First of all, let me just say that it is absolutely wonderful to be thinking about baseball again in the context of player performance, potential signings, and expectations for the 2022 season, rather than CBT figures and lawyers walking back and forth to various meetings. And now, let the fun begin. As MLB returns from its 99-day lockout, the Mets have two main targets to improve their team: One more starting pitcher and another bat to slot into their lineup.
On the latter, they can probably get by with what they have, though the DH does open another possibility to improve their lineup. On the former, they certainly want one more reliable name to join Jacob deGrom, Max Scherzer, Taijuan Walker, and Carlos Carrasco, which would allow them to stash David Peterson and Tylor Megill in Triple-A as “Break Glass in Case of Emergency” options.
Christian Romo wrote about Yusei Kikuchi, someone the club was linked to prior to the lockout. He certainly represents a safe choice, as a pitcher who will give you innings and keep you in most games. He would be a solid back-of-the-rotation option, but I am proposing the Mets swing for the fences here and go for the highest upside option, albeit someone who’s injury history might potentially be a cause for concern. But all things considered, the Mets should absolutely consider signing Carlos Rodón to round out their rotation.
Rodón, whom the White Sox selected third overall in the 2014 MLB Draft, is a tricky nut to crack, because he is coming off his best season, which should make him a no-brainer player to consider. The 29-year-old, in his seventh major league season, posted a career-best 2.37 ERA, 2.65 FIP, 0.96 WHIP, and 185 strikeouts en route to finishing fifth in the AL Cy Young voting and earning a spot on the AL All Star team for the first time in his career. He finished 2021 with a career-best 5.0 bWAR. Not bad, especially considering Chicago non-tendered the left-hander following the 2020 season before bringing him back on a one-year, $3 million deal. That deal turned out to be a solid investment.
It was his best season since his 2015 rookie campaign, when he finished with a 3.75 ERA, a 3.87 FIP, a 1.44 WHIP, and 139 strikeouts in 139.1 innings over 26 appearances (23 starts). Since then, he has finished most seasons with an ERA hovering around the low fours, though his worst seasons were in 2019 and 2020, which resulted in the club non-tendering him, as previously mentioned. Overall, he owns a 3.79 ERA, a 3.94 FIP, a 1.29 WHIP, and 710 strikeouts in 669.1 innings pitched. He has posted a 24.9% K% in his career while pitching to a 9.3% BB%.
Rodón checks all the boxes for New York: He’s a left-hander (which would help balance their extremely right-hand heavy rotation), he’s still on the right side of 30 (at least for the upcoming season), and he doesn’t have a Qualifying Offer attached to him (though with the new CBA, it’s a bit unclear whether this would have cost the team a draft pick right now). He has a chance to slot as high as three in the team’s rotation and could give them a formidable trio of potential aces at the top. So the team should just start getting the contract written up already, right?
Well, not exactly. The starter does come with some notable injury baggage, which could deter some teams. He made just 11 starts combined in 2019 and 2020, and has only thrown 150-plus innings once in his career (2016). He had arthroscopic surgery, which he referred to as a “nightmare”, following an injury-plagued 2017. After making just 12 starts that season, he didn’t return until June of 2018, though he pitched through the rest of that year and finished with a 4.18 ERA in 120.2 innings across 20 starts. His elbow was his next big issue, and it ended up costing him a lot of 2019 and 2020.
Things finally began looking up last year, and Rodón shot out of the gate with a 0.58 ERA across his first five starts. That included a near-immaculate performance on Cleveland on April 14, where he sat down the first 25 batters before hitting Roberto Pérez with a pitch, which ended his bid at perfection—he did settle for throwing the 20th no-hitter in White Sox history. He went into the All Star break with a 2.31 ERA in 15 starts, but his shoulder starting acting up again later in the year and cost him most of August.
So should the Mets sign Rodón? Honestly, despite the injury history, he presents the best opportunity to make a big impact on the free agent market without needing to dip into their prospect pool to try and pry away one of the Athletics’ young pitchers, or the Reds’ Luis Castillo. Andy Martino also noted recently that teams have taken a look at the lefty’s medicals, and say they are “actually very good”. If this is to be believed, and given what we saw from him in 2021, he’s well worth the gamble for New York, and could pay immediate dividends for a team that is in win-now mode after a pre-lockout spending spree that saw them land a number of notable pieces. Rodón would be a great catch to round out an aleeady-solid Mets rotation and position them well for the season.