The Yankees have long since proven that nobody is better at consistently producing winning seasons and playing in October. But now, they should be looking for pieces to get them over the hump in the postseason and back to the World Series for the first time since 2009.
So they’ve re-signed Anthony Rizzo and let’s say Aaron Judge is staying as well. Both are vital moves, but if the Yankees are all about winning championships and specifically beating the Houston Astros these days, they need to add a difference-maker.
You can make the argument that they’d benefit most from a proven clutch post-season player, like free agent Carlos Correa, since it’s that offense that's been the problem in recent Octobers.
But if they’re committed to their young shortstop prospects, as seems to be the case, the Yankees should try to take a cue from the world champs and try to outpitch everybody.
They have a nice 1-2 in Gerrit Cole and Nestor Cortes, and some dominance at the third spot in the rotation in Luis Severino. Adding another ace-like starter to that mix in October would make the Yankees as imposing as, well, the Astros.
In that case, there are only three available pitchers who fit the bill: Jacob deGrom, Justin Verlander, and Carlos Rodon.
The first two are expected to cost $40 million or more a year, and it’s hard to see the Yankees doing that when they’re already paying Cole $36 million a year -- also assuming they’re about to pay Judge something in those neighborhoods as well.
But what about Rodon?
Rodon was healthy and dominant from start to finish in 2022.
Yet, his injury history is still significant enough to make any team think long and hard about giving him a high-priced deal for five or six years, which is apparently what he’s seeking.
The left-hander pitched a career-high 178 innings last season, the highest total of his career. His last previous injury-free season was 2016, the only other season of his eight years in the big leagues in which he threw more than 139.1 innings.
Rodon underwent shoulder surgery in 2017 and then Tommy John surgery for his elbow in 2019 which cost him virtually all of the 2020 season as well. As a result, he threw a total of 111.2 innings over those three seasons, all with the Chicago White Sox.
The former No. 3 overall pick in the 2014 draft out of North Carolina State was relatively healthy in 2021. However, he still missed several starts late in the season due to what the White Sox called “shoulder fatigue” which caused his fastball velocity to drop significantly. Rodon did return to make a post-season start but only lasted 2 2/3 innings, giving up two runs.
So, although he stayed injury-free in 2022, it’s still a leap of faith for any team to give Rodon a long-term deal.
Rodon proved the last two seasons that when he’s right physically, he’s one of the best pitchers in baseball.
The southpaw pitched to a 2.37 ERA over 24 starts for the White Sox in 2021, posting a 0.957 WHIP and an eye-popping 185 ERA-plus.
Then last season, after signing a short-term deal (due to his injury history) with the Giants, he went 14-8 with a 2.88 ERA over 31 starts. He racked up 237 strikeouts over 278 innings, and his K rate of 12 per nine innings was the best in the majors for a starting pitcher.
How does he do it?
Rodon is pure power, relying heavily on his four-seam fastball that averaged 95.46 mph last season, regularly beating hitters up in the zone. At a time when the trend is pitchers throwing fewer fastballs and more breaking stuff, Rodon threw his four-seamer 61 percent of the time last season, holding opposing hitters to a .211 batting average with it.
“His fastball has great carry and hitters don’t catch up to it,” one team exec told me. “They can’t cheat on it either because his slider is a swing-and-miss pitch with great depth to it. He’ll throw his curveball only occasionally. He’s really a two-pitch pitcher, which is rare for a starter. But you can make an argument that he’s got as good a fastball/slider combination as anybody.”
It’s true, according to Brooks Baseball, Rodon’s fastball and slider accounted for slightly over 92 percent of his pitches in 2021, as he threw five percent curveballs and two percent change-ups.
What really impresses scouts is that Rodon essentially lives upstairs with his fastball and yet rarely gets hurt with the home run ball. Last season, in fact, he allowed 12 home runs, or an excellent 0.6 per nine innings, no small matter in Yankee Stadium.
If the Yankees want to try and overwhelm the opposition with pitching, adding another ace is the way to do it. But again, I just don’t see Hal Steinbrenner paying deGrom or Verlander even on short-term deals.
Rodon won’t come cheap, probably something in the $25-30 million range over five or six years. But he is trending in the right direction injury-wise and at the age of 30, after what he did in 2021, he might just be hitting his prime.
It would be another big commitment, but for a team looking for October difference-makers, Rodon is worth the risk.