Sox Reporter

What Rodón's return means for Sox pitching staff in 2021

Sox Reporter

Carlos Rodón is the White Sox latest offseason addition, his time away from the only professional organization he's ever known not lasting long.

The White Sox non-tendered their 2014 first-round draft pick earlier this offseason, seemingly bringing an end to an experiment that sought to turn that first-round talent into a major league rotation topper. Instead, Rodón was bedeviled by serious arm injuries that prevented him from finding consistency on the mound — or even staying it.

Now, returned on a one-year deal worth $3 million — the White Sox saving on the $4.5 million he was projected to receive in the arbitration process — he'll be expected to provide depth to a rotation that ideally already has its five pieces in place.

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The irony, of course, is that in the event of injury or anything else that sends the White Sox searching for a rotation replacement, it will be Rodón who will be counted on, when so frequently in recent seasons, his injuries have been the reason the White Sox have been left scrambling for depth.

Rodón, once envisioned as an ace of the future thanks to that No. 3 overall draft spot, won't carry that kind of pressure anymore. The White Sox have a championship-caliber 1-2-3 pitching punch with Lucas Giolito, Dallas Keuchel and Lance Lynn, three guys who finished in the top seven in last year's American League Cy Young vote. Greater mystery exists beyond that trio, of course, though the team has high hopes that Dylan Cease and Michael Kopech can reach their enormous potential and contribute enough to give the White Sox one of the best rotations in baseball in 2021.

 

But when it comes to Kopech, specifically, there's more mystery than simply how good he'll be following two lost seasons, his 2019 wiped out while recovering from Tommy John surgery and his 2020 wiped out after he elected not to play due to personal reasons. Kopech, even when he was slated to play in 2020, appeared to be slated for a start in the minor leagues, the White Sox intention to build his stamina back up. A similar fate might await in 2021, and though the team has yet to reveal its plan, there are plenty of guesses out there that his innings will be limited in some capacity with nothing more than one inning in the Cactus League under his belt since late 2018.

So add Rodón's name to the list of guys who could step in at the beginning of the season while Kopech works his way back to a full starter's workload. Reynaldo López, too, is in that mix and perhaps even ahead of Rodón. But both pitchers were sidelined during the 2020 season: López threw 26.1 innings in eight starts, and Rodón logged just 7.2 innings in four games, only two of which were starts.

Rodón's addition to the 2021 roster certainly comes with the possibility that if not needed in the rotation he could be a part of the mix in the bullpen, particularly in a role where he would eat innings and not be relied upon at the back end, where the White Sox have a wealth of options. Rodón was used in a pair of regular-season relief appearances last season, plus one in the playoff series against the Oakland Athletics, and things did not go well.

Most infamously, Rodón's first appearance back from his lengthy injured-list stay saw him thrust into a late-inning, bases-loaded situation against the Cleveland Indians. He gave up hits to the first two batters he faced and with them, a three-run lead. Three days later, he pitched 1.2 innings against the Cubs, not allowing any runs but hitting a batter. He was one of numerous ineffective relievers in Game 3 of that AL Wild Card Series against the A's, facing three hitters and getting none of them out, charged with two runs as he gave up a hit and a pair of walks.

Those results, as small a sample size as it might be, as unfortunate situations as they might have been, won't inspire much confidence among the fan base that Rodón should be used as a dependable relief option. But much like the White Sox signed Gio González last winter with the intent of using him as insurance for the rotation as well as a potential long-relief arm, Rodón's signing can probably be viewed similarly.

 

However, unlike that González signing — which of course didn't work out — and the rest of the team's activity this offseason, Rodón's return contrasts in that it provides little in the way of dependability, little in the way of a track record the White Sox can count on as they eye a championship. Surely the pressure is off the left-hander, and new pitching coach Ethan Katz will certainly be tasked with unlocking the same type of success in Rodón the team is hoping he can discover in Cease and Kopech.

But the White Sox swapped Rick Renteria for Tony La Russa, traded away Dane Dunning for Lynn, reunited with Adam Eaton and spent big on Liam Hendriks because they have immediate championship aspirations. Three of those four men have World Series rings on their fingers, and the one who doesn't, Hendriks, is no less than one of the finest closers in baseball. Rodón, on the other hand, through little fault of his own, is a roll of the dice.

No, Rodón won't be expected to take on the kinds of roles that those other four are. He's here to provide depth in case of emergency. But as his own injuries have shown in recent seasons, starting-pitching depth can be a very important thing. If not for his injury in 2019, the White Sox might not have needed to turn to Manny Bañuelos and Odrisamer Despaigne as often as they did. If not for his injury in 2020, the White Sox might not have sent Drew Anderson out to start a bullpen day. That's not to forecast another Rodón injury. It's merely to illustrate that if something happens that requires Rodón to be pressed into duty, he'll be counted on to fare better than those guys did.

Can he, though?

Whether because of inconsistency in the health department or inconsistency in the performance department, that's an unknown, hardly the ideal position for a team looking to win a World Series in 2021.

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