It took nearly 24 hours after the lockout’s conclusion for the first major free agent domino—sorry, Drew VerHagen—to fall, as San Francisco kicked off the action on Friday afternoon with the announcement of a two-year, $44 million contract for Carlos Rodón, with a second-year opt-out effectively acting as a player option.
Fresh off a fifth-place AL Cy Young finish in his healthies season since 2018, the 28-year old Rodón—who I profiled here several weeks into his 2021 resurgence—is receiving a mid-level prove it deal despite talent worthy of a Kevin Gausman-esque commitment thanks to the fact that his healthiest season since 2018 wasn’t actually healthy. He made just six starts in August and September in preparation for an abbreviated October outing, with his fastball velocity falling precipitously for reasons that at the time were unclear:
Having kept a close eye on him for much of 2021, I’m not as concerned as many about Rodón’s durability entering 2022. Of course, he’ll still have to go out and prove it, as he hadn’t topped 120 IP since 2016 prior to this season, but the injury issues that plagued his last two months in Chicago don’t appear to have been as concerning as his prior issues. Shoulder issues are problematic in any context, but the fact that his late-season downturn was attributed to fatigue rather than acute injury indicates that it may not necessarily be a repeating issue now that he’s an additional 130 innings and a healthy offseason’s worth removed from Tommy John surgery. Additionally, Rodón made visible and conscious mechanical changes designed to both boost his velocity and reduce his risk of injury. The difference between 2016 and 2021 is as stark as can possibly be:
As that second GIF demonstrates, there are few pitchers in baseball that can match the raw stuff of a healthy Rodón: he threw 35 pitches at 99 MPH in 2021, a feat matched only by Shane McClanahan (48 such pitches). Those two were the only two lefties in the league to reach the plateau at all, with the exceptions of two offerings from Jesús Luzardo and one from Tarik Skubal. Throw in a vicious slider that’s been his calling card since his days at North Carolina State, and you’ve got one of the deadliest two-punch arsenals in baseball. It was good enough that he was able to employ the Jacob deGrom “who needs other pitches when you have those two” for much of the season, though it’s notable that his changeup was serviceable for much of the season and he flashed a solid show-me curveball (to good effects) for the first time of his career.
In any case, San Francisco is probably as soft of a landing spot as Rodón could hope for, as their rotation quality depth will likely allow them to give him plenty of extra rest to better preserve him late in the year:
PECOTA is going full speed ahead on Rodón as an ace, and ought to go a long way towards helping the Giants defend their hard-fought AL West crown; ZiPS is a bit more bearish, but other projection systems forsee a 3 fWAR season for the former third overall pick.
It’s hard to not view this as the consummate win-win: as far as upside goes, a competitive team gets a potential Cy Young candidate with zero long-term risk, while the pitcher secured a sizable guarantee and, still at 29 years of age, the opportunity for an even bigger payday if he can re-establish his durability. And given that he was clearly a different pitcher in 2021 than in years’ past, there’s little reason to believe he’ll see a downtick in performance if he can keep his arm intact. Without any draft pick compensation attached after the White Sox surprising decision to not extend the Qualifying Offer, it’s hard to find much in the way of downside for either party.
Photo by Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Doug Carlin (@Bdougals on Twitter)