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Free Agent Primer: Carlos Rodón

The best starter left on the market is also one of the more intriguing free agent cases in recent memory

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MLB: Chicago White Sox at Los Angeles Angels Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

With our 2021 Angels Player Reviews all wrapped up and the lockout still raging on, we’re starting a new series taking a look at some guys who could potentially become Angels in 2022, whether that be through free agency or the trade market. For the first installment, we’re looking at White Sox lefty Carlos Rodón, the best free agent starter currently left on the market.


Prior to the implementation of the transactions freeze that has left all of us without any semblance of baseball news for the better part of two months now, we saw a flurry of action on the free agent market that left all of our collective heads spinning. Seemingly looking for a sense of security before the lockout went into effect, many of the top names out there beat the proverbial buzzer and locked down new deals in the 11th hour, drastically altering what the market will look like post-stoppage.

One group of players that this was especially true for was starting pitchers, as we saw more of them sign prior to the lockout than perhaps any other position group out there. Over the course of just a few days in late November, guys like Max Scherzer, Robbie Ray, Kevin Gausman, Marcus Stroman, Steven Matz, Jon Gray and a host of others all decided on new destinations for 2022, leaving the starting pitching market pretty barren when compared to where it was at the beginning of the offseason.

Considering the Angels still have an open spot in their rotation even after bringing on both Noah Syndergaard and Michael Lorenzen in that time period, these developments weren’t ideal, to say the least. Other options still remain on the market even with all this action, though, the best of which being former White Sox starter Carlos Rodón, who you could argue had a better 2021 season than any of the names listed above.

What was his 2021 like?

After being non-tendered in December of 2020 and returning to Chicago on just a one-year, $3 million deal last January, Rodón emerged as one of the early breakout stars of 2021. The former No. 3 overall pick committed himself to getting in better shape and fixing some mechanical issues in his delivery in the offseason, and after winning his spot in the White Sox rotation back, the benefits of his hard work started to come almost immediately. Armed with a fastball coming in nearly three miles per hour faster on average than where it was the year before and a slider that was moving more than it ever had, Rodón tossed a no-hitter in just his second start of the season against Cleveland and came within two outs of throwing just the 24th perfect game in baseball history.

This career outing didn’t turn out to be a fluke, either, as Rodón kept pitching at an elite level for the better part of three months following his no-no. From the beginning of the season through the first week of August, the lefty posted a sterling 2.38 ERA and 2.57 FIP in 109.2 innings while striking out a league leading 36.2 percent of batters and walking just 6.8 percent.

Rodón reached double digit punchouts on five separate occasions and gave up a single earned run or less in 13 of his 24 starts, figures that made him the favorite for the AL Cy Young award and represented a run of dominance many thought he was capable of early in his career but one that no one expected in recent years.

Unfortunately, though, Rodón’s dream season came to a halt in early August, as a bout of shoulder fatigue suffered after his start on August 7 (one that he pitched five scoreless innings and struck out 11, mind you) put him on the shelf for nearly three weeks. He was still effective upon his return, pitching to a 2.35 ERA in five games, but his workload after coming back was noticeably lessened, as he didn’t make it past five innings or 86 pitches in any one of those starts. Even more concerning, though, was the fact that his average velocity took a stark nosedive in the season’s last month:

Image via Baseball Savant

Things bottomed out for Rodón during his last two starts of the regular season, where he exited after just three innings with soreness in the first and then averaged just 90.9 miles per hour on his fastball nine days later in the second. He would go on to pitch in Game 4 of the White Sox’ playoff series against the Astros, but he only lasted 2.2 innings and gave up a pair of earned runs before getting an early hook (his velocity did start to jump back up in this game, though). This sour ending put a damper on what was, for the most part, an incredible season for Rodón, and it set up probably the most intriguing free agent case for any player this offseason.

What was his market like?

Even despite all of the free agent starters that flew off the board in quick succession, we heard basically nothing on Rodón for the better part of a month leading up to the lockout. The first piece of news we got regarding the lefty was a bit ominous, as the White Sox decided not to tender him the one-year, $18 million qualifying offer despite many people expecting them to.

