As we continue to peruse the free agent market in search of a big piece who could get the Seattle Mariners over the hump next year, my eyes are turning towards the vast array of starting pitchers available this offseason. Carlos Rodon, a left-hander from the White Sox coming off of a resurgent season, is at the top of my list.
Rodon, 28, signed a one-year “prove it” contract with the White Sox after an injury-riddled 2020 season in which he pitched just 7.2 innings. The deal was for $3 million, and Rodon put that number to shame with a bona fide Cy Young-caliber season; he finished 2021 with a 13-5 record, 2.37 ERA, 185 strikeouts, and a 0.957 WHIP.
Along with Rodon’s excellent surface-level pitching statistics, his advanced metrics were also impressive – according to Fangraphs, Rodon’s fastball was the most effective pitch in all of baseball. A lefty with a dominant fastball and less than one baserunner allowed per inning? Sign me up.
With an onslaught of right-handed starting pitchers slated to arrive soon, the Mariners would be smart to add Carlos Rodon to the mix as another left-hander alongside Marco Gonzales.
Logan Gilbert (who came on strong to finish the 2021 season), George Kirby, Emerson Hancock, and Matt Brash are all right-handers who are expected to contribute to the Mariners’ starting rotation within the next two seasons. However, with excellent left-handed hitters peppered throughout the AL West, such as Shohei Ohtani, Matt Olson, and Yordan Alvarez, Seattle will need to be armed with at least two lefties to effectively counteract those MVP-caliber players.
This season, Carlos Rodon gave up only one home run in 111 plate appearances against left-handed hitters, and struck out 35 lefties compared to only five walks. Interestingly, he had reverse splits when it came to batting average, allowing a .175 BA to righties and a .240 BA to lefties; though the higher batting average against lefties is odd, his neutralization of their power and his dominance of righties is extremely encouraging.
When considering Rodon’s potential contract offer, a lot will come down to the AL Cy Young decision; Rodon will certainly get votes, but the award is most likely to go to the Blue Jays’ Robbie Ray, the Yankees’ Gerrit Cole, or Lance Lynn, Rodon’s White Sox teammate.
So, if Rodon is not awarded the Cy Young, his contract could look similar to what Hyun Jin Ryu signed with the Blue Jays after posting a 14-5 record and 2.32 ERA (and finishing second in the NL Cy Young race) in 2019 with the Dodgers; at the conclusion of that season, Ryu signed a 4-year, $80 million deal with Toronto at the age of 32.
If Rodon is available at that price, or anything close to that, I would encourage the Mariners to keep Scott Boras (Rodon’s agent) on speed dial once free agency begins in early November. The Mariners are ready to contend (but still want to add pieces that can keep their window of contention open for several years), and have plenty of payroll flexibility this offseason, so I expect Jerry Dipoto and company to make a serious run at this Southside southpaw.