Carlos Rodón Gives the Giants the Upside They Were Looking For

David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

After the end of the owners’ lockout on Thursday and the reopening of the offseason, the Giants wasted little time making a big splash in the second free agency period, signing Carlos Rodón to a two-year deal worth up to $44 million with an opt-out after the first season. The addition of the ex-White Sox lefty gives San Francisco the top-end talent that was missing from the rotation after the departure of Kevin Gausman earlier in the offseason. It’s a move filled with risk, but with the potential for great reward.

Rodón was a revelation in 2021. He threw a nearly perfect game on April 14, settling for a no-hitter instead; made the All-Star team for the first time; and set career highs in nearly every meaningful pitching metric, with his 2.37 ERA, 2.65 FIP and 4.9 WAR all leading Chicago’s pitching staff. And all this came after the White Sox had non-tendered him before the season, only to re-sign him on a one-year deal worth just $3 million.

As Rodón put it last March, getting cut by the team that had drafted him was a wake-up call. He committed to an improved offseason training program and diet to help him get into better shape, and the transformation of his body helped him fix his mechanics and improve his overall strength. He entered spring training throwing in the upper 90s regularly, and his fastball wound up averaging 95.4 mph last year, the hardest it had been in his career. All that additional velocity took his fastball from an average pitch to an elite weapon. His heater’s whiff rate had never topped 20% in his career but jumped to 29.7% in 2021, and opposing batters managed just a .264 wOBA off the pitch. It also paired nicely with his already excellent slider and changeup to form a trio of plus pitches to mow down opposing batters.

Unfortunately, Rodón’s lengthy injury history came back to haunt him as the season wore on. Elbow and shoulder injuries limited him to just 42.1 innings combined between 2019 and ‘20, and as he continued to pitch deeper into 2021, fatigue set in, with his velocity slowly dropping from start to start.

By the end of the season, he was also dealing with shoulder trouble that limited him to six starts in August and September. The White Sox tried giving him extra rest between his starts when they could, and their position in the standings meant they could afford to lose him from the rotation for long periods of time down the stretch, but Rodón’s body just couldn’t hold up under the huge workload increase. By late September, his fastball was averaging just a hair over 90 mph and topping out at 93, and his lone postseason appearance was an abbreviated start against the Astros in the decisive Game 4 of the ALDS, in which he allowed two runs on three hits in 2.2 innings of work.

All that uncertainty about his shoulder and his ability to maintain a full workload led the White Sox to let Rodón walk into free agency without a qualifying offer attached to him. Ranked 17th on our list of the top 50 free agents, he was arguably the best starting pitcher left on the market once the lockout began on December 2. The crowdsourced contract estimates saw through the risk associated with Rodón and assumed he’d sign a three- or four-year deal. In the end, he settled for a two-year contract with a high AAV and a potential opt-out after the season if he can prove that his health issues are truly behind him.

San Francisco might be one of the few landing spots that could capably handle Rodón’s potentially limited workload. The Giants also had a huge need for a top-of-the-rotation talent to bolster an already deep group. With Logan Webb leading the way, they had already re-signed Anthony DeSclafani and Alex Wood and brought in Alex Cobb on a two-year deal. Behind that quintet, San Francisco has Sammy Long, Tyler Beede, and Sean Hjelle, who should provide depth at some point during the season, as well as a strong bullpen. They should be well equipped to give Rodón breaks as needed and survive any potential absence on his part.

With Rodón now in the fold, four-fifths of the Giants rotation has been signed to similar two- or three-year deals:

Giants Rotation, Free Agent Additions
Player Age Contract Projected ERA Projected FIP Projected WAR
Carlos Rodón 29 2 yr, $44M 3.88 3.95 2.0
Anthony DeSclafani 32 3 yr, $36M 4.04 3.91 2.3
Alex Wood 31 2 yr, $25M 3.65 3.70 2.0
Alex Cobb 34 2 yr, $20M 4.11 3.92 1.2
ZiPS projections

Adding Rodón to a rotation that already includes pitchers with lengthy injury histories in Wood and Cobb may seem like too much risk — openly inviting the wrath of the injury gods. But after finishing last season with the best record in baseball, the Giants seem to be doubling down on the type of volatile roster construction that led to so much success.

Before the lockout began, ZiPS projected San Francisco to be a .500 team with sizable error bars based on the health of the rotation. Adding Rodón doesn’t do much to shrink those bars, but he does greatly improve the potential ceiling of those projections. If you believe in whatever Bay Area magic that led to nearly every one of the Giants’ veterans having a career year in 2021, adding the phenomenal, if potentially limited, Rodón to their rotation is a signal to the rest of the National League that they are ready to defend their NL West crown.

Jake Mailhot is a contributor to FanGraphs. A long-suffering Mariners fan, he also writes about them for Lookout Landing. Follow him on Twitter @jakemailhot.

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8 months ago

love this for both Rodon and the Giants. given what the Giants pitching dev has done recently, a healthy Rodon could put up crazy numbers this year. Also interesting is that Rodon’s breakout last year came with working w/ new CHW pitching coach Ethan Katz, who was an assistant pitching coach with SFG for a couple years before that.

8 months ago
Reply to  MRDXol

I am pretty convinced the only way this goes south for the Giants is if he’s hurt. Which obviously is a very, very real possibility.

If there’s still a QO next offseason, even if he opts out they’ll get something for him.