Rodón’s agent, Scott Boras, said that they likely would’ve declined the qualifying offer in search of a multi-year deal anyway, but the fact that the team that drafted and developed him for nearly a decade essentially decided to move on even despite his breakout campaign didn’t mark the best start to the offseason for him.

After the qualifying offer decision, it was pretty much radio silence on Rodón, as we didn’t hear any buzz regarding where he might end up the rest of the way. The only real significant rumor we saw about Rodón came a few weeks after the lockout, when Scot Gregor of the Daily Herald in Chicago reported that a number of different teams were showing interest in him, including none other than the Angels.

Should the Angels bring him on?

The question regarding whether or not the Halos should take a bet on Rodón in free agency is an interesting exercise in risk vs. reward, and how much of the former you are willing to take on in search of the latter. On one hand, Rodón’s performance when on the field in 2021 is undeniable.

He was arguably the favorite for the AL Cy Young award for a good chunk of the season, and for an Angels rotation that, while promising, still lacks one more true impact arm, a repeat of that could prove to be a major boon. Add this to a group also featuring Syndergaard and Shohei Ohtani at the top, and you have the makings of a playoff-caliber rotation right there.

On the other hand, Rodón’s injury concerns are very real, and the thought of them reappearing after giving him a big free agent deal is incredibly scary, to say the least. The way his season ended is obviously the biggest worry, but he also had a lengthy injury history before this year, which included prior shoulder ailments on multiple occasions, left biceps bursitis and Tommy John surgery that knocked him out for almost all of 2019.

Another injury issue popping up in 2022 is a distinct possibility for Rodón, and given the injury concerns that already exist with Ohtani, Syndergaard, Lorenzen and Patrick Sandoval, the risk of adding him to that might be too much to take on.

IP totals of Angels starters + Carlos Rodón, 2019-2021

Player 2021 IP 2020 IP 2019 IP Total
Player 2021 IP 2020 IP 2019 IP Total
Shohei Ohtani 130.1 1.2 0 132
Noah Syndergaard 2 0 197.2 199.2
Patrick Sandoval 87 36.2 119.2* 243.1
José Suarez 104.1* 2.1 113.1* 220
Michael Lorenzen 29 33.2 83.1 146
Carlos Rodón 132.2 7.2 34.2 175
*=includes minor league innings totals

Even despite this, though, the Angels do seem uniquely equipped to bring on someone with Rodón’s profile for a number of different reasons, the first of which being the six-man rotation that they have utilized since Ohtani’s arrival to the major leagues. Rodón’s innings workload will likely have to be monitored closely in 2022 given how his season ended last year, and the six-man setup that the Halos are committed to provides them with a way to do this naturally while still allowing him to cycle through a rotation in a somewhat familiar fashion.

In addition to this, they have solid enough starting pitching depth in the upper minors to compensate for Rodón if he were to get injured again, as guys like Reid Detmers, Jaime Barría and Griffin Canning (given he’s fully recovered from his own ailments like he’s expected to be) could potentially work as options to fill his in the rotation if the need arises. Things could obviously go south like they tend to do with this team, of course, but as far as how they are positioned for a guy like Rodón, it could be a lot worse.

Ultimately, the Rodón debate boils down to what type of pitcher you think the Angels should be targeting with their final rotation spot. If the risks already inherent in their rotation understandably worry you and make you prefer a more proven, innings-eater type of guy able to provide some needed stability, then you’ll probably want to look somewhere else.

If you think the Halos need to shoot for an impact-level talent capable of excelling at the top of a rotation, though, you won’t find a better player to gamble on than Rodón and the immense upside that he possesses.

Poll

Do you think the Angels should sign Rodón once the lockout is over?

This poll is closed

  • 70%
    Yes, give me the upside
    (99 votes)
  • 29%
    No, too much risk
    (42 votes)
141 votes total Vote Now