left-hander Andrew Miller, Cherington asked Dombrowski, then the general manager of the Tigers, for two players in exchange for Miller. Miller had been a hot commodity that summer, with 69 strikeouts and a 2.34 ERA in 42 ⅓ innings with the Red Sox.
Dombrowski told the Red Sox he’d only give up one of the players they asked for. No deal was made.
Finally, on July 31, Dombrowski changed his mind.
“We thought we traded for him,” said Dombrowski, whose Tigers were 58-47 at the time. “We thought we had him. They were asking us for a couple of guys that we liked and we were willing to give them one of them. We wouldn’t give them two.
“Finally, the last day, it was the same day we got David Price and we felt we were in position that we would give them what they wanted. We ended up giving them the two guys. We thought we had a deal. But at that point, (Cherington) says, ‘We’re not quite ready yet. We have one more phone call we have to make.’
“They got back to us and ended up trading the Orioles for Eduardo Rodriguez.”
Dombrowski said he wasn’t mad at the Red Sox, but he said the Tigers’ front office thought Miller was on his way to Detroit.
“They didn’t say we had a deal,” Dombrowski said. “But you thought you had a deal. There is a difference between the two. … It’s ironic how it worked out because I’m the benefactor of it.
“Really when they got Eduardo Rodriguez, he was better than the guys we were offering. So I understood it. But they had indicated they had been asking Baltimore for him for a while and they kept saying no. So they were really looking to get him.”
Equipped with a left arm that could throw in the high-90s and twirl a vicious changeup, Rodriguez was considered MLB’s 65th-best prospect by Baseball America when the Orioles sent him to the Red Sox. It was perceived by most around baseball as a coup for the Red Sox.
“We felt the guys we gave them we liked, but not to that extent,” Dombrowski said.
Dombrowski said it’s natural to wonder if the Orioles knew something about Rodriguez that the Red Sox did not when making that trade.
“You should know more about your own players than others do,” Dombrowski said. “So sometimes when you see a guy you move that you’re not expecting, you say, ‘Gee, I wonder if they know something we don’t.’ But you also know in times like that, sometimes you have to step up.
“I think the general public probably asks that more than we do because sometimes there is this notion that is out there that you’re going to trade for somebody and not give anything up. That really doesn’t exist.”
If there was something glaring about Rodriguez that prompted the Orioles to trade a blue-chip prospect for a rental reliever, the Red Sox haven’t noticed it.
Rodriguez is finally healthy after missing two months after he twisted in knee in a bizarre spring training incident in which the pitcher was trying to catch fly balls during batting practice. Now the Red Sox starting rotation, which ranks 22nd with a 4.68 ERA, is about to get some help from a 23-year-old who had a 3.85 ERA last year as a rookie.
“He has tremendous ability and great makeup,” Dombrowski said. “It’s unfortunate he got hurt this spring. Sometimes people look past that it’s a significant injury. We didn’t think he would be out this long either. He took a little bit longer to heal.
“But not only does he have the ability, he’s a hard worker and focused to be a championship type of guy.”