I wrote a few weeks ago about how the Dodgers’ rotation might be different in 2022, and as of now, that seems to be true.
Max Scherzer signed a lucrative 3-year contract with the Mets before the lockout. Clayton Kershaw is still a free agent – and is thought to either re-sign with Los Angeles or head to Texas. The Dodgers haven’t addressed the pre-lockout rotation, although they’re rumored to be interested in guys like Athletics. Chris Bassit and Frankie Montas and the reds Luis Castillo and Sonny Gray. While any of these are a quality acquisition, it’s still much harder to make a trade than just using your greatest resource – money – to upgrade the ball club.
On that note, the free agent market is shrinking a bit. Kevin Gausman – a guy the Dodgers liked a few years ago who was drafted in 2010 as a backup plan if Zach Lee didn’t sign — signed a deal with the Blue Jays. Robbie Ray went to the Pacific Northwest to pitch for the Mariners. Justin Verlander (puke) re-signed with the Astros, while Eduardo Rodriguez signed with the interesting Tigers. And the eternal “Get him out of Coors Field and he’ll flourish” Jon Gray signed with Rangers. Other notable starting pitchers to sign include steven matz with the cardinals and Alex Cobb and Alex Wood with the Giants.
That’s…already a lot of starting pitchers. Which brings me to a guy I bump into: Carlos Rodon.
The 28-year-old No. 3 overall in the 2014 MLB Draft has had an up and down career so far. Normally a guy his age coming out of the season he had would be up for a big payday, but injury issues – including shoulder strain to end the 2021 season – are giving some teams a pause. He also had shoulder surgery, other episodes of injuries to his left arm (wrist, biceps, elbow) and yes he had Tommy Jean operation in 2019. It makes sense that some teams are scared off by the prospect of signing him. However, he seems like a perfect target for the Dodgers.
They’ve never been shy about going after guys with a lot of talent but also a lot of injury concerns. This gives them the ability to implement the high average annual value, shorter commitment deals they seem to be coveting. rich hill -who signed with the Red Sox – matches this MO. He signed a 3-year, $48 million deal ahead of his 37-year-old season in 2017. Factor in the fact that Rodon is almost a decade younger and that almost makes too much sense.
Rodon has just finished a season that seemed to be heading for Cy Young love (he still finished fifth) before slowing down because of his shoulder. He had a 2.37 ERA, 2.65 FIP and 27.9 K-BB% last season. While his outbound speed numbers aren’t great, it’s a teachable skill and something the Dodgers excel at.
There’s a lot of red there and, therefore, a lot to love about Rodon. It operates with a 4-seam fastball, slider, change, and curveball used sparingly. He saw his fastball usage increase to a career-high 58.7% last season, and it also led to a career-high 29.7 Whiff% – 4th best among the starting pitchers. In fact, his fastball had the best Statcast run value in 2021. at -26, ahead of winner AL CYA to Ray. His slider is his best swing punch throw. He threw it 27.2% of the time and got a 40.6 Whiff% on it and a run value of -14. For reference, Kershaw was 44% and -14 run value in 2021, and he threw it much more than Rodon threw his (47.6%). If Rodon is signed and Kershaw is re-signed, there may be some notes to share between the two. Something Rodon has that Kershaw doesn’t is change. He threw it exclusively at right-handed hitters, and while he hit a little (.367 BA, .419 wOBA), he still got a 36.3 Whiff% on it. The sample size for ’21 is small and it has had varying degrees of success in the past. Maybe that can be fixed or maybe the ground is abandoned in favor of a cutter or a more curved use – who knows.
The four major independent agent prediction websites (The Athletic, ESPN, FanGraphs, MLB Trade Rumors) have it averaging two years and $33.25 million. The median is two years, $35 million. If the Dodgers could land Rodon for something along those lines — perhaps with incentives and/or options — that might be the best thing for both parties. Rodon would step into one of the best pitching development systems in the game and he would give the Dodgers the kind of high arm they desire.
Whatever happens after the lockout, the Dodgers have to set the starting rotation (and maybe to grab Freddie Freeman?). Rodon is the most bullish starter remaining in the free agent market. If they are okay with the risk, it should be at the top of their wish list.