New York Yankees Prioritize Logic In Pursuit Of Free Agent Carlos Rodón

Euphoria coupled with exhaustion perfectly described the New York Yankees’ state of mind after free agent outfielder Aaron Judge agreed to a nine-year, $360 million contract to remain in the Bronx. As rest is never an option for the Yankees, they are addressing other areas of improvement on a roster that had won 99 ball games and the American League East division title last season. At the recently concluded Baseball Winter Meetings, the Chicago Cubs had reached an agreement with free agent right-handed pitcher Jameson Taillon on a four-year, $68 million contract. The Yankees decided not to extend Taillon a qualifying offer of one-year, $19.65 million after earning $5.8 million in his final year of arbitration eligibility according to Cot’s Baseball Contracts.

Rumors are surrounding the Yankees and their interest in free agent shortstop Carlos Correa, but left-handed pitcher Carlos Rodón is a far more logical acquisition given the void in their starting rotation left by Taillon. This past March, Rodón had a signed a two-year, $44 million contract with the San Francisco Giants according to Cot’s Baseball Contracts. The contract included an opt out clause if he had pitched in 110 innings during the 2022 season. There were concerns regarding the health of Rodón’s left elbow and shoulder given his injury history.

Rodón had posted career highs in multiple statistical categories during his age 29 season: innings pitched (178.0), strikeouts (237), games started (31), and wins (14). He led Major League Baseball in Fielding Independent Pitching (2.25) and Strikeouts Per Nine Innings Pitched (12.0) according to Baseball-Reference. As per the terms of his contract, Rodón decided to opt out of a $22.5 million salary for the 2023 season and filed for free agency. Several ball clubs are interested in Rodón as it wouldn’t be surprising to see him sign a long-term contract approaching $200 million with an average annual value of $30 million.

Last season, the Yankees had used 11 starting pitchers over 894.1 innings. They ranked sixth in Major League Baseball in innings pitched by starters according to FanGraphs. The Yankees had also finished fifth among ball clubs’ starting pitchers with 897 strikeouts. Two of their pitchers had eclipsed 30 games started and 175 innings: right-handed pitchers Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon. Over 33 games started, Cole threw 200.2 innings pitched while striking out 257 batters. Taillon struck out 151 batters over 177.1 innings pitched in 32 starts.

If the Yankees had to put together a job description for their pitching vacancy, it would look something like this: championship caliber ball club looking for a healthy starting pitcher with a minimum five years of experience in regular and postseason competition. Over 175 innings pitched on an annual basis, the ideal candidate would be able to start at least 30 ball games and accumulate 150 strikeouts. A great teammate who leads by example, the candidate must be able to thrive in a highly competitive environment while confronting various challenges presented by leadership, fans, and media. The ability to pitch left-handed would be preferred along with a willingness to embrace analytics while receiving regular feedback from coaches and front office executives.

The Yankees know they are operating at an innings and strikeouts deficit when it comes to their starting pitchers. Ball clubs of lesser means would likely solve the problem with a multitude of inexpensive pitchers to address the deficiencies. Even with Judge’s return to the Yankees, they are still at a disadvantage when it comes to comparisons to their current adversary, the 2022 world champion Houston Astros. Acquiring Rodón would not be a luxury as much as a necessity given how the Astros have upgraded their first base position by signing 2020 American League Most Valuable Player José Abreu to a three-year, $58.5 million contract.

The 2023 Competitive Balance Tax threshold is set at $233 million. According to Cot’s Baseball Contracts, the Yankees are already committed to 12 ball players whose average annual value salaries for Competitive Balance Tax purposes total $207.15 million. This doesn’t include arbitration and pre-arbitration ball players who have yet to confirm their salaries for next season, minor league ball players on the 40-man roster, and estimated benefits for the ball players. According to Ronald Blum of the Associated Press, the Yankees will owe Major League Baseball roughly $9.4 million in the coming days for surpassing the 2022 Competitive Balance Tax threshold of $230 million. Under the terms of the 2022-2026 collective bargaining agreement, the Yankees will be considered a first-time Competitive Balance Tax payor for the 2022 season.

The Yankees would likely find comfort in a five-year contract for Rodón worth roughly $150 million. However, there is a steep price to pay for Rodón’s services beyond a nine figure free agent contract if the Yankees sign him. According to the collective bargaining agreement, the Yankees would lose their second-and-fifth-highest selections in the 2023 draft as well as $1 million from its international bonus pool if they sign Rodón because they exceeded the 2022 Competitive Balance Tax threshold. Since the Giants extended Rodón a qualifying offer, they will receive a compensatory pick in the 2023 draft after Competitive Balance Round B if he signs with another ball club.

The Yankees must ask themselves a few logical questions regarding Rodón. Are they willing to invest in another long-term contract for a 30-year-old starting pitcher with an average annual value of $30 million? How concerned should the Yankees be regarding Rodón’s injury history? If Rodón is an upgrade over Taillon, does he help close the sizable gap between the Astros and Yankees? If additional roster upgrades are needed through free agency, how much are the Yankees willing to spend given they will likely be second-time Competitive Balance Tax payors for the 2023 season?

Much has been said regarding how Aaron Judge bet on himself and won big in free agency. The same could be said for Carlos Rodón. In November 2021, the Chicago White Sox didn’t extend Rodón a qualifying offer of one-year, $18.4 million after a season in which he had made his first All-Star team while earning $3 million on a one-year contract according to Cot’s Baseball Contracts. Under the guidance of agent Scott Boras, Rodón bet on himself with the San Francisco Giants and successfully activated the opt-out clause in his two-year contract. Expect Rodón to handsomely cash in and if the price is right, he could be wearing the venerable pinstripes of the New York Yankees.