Since dealing a healthy chunk of pitching depth for Juan Soto