The Red Sox are interested in free-agent lefty Carlos Rodon
If there’s one thing we’ve learned about Chaim Bloom this offseason it’s that he’s not afraid to gamble on upside if there’s potential value to be found. Carlos Rodon would be riskier than any bet he’s made but the upside is significant if the Boston Red Sox are able to land the free-agent starter.
According to the Chicago-area Dailey-Herald, the Red Sox are among the teams rumored to be interested in signing Rodon, joining the Yankees, Angels, Mariners and Dodgers.
Rodon is coming off his first All-Star campaign in which he went 13-5 with a 2.37 ERA, 0.95 WHIP and 12.6 K/9 to finish fifth on the AL Cy Young ballot. The lefty tossed a no-hitter in April and surrendered three or more earned runs in only five of his 24 starts.
Based on those numbers alone, you would expect Rodon to cash in with one of the biggest contracts in free agency but here’s where the risk comes into play. He only made 24 starts while logging 132 2/3 innings, both of which were the most he’s completed since 2016.
Rodon has a lengthy injury history that includes arthroscopic shoulder surgery that ended his 2017 season and delayed his debut the following year along with Tommy John surgery that spoiled the better part of his next two seasons.
While he can be forgiven for some inconsistencies leading to an inflated ERA in recent seasons when he was dealing with or returning from injuries, it’s worth noting that this was the first year since his rookie season that Rodon produced an ERA below 4.00. The improvement in his strikeout, walk and home run rates helps explain a reduction in ERA but this was still a significant leap from what we’ve seen from him in the past.
Was his 2021 production a fluke or a sign of a promising pitcher finally reaching his potential? The hard-throwing lefty with a nasty slider has always had the stuff to be an elite starter so it’s certainly feasible that he managed to put it all together this year.
The risk of signing Rodon has much more to do with his health than his talent. Even in his best season, uncertainty about his health lingered. Shoulder fatigue limited Rodon throughout the second half of the season. While he continued to pitch well, producing a 2.51 ERA and 11.5 K/9 after the break, he wasn’t as dominant as he was in the first half. Rodon pitched five innings or fewer in each of his final eight starts and logged fewer than five in three of them. He also showed a concerning dip in velocity, averaging about 96 mph on his fastball into July but falling to as low as 91 mph by the end of the season, per FanGraphs.
The declining velocity coincided with the shoulder fatigue, which can be explained by Rodon’s heavier workload in the wake of two lost seasons where he combined for just over 42 innings. We should expect that to be less of a concern now that he’s further removed from surgery and started building his innings total back up this year.
The Red Sox have been busy stockpiling pitching this offseason but they might not be done. James Paxton won’t pitch before August while recovering from surgery. Rich Hill will turn 42 years old before the season starts and hasn’t reached 160 innings in the majors since 2007. Michael Wacha is a reclamation project. All of these pitchers can help but none of them should be counted on to make 30+ starts. Depth will be vital to navigating the grueling regular season and Rodon can be an appealing piece of the puzzle.
If the Red Sox sign Rodon, they may want to consider using a six-man rotation to help monitor his workload. It could also benefit Chris Sale in his first full season back from Tommy John, as well as Paxton when he eventually returns. Boston would have plenty of depth to keep Garrett Whitlock or Tanner Houck, if not both, in the valuable multi-inning relief role while keeping them on standby for spot starts when injuries inevitably open opportunities.
The White Sox non-tendered Rodon following a miserable 2020 season while he was working his way back from surgery only to re-sign him for a bargain $3 million deal. They surprisingly didn’t extend a qualifying offer to the lefty when he hit free agency again this offseason, suggesting they didn’t view $18.4 million as a worthwhile investment. Rodon will probably need to settle for a one-year deal but MLB Trade Rumors predicts he’ll get $25 million, a price tag that would seem to rule out a return to Chicago.
Is the price too high for Boston? Not having a qualifying offer attached to him certainly makes Rodon a more enticing target. Surrendering a draft pick to sign a free-agent to a one-year deal would be a deal breaker. The moves Bloom has made to add pitching, along with adding salary in the outfielder swap with the Brewers, indicate he isn’t overly concerned with the luxury tax threshold, regardless of where that line is drawn in the new Collective Bargaining Agreement. The Red Sox are being cautious about clogging their future payroll but they appear willing to pay the tax in 2022, assuming there is one.
Rodon fits the mold of a player Bloom would target since he’s shown he’s willing to spend for next season’s roster but wants to retain financial flexibility for the future. A healthy Rodon would give the Red Sox another top of the rotation arm without the commitment it typically takes to add a pitcher of this caliber. There’s plenty of risk that comes with signing a pitcher with his injury history but if they can cut bait after only one year, it’s a risk worth taking.