The Rangers will be looking to add some pitching this offseason and evidently isn’t ruling out a run at the top of the market. Andrew Baggarly of The Athletic reports that the club is planning a “hard push” for left-hander Carlos Rodón.
Rodón, 30 in December, isn’t technically a free agent just yet. Prior to the 2022 campaign, he signed a two-year, $44M deal with the Giants. However, that deal allows Rodón to opt out after the first year of the deal, which he is widely expected to do. The only reason he had to settle for a short-term deal in the first place was because of health concerns.
Rodón only threw 42 1/3 innings combined over 2019 and 2020 due to various injuries. In 2021, he was healthy enough to get to 132 2/3 frames on the year but seemed to run out of gas as the season went along. Due to those durability concerns, he settled for a short pact with the Giants, but one that would allow him to return to the open market as long as he pitched a minimum of 110 innings.
That plan has gone exactly as envisioned for the southpaw, as he stayed healthy all year, making 31 starts and logging a personal-best 178 innings. The added quantity didn’t subtract from the quality either. He registered a 2.88 ERA with a 33.4% strikeout rate, 7.3% walk rate and 34.1% ground ball rate. He was worth 6.2 wins above replacement in the eyes of FanGraphs, the second-highest such tally among all MLB pitchers this year, trailing only Aaron Nola. Based on that excellent campaign, he’s sure to opt out of the $22.5M remaining on his deal and return to the open market.
While that strong showing means Rodón will become a free agent, it also means he will get paid. He figures to be at the top of the free agent starting pitching market, alongside fellow opt-out holders Jacob deGrom and Justin Verlander. Those other two hurlers are older than Rodón and will be limited to shorter contracts with high average annual values, something akin to the Max Scherzer contract from last year. Rodón, on the other hand, will be more analogous to Robbie Ray and Kevin Gausman. Ray and Gausman were both free agents a year ago, with Ray going into his age-30 season like Rodón, while Gausman was going into his age-31 campaign. Rodón has a case that he’s as good as, or perhaps better than, both of them. Here are their platform years…
- Rodón: 178 innings, 33.4% strikeout rate, 7.3% walk rate, 34.1% ground ball rate, 6.5% HR/FB, 2.88 ERA, 2.83 SIERA, 2.25 FIP, 6.2 fWAR.
- Ray: 193 1/3 innings, 32.1% strikeout rate, 6.7% walk rate, 37.2% ground ball rate, 15.9% HR/FB, 2.84 ERA, 3.21 SIERA, 3.69 FIP, 3.9 fWAR.
- Gausman: 192 innings, 29.3% strikeout rate, 6.5% walk rate, 41.9% ground ball rate, 11.3% HR/FB, 2.81 ERA, 3.42 SIERA, 3.00 FIP, 4.8 fWAR.
Rodón issued slightly more walks but also got more strikeouts and allowed far fewer home runs. Though the ERAs are very close, advanced metrics prefer Rodón’s profile and give him the nod. Teams interested in signing Rodón won’t look just at his most recent season, of course, with his past injuries still counting for something. However, Ray and Gausman also had warts on their respective resumes, with Ray not pitching so well over 2018-2020 and Gausman struggling in 2019.
Ray was given a qualifying offer a year ago but Gausman was ineligible as he had already received one in his career. Both pitchers ended up receiving fairly similar contracts, as Ray signed with the Mariners for $115M over five years, while Gausman signed with the Blue Jays for $110M, also over five years. Like Ray, Rodón will receive and reject a qualifying offer, though it shouldn’t have a significant effect on his market.
For the Rangers, they spent big on free agency last year, giving huge deals to Corey Seager and Marcus Semien. Though those two players had fine seasons, the team still disappointed, largely due to their pitching. The team’s starters registered a 4.63 ERA, ranking them 25th out of the 30 MLB teams. Advanced metrics like FIP and SIERA weren’t much kinder, coming in at 4.42 and 4.36, respectively. That’s part of the reason why the club ended up going 68-94 on the year.
One of the few pitchers to perform well for the Rangers this year was Martín Pérez, though he’s slated for free agency. There’s apparently some mutual interest in a reunion for next year, though nothing is set in stone there yet. That leaves the Rangers with a rotation consisting of Jon Gray, Dane Dunning and a few holes. There are some internal candidates to fill those holes, though none of them had strong campaigns in 2022. Glenn Otto, Cole Ragans, Taylor Hearn and Spencer Howard each made at least eight starts for the Rangers in 2022, though all three of them posted ERAs around 5.00 or higher.
Improving the rotation for 2023 is a fairly sensible move for the Rangers as they look to put together a more competitive squad going forward. General manager Chris Young has indicated that the club will increase payroll this year, which will apparently allow them to consider spending at the very top of the free agent pitching market. The club ran out an Opening Day payroll of $142M in 2022, per Cot’s Baseball Contracts. Their outlay for 2023 is currently at $99M, per Roster Resource, though that figure doesn’t include salaries for arbitration-eligible players or a $6MM option for Jose LeClerc. That LeClerc option and the arb class should get the Rangers up to around $115M or so, leaving almost $30MM to work with before they get to their 2022 number. How much they actually have to spend will depend on how much higher the payroll is expected to climb this year.
The Rangers will surely have competition for Rodón’s services, with just about every team with designs on contention looking to upgrade their starting rotation. Since he will be one of the best hurlers available, he figures to be quite popular this winter. The Giants have already expressed an interest in keeping him in San Francisco, for instance. Whether the Rangers ultimately sign him specifically or not, it is likely exciting news for fans of the club that they are willing to pair last year’s spending spree on position players by being similarly aggressive on the pitching front this year.