Carlos Rodón is a free agent.
But that doesn’t necessarily mean his time with the Chicago White Sox is over just yet.
General manager Rick Hahn said Friday that his front office would be pleased to keep the All-Star lefty on the South Side, not just leaving the door open for a reunion but perhaps signaling a willingness to rearrange the White Sox’ starting rotation in order to make one happen.
“I can certainly praise how fantastic he was for us over the bulk of the season and (say) that it would be great to figure out a way to bring him back in some capacity,” Hahn said during his end-of-season press conference.
The White Sox were in this same spot with Rodón a year ago, non-tendering him in December and bringing him back on a one-year deal.
But that was before he had one of the best seasons of any pitchers in baseball in 2021, finally putting his history of significant arm injuries behind him and living up to the hype of his No. 3 overall draft position. Rodón was electric most every time he took the mound, throwing a no-hitter in his second start and finishing the regular season with a 2.37 ERA and 185 strikeouts in 132.2 innings of work.
But it’s what happened at year’s end that makes for a difficult-to-predict winter for the lefty, whose big workload increase led to persistent shoulder soreness that forced long stretches between starts.
The White Sox could extend a qualifying offer to Rodón, a one-year contract worth $18.4 million. They need to make that decision by Sunday. If the White Sox do make that offer, Rodón has 10 days to decide whether he wants to accept or decline, hitting the open market.
Last offseason, Rodón cited his familiarity with the organization when choosing to come back following his non-tender, perhaps something that could work in the White Sox’ favor this time around, too.
“Obviously this isn’t our first foray into free agency with Carlos. We had a similar situation … last offseason when we had an interest in bringing him back and were able to work it out then, as well,” Hahn said. “We’ll see how the market unfolds. He’s coming from a much better position, which we all benefited from over the course of the ’21 season.
“He met (his longstanding) potential, and now obviously he has the benefit of exploring his free-agent options.”
Hahn’s declaration that the White Sox would be interested in bringing Rodón back points to a potentially larger shake up in the rotation, something that would be necessary in order to make a reunion work.
The White Sox currently have a full starting staff for the 2022 season, what with Hahn confirming Friday that the intent is to move Michael Kopech there from the bullpen. Kopech would figure to join Lucas Giolito, Lance Lynn, Dylan Cease and Dallas Keuchel to form the rotation.
But throw Rodón into that mix, too, and there’s suddenly six pitchers for five spots. Two possible outcomes, in that hypothetical event, would be for the White Sox to further delay Kopech’s arrival in the rotation or to find a way to move on from Keuchel, who struggled in his second season on the South Side after posting a 0.99 ERA in 2020. Keuchel has one guaranteed year left on his contract, with a club option for the 2023 season.
Plenty of White Sox fans would like to see even greater augmentation to the starting staff following the team’s brief stay in the postseason, during which a rotation that rated as the American League’s finest during the regular season came up empty in four consecutive games, no starter making it five innings.
“We have a great deal of faith in our pitching staff going forward, but it would be foolish of us to sit here and think there aren’t ways for us to get better, despite how strong it was over the course of those six months (of the regular season),” Hahn said. “Probably like just about every team that has World Series aspirations, we will look for ways to make a strength even stronger in terms of our rotation and bullpen.”
Returning Rodón would be a good way to do exactly that.