RED SOX INSIDER

Tomase: Carlos Rodon is a logical Red Sox target; is that a good thing?

RED SOX INSIDER

The upside of payroll flexibility is you don't need the Dodgers to save you from yourself every eight years. The downside is you make your biggest bets in free agency on pitchers like Carlos Rodon.

The Red Sox were among many teams linked to the free agent left-hander in a recent story out of the Daily Herald in Chicago, and he checks all the boxes for a club obsessed with value.

First and foremost, the 29-year-old left-hander is supremely talented, coming off a breakout 2021 campaign that included a no-hitter, a 2.37 ERA, and his first All-Star berth. The third pick in the 2014 MLB Draft is also a late bloomer, thanks to 2017 shoulder surgery and 2019 Tommy John.

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Perhaps most importantly, he's also looking at a short-term contract, thanks to the injury issues that continued dogging him this season. Shoulder fatigue limited him to just six starts after Aug. 7, and though he won five of them with a 1.93 ERA, he only started once every 10 days in September before lasting just 2.2 innings a season-ending playoff loss to the Astros.

For a team like the Red Sox, Rodon represents opportunity, but here come the "ifs:" If he's willing to sign a one-year deal with an option, and if he's able to stay healthy, and if he pitches to his pre-injury ceiling, then the Red Sox will have added a top-of-the-rotation starter without making a long-term commitment. That seems to be the sweet spot under chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom.

 

The gamble didn't pay off last winter with right-hander Garrett Richards, whose option was declined, but maybe it will this time around with left-hander James Paxton, who's expected to miss most of the season while recovering from Tommy John surgery. He signed a one-year deal with options for 2023 and 2024 that could be worth anywhere from $10 million to $32 million.

It would be nice, just once, if the Red Sox signed a starter with fewer question marks. Of course, those kind of arms cost money, and owner John Henry seems to have swung back to the starting-pitchers-represent-bad-long-term-investments side of the pendulum.

John Tomase

Rodon will cost more in the short term -- MLB Trade Rumors projects he'll receive one year and $25 million -- but the upside is much higher. He finished fifth in the Cy Young Award voting despite throwing only 132.2 innings, about 30 shy of qualifying for the ERA title. He pairs a 95 mph fastball with one of the most unhittable pitches in the game, a devastating slider that limited opponents to a .105 average. That's Jacob deGrom territory, except from the left side.

There's little question that a healthy Rodon could front a rotation. The fact that he struck out nearly 35 percent of the batters he faced would play better in front of a subpar Red Sox defense than, say, groundball machine Marcus Stroman, who signed for three years with the Cubs.

The issue, of course, is the "healthy" part of that sentence. Rodon made a career-high 28 starts in 2016 and hasn't started more than 24 games in a season since. Bloom and the Red Sox are welcome to bet they can keep him healthy, but not even recent history is on their side -- Rodon threw only 43 innings in the second half, of 2021 after all.

It would be nice, just once, if the Red Sox signed a starter with fewer question marks. Of course, those kind of arms cost money, and owner John Henry seems to have swung back to the starting-pitchers-represent-bad-long-term-investments side of the pendulum.

In that sense, it's hard to overpay anyone for only one year and an option, so fire away. Just remember that the risk-reward ratio for a pitcher like Rodon leaves open the possibility of all risk and no reward.