Carlos Rodon does not want to move to the bullpen.
“In my heart, I think I’m a starter,” Rodon told MLB.com’s Scott Merkin earlier this month. “I’m not a bullpen arm.”
In the long term, his team very much agrees with him. The White Sox view Rodon as a member of their rotation in 2021, the next season in which he’s scheduled to pitch a full complement of games, after his recovery from Tommy John surgery is complete sometime in the middle of this season.
“We view Carlos, long term, as a starter,” Rick Hahn said last week. “Certainly a year from right now, I expect to be talking about him as one of the five guys in the rotation.”
But what does that mean for Rodon in 2020?
“Over the course of this season, let him finish up his rehab, let us see where we’re at as a starting rotation, let us see where he is from a stamina and endurance standpoint and how we project him the rest of the year, and then we’ll figure out how to best bring him back to the big leagues,” Hahn said. “Long term, Carlos Rodon’s a starter. Let’s get him through his rehab, and then we’ll talk about his role for the balance of the 2020 season.
“I also know Carlos has said repeatedly, whatever we want him to do to help the team win, he’s there for. So long term, starter. Short term, we’ll figure out once he’s healthy where he’s at.”
Rodon won’t be back from his recovery until summer, so don’t worry about trying to wedge him into the rotation for the first few months of the campaign. The Opening Day starting five seems well set, even while Lucas Giolito and Gio Gonzalez work their way back from nagging springtime issues: Giolito, Dallas Keuchel, Reynaldo Lopez, Dylan Cease and Gonzalez.
Michael Kopech will be waiting in the wings, the White Sox opting to slow-play his return to a big league mound after his own Tommy John recovery. He hasn’t pitched in any game above instructional league since September 2018, and logic points to him starting this season at Triple-A Charlotte until he’s ready to return to the bigs in a way that allows him to pitch meaningful games in September.
That’s when the White Sox hope to be in the middle — or, in a perfect situation, far out in front of — a playoff race. And Rodon could certainly factor into the chase for the first bout of October baseball on the South Side in more than a decade.
“I don’t know what’s in store,” Rodon told Our Chuck Garfien on the White Sox Talk Podcast. “I’m just trying to be ready by whenever they need me ready. There’s a lot of things that go into making a move. Make a move for me, you’ve still got to take somebody off the 40-man, send someone down. There’s a whole lot of correlating moves to that. What the timing is for that, I don’t know. Maybe the guys are doing well and I’m not needed yet.
“Whatever it may be. I don’t know what it is. But when it’s my time, I’ll be ready to go, I know that.”
Rodon can throw pretty darn hard, something that intrigues those wanting to stick him in the ‘pen and call on him to get a few batters out rather than soldier through six or seven innings. But White Sox fans are plenty familiar with what he can be when he’s healthy and at his best, the kind of starter who can mow down opposing lineups.
Either role would be a valuable midseason addition for a team in the playoff hunt. You’d have to figure that this is a bridge the White Sox will cross when they come to it, meaning that Rodon will likely be deployed in whatever area he’s needed.
A wrinkle in all this is that Rodon is not under the same kind of long-term team control as many of his teammates. He’s slated to hit free agency after the 2021 season, giving him a shorter amount of time to show he deserves to be part of the White Sox long-term planning.
Though with the team that drafted him on the verge of making the transition from rebuilding mode to contending mode, Rodon said he wants to be a part of the glory days after living through the darkest days of the rebuild.
“I definitely don’t want to go anywhere,” he said. “I’ve gone through the losses. It’d be so rewarding to chip away slowly, maybe make a playoff game, make a wild card game, who knows. I don’t know what’s in store for our future. But start there. It would be super rewarding for me.”