With Mike Elias having proclaimed “liftoff” for the Orioles, Camden Chat writers are hoping for some impactful free agent additions to the roster. Over the next few weeks, we’ll be looking through possible signings - some more realistic than others.
So now that we’ve gotten dreaming about Justin Verlander out of the way, the fun continues when it comes to addressing the Orioles’ most significant need: starting pitcher. While 2022 certainly showed the largest leap in the Orioles’ starting pitching quality in what feels like decades, the O’s rotation is still a weak spot.
As we suggested at the end of the season, Dean Kremer and Kyle Bradish pitched well enough down the stretch that their names should be the first ones penciled into the 2023 rotation. Figuring that mega-prospect Grayson Rodriguez earns a spot in spring training, and John Means is given another spot once healthy, that leaves one spot remaining for a big free-agent splash.
While the likes of Verlander or Jacob deGrom offer the kind of pipe dreams that keep Birdland asking “What if?”, it would behoove the O’s to target players looking to leave their current situation for greener pastures. That’s where former Giant Carlos Rodón enters the conversation.
In many ways, Rodón represents the “best of the rest” of this free agent pitching class. No, he’s not a future Hall of Famer like Verlander, deGrom or Clayton Kershaw. And yet, he’s pitched just as well if not better than some of those bigger names over the last two seasons.
After coming over from the White Sox in the 2022 offseason, Rodón proved in San Francisco that his surprise All-Star appearance in 2021 was no fluke. Rodón set a career high with 178 innings pitched, while leading the entire MLB in K/9 rate at 12.0 and FIP at 2.25. The hard-throwing lefty’s 237 strikeouts in 2022 finished only behind Gerrit Cole and Corbin Burnes on the MLB strikeout leaderboard.
This dominant campaign continued Rodón’s late-blooming rise to prominence that started in 2021. After being drafted with the No. 3 pick in the 2014 draft, Rodón failed to break out in his first six years in the big leagues. He constantly battled injuries and high walk rates to the point that the White Sox non-tendered him after the 2020 season.
Apparently, the sting of being non-tendered was all the motivation Rodón needed to kick his career into high gear. After signing a one-year “prove it” deal to return to the South Siders, Rodón went on to throw the 20th no-hitter in White Sox history and was at one point a favorite for the AL Cy Young award.
Rodón signed a two-year, $44 million deal with the Giants after his dominance in Chicago, but he exercised an opt-out after one year— which is now something the Orioles could benefit from. With the Giants falling from the best team in baseball in 2021 to a .500 ballclub in ‘22, Rodón certainly feels like a player who will set his sights on greener pastures in 2023. Mike Elias & Co. will be tasked with convincing Rodón that he is the missing piece to an Orioles rotation that has plenty of promise but is still going through growing pains.
Rodón’s age is a potential selling point for the O’s, and vice versa. Set to turn 30 this December, Rodón is 10 years younger than Verlander and close to five years younger than Kershaw and deGrom. On a team like the Orioles whose foundation is centered around players under 30, Rodón presents an established veteran who could still be at his peak when his teammates reach the heights of their abilities.
He also presents Baltimore with a different profile than anyone currently in their rotation. As a lefty, he stands to greatly benefit from the Great Wall of Baltimore and its ability to negate right-handed power. Of the 12 HRs Rodón gave up in 2022, only eight would have left Camden Yards.
Rodón also possesses the dominant fastball that is absent in the repertoires of most other Orioles starters. The O’s current crop of starters rely on pitchers other than their four-seamers—Kremer favoring his cutter, Bradish his slider, Means his curveball and change. Rodón, on the other hand, has broken out as a star thanks to an enhanced reliance on his heater. After increasing his fastball usage to almost 60% in 2021 and above 60% in ‘22, Rodón became a completely different pitcher. Over the last two seasons, no one has created more Run Value off of their four-seamer than Rodón.
There is little doubt that Rodón is a good fit for this Orioles roster and that the O’s could be competitive in the market for the All-Star southpaw. Baltimore offers both a chance at joining a fast-rising competitor and for Rodón to be the unquestioned ace of the developing staff.
Seemingly the only thing that stands in the way of a press conference in the warehouse announcing Rodón as the newest Oriole is the front office’s willingness to pay. Given his recent track record and age, Spotrac estimates his market value at just north of $32M per year, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see Rodón command a similar deal to the $245M/7 years that Stephen Strasburg received after his age-30 season.
The richest deal the Orioles have ever given a free-agent pitcher was the four years and $50 million handed to Ubaldo Jimenez in 2014. While Rodón is certainly much more deserving of a big payday than Jimenez was, it is yet to be seen whether Elias will be willing to break the bank so drastically as his first major act of spending. After all, it’s possible that a deal for Rodón would require Baltimore to pay him more than the payroll of the entire 2022 team.
For a team supposedly ready to “liftoff” this offseason, the signing of Rodón would represent the biggest leap for Oriole-kind in recent memory. That being said, it may still be a dream just out of reach amongst the stars rather than grounded in true reality.