All eyes in Yankee land right now are on Carlos Rodón. The talented southpaw is the last big fish available on the pitching market, and reportedly is atop Brian Cashman’s and Hal Steinbrenner’s wishlist, particularly after securing the services of franchise cornerstone, Aaron Judge, long-term.
The Yankee rotation was one of the best in the sport in 2022, and the core three all return with the prospect of pitching even more innings. Luis Severino will get a little more leeway after returning from a couple seasons away, Gerrit Cole will continue to do his thing, and Nestor Cortes may have more leash to run up his innings count after posting a career-high total of 158.1 frames.
There isn’t a reason to expect much of a downturn for 2023, even if you’re particularly low on Frankie Montas’ ability to bounce back and somewhat high on the services that Jameson Taillon provided to the backend of this starting rotation. If anything, Montas is a near-lock to improve on his performance as a Yankee, after posting a 6.35 ERA in 39.2 innings with the club.
As long as stability is kept with Cole, Severino, and Cortes, the Yankees should be in a good position when it comes to starting pitching, an important reality to grasp as we try to understand what the Yankees’ pursuit of Carlos Rodon really means.
The Yankees have a unique opportunity to add a difference-maker
Rodón is one of the finest arms in the sport, and the only thing somewhat limiting his earning potential in free agency is his somewhat extensive injury history. The former first-round pick has dealt with shoulder problems for the better part of his career, but he’s also coming off a healthy year with the Giants.
His numbers since his breakout in 2021 are elite. He’s totaled 310 innings, with a 2.42 FIP and 0.99 WHIP. He’s struck out 34 percent of the batters he’s faced, while allowing opponents a .507 OPS.
Across the board that screams dominance, and his career-high 178 innings in the past season indicate he might be a better bet to remain healthy long-term than he was in the past, especially if managed carefully. With so much quality in the rotation already, the Yankees don’t need him to cover over 200 innings. Coming in around 170 frames of top-shelf performance, with Aaron Boone carefully watching his pitch count and innings total, are what they’d be looking for.
This team didn’t really pursue Jacob deGrom, and wasn’t very much in on Justin Verlander, but adding up age and a significantly higher AAV, especially when Aaron Judge’s future was still uncertain, it made for an equation where a pursuit would be unlikely.
If Rodon comes into the fold, he’s theoretically taking the rotation spot of Jameson Taillon. But Rodón’s pursuit is about upside, and if Taillon was on the roster for one more year, it wouldn’t affect this pursuit even in the slightest. The Yankees are going for a difference maker in the rotation, the type of arm that can carry you in the postseason.
The Jordan Montgomery trade last year showed us that this team won’t sweat out its fifth rotation spot, and whether you like Domingo Germán or other fringe options on the market, there is a reason why the team didn’t even bother pushing for Taillon with the contract he got from the Cubs ($68 million over four years).
There will obviously be a healthy amount of risk for any team picking up Rodón, but the Yankees are one of a handful that can afford said risk, both in terms of their budget room, and also as far as the status of its rotation. They are a great fit, with a staff that would work to manage his innings load, and would have the depth to deal with occasional injury issues.
It wouldn’t be ideal, but let’s say Rodón deals with some lingering problems, and only gives you 90 to 100 innings in the regular season, but manages to get fully healthy for the playoffs. His capacity to take over games in October could be huge, and the Yankees are capable of managing in the summer without him. What they want is another top-end arm that can shove at the end of the year.
Add it all up, and the club’s interest makes sense. They don’t want to go quite to the AAV levels of deGrom and Verlander. They don’t need to look at innings eaters like Taillon or Chris Bassitt. They want high-upside, and have the ability to eat some risk. There’s no guarantee Rodon ends up in pinstripes, but if he does, it would look like something of a layup.