I wrote a few weeks ago about how the Dodgers’ rotation could look different in 2022, and as of now, that looks like it could be true.
Max Scherzer signed a lucrative 3-year deal with the Mets before the lockout. Clayton Kershaw is still a free agent — and it’s believed that he’s either going to re-sign with LA or head to Texas. The Dodgers didn’t address the rotation pre-lockout, although, they had been rumored to be interested in guys like the Athletics’ Chris Bassitt and Frankie Montas and the Reds’ Luis Castillo and Sonny Gray. While any of them would be quality acquisitions, it’s always a lot harder to make a trade than to just use your greatest resource — money — to improve the ballclub.
On that note, the free-agent market is getting a bit thin. Kevin Gausman — a guy the Dodgers liked a couple years ago and actually drafted in 2010 as a backup plan if Zach Lee didn’t sign — inked 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 perennial “Get him out of Coors Field and he’ll flourish” Jon Gray signed with the Rangers. Other notable starting pitchers to sign include Steven Matz with the Cardinals and Alex Cobb and Alex Wood with the Giants.
That’s … a lot of starting pitchers off the board already. Which leads me to a guy I’m coming around on: Carlos Rodon.
The 28-year-old No. 3 overall pick in the 2014 MLB Draft has had an up-and-down career thus far. Normally, a guy his age coming off the season he had would be primed for a big pay day, but injury concerns — including shoulder fatigue to end the 2021 season — is giving some teams pause. He’s also had surgery on his shoulder, other bouts of left arm injuries (wrist, bicep, elbow) and yes, he had Tommy John surgery back in 2019. It makes sense that some teams would be 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. It affords them a chance to implement the high-average annual value, shorter commitment deals they seem to covet. Rich Hill –who signed with the Red Sox — fits that MO. He signed a 3-year, $48 million deal heading into his age-37 season back in 2017. Factor in that Rodon is almost a decade younger and it almost makes too much sense.
Rodon is coming off a season that looked like he was headed for some significant Cy Young love (he still finished fifth) before he slowed down because of his shoulder. He had a 2.37 ERA, 2.65 FIP and a 27.9 K-BB% last season. While his exit velocity numbers aren’t great, it’s a teachable skill and something at which the Dodgers excel.
There’s a lot of red there and, therefore, a lot to like about Rodon. He operates with a 4-seam fastball, a slider, a changeup and a sparingly used curveball. He saw his fastball usage increase to a career-high 58.7% last season, and it also induced a career-best 29.7 Whiff% — 4th-best among starting pitchers. In fact, his fastball had the best Statcast run value in 2021 at -26, ahead of the AL CYA winner in Ray. His slider is his best swinging strike pitch. He threw it 27.2% of the time and got a 40.6 Whiff% on it and a -14 run value. For reference, Kershaw’s was 44% and -14 run value in 2021, and he threw it a lot more than Rodon threw his (47.6%). If Rodon is signed and Kershaw is re-signed, perhaps there are some notes to be shared between the two. Something Rodon has that Kershaw doesn’t is a changeup. He threw it exclusively to right-handed hitters and, despite it getting hit around a bit (.367 BA, .419 wOBA), he still got a 36.3 Whiff% on it. The sample size for ’21 is small and he’s had varying degrees of success with it in the past. Perhaps that can be corrected or maybe the pitch gets scrapped in favor of a cutter or more curveball usage — who knows.
The four top free-agent prognostication websites (The Athletic, ESPN, FanGraphs, MLB Trade Rumors), have him at an average of 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 sides. Rodon would be going into one of the best pitcher developmental systems in the game and he would give the Dodgers the kind of high-upside arm they desire.
Whatever happens post-lockout, the Dodgers need to address the starting rotation (and maybe nab Freddie Freeman?). Rodon is the highest-upside starter left on the free-agent market. If they’re OK with the risk, he should be near the top of their wish list.