CARLSBAD, Calif. – White Sox southpaw Carlos Rodón was working back from Tommy John surgery when Dallas Keuchel signed with the team two years ago.
“I watched him grow from not really knowing how to pitch,” Keuchel recalled Monday, “to actually pitching with elite velocity and elite breaking stuff. He even developed a pretty good changeup, so that just tells you the capabilities that he has.”
Capabilities, Keuchel predicted, that could make the chances of Rodón returning to the South Side “slim,” as he enters free agency.
“I think there's an even greater chance that he's not (back with the White Sox),” Keuchel said, “because there's going to be some suitors that probably want his big lefty frame.”
The White Sox did not extend a qualifying offer to Rodón by Sunday’s deadline. But general manager Rick Hahn said days before, “it would be great to figure out a way to bring him back in some capacity.”
The White Sox have successfully re-signed Rodón once before, bringing the lefty back for the 2021 season after non-tendering him last winter. But this time, he enters free agency after a career year on the mound (2.37 ERA), earning an All-Star nod and establishing himself as one of the league’s most dominant arms when healthy.
So, even though Rodón told NBC Sports Chicago’s Gordon Wittenmyer this summer that his “heart lies on the South Side,” the White Sox have to prepare for a scenario without Rodón in the rotation.
“It was a bonus, honestly, with the amount of injuries that he's been through, to have him actually come back out and do what he did – was nothing short of amazing,” said Keuchel, who in addition to being a teammate, shares an agent with Rodón. “The bonus factor really helped out, but honestly, I think at any point in time, each one of us in the rotation next year could very well be that. And we're going to need that.”
Maybe the White Sox will go out and sign another starter. Maybe they’ll even try to trade Keuchel, who won a Gold Glove Award but posted a career-worst 5.28 ERA last season. (Keuchel said he’s already told Hahn and assistant GM Jeremy Haber that he wants to “get back to who I am” next year.) But as the roster stands entering GM meetings this week, the White Sox already have options to fill their starting rotation vacancy.
Michael Kopech, who the White Sox used as a long reliver this past season while transitioning him into a starting role, can slide into that fifth spot. He’d join Lance Lynn, Lucas Giolito, Dylan Cease and Keuchel in the rotation.
“I like all the guys,” Keuchel said. “I think Cease took a real, real big step on his maturation process. And Lynn has been Lynn the last four, five years; he's been as steady as anybody in this game. Giolito is a special guy to when it comes to pitchability and just having the ultimate deception from that frame and that size. Kopech is obviously going to blow some 100 mph fastballs wipeout breaking stuff. I think we're in a good position, I really do.”
Hahn, however, noted that the White Sox will have to closely monitor Kopech’s workload as he ramps up to starter’s innings. So, however the rotation shakes out, depth will continue to be important.
The White Sox witnessed firsthand, as Rodón’s arm wore down late in the season with a massive jump in innings, how the health of a pitching staff can sway a team’s postseason fate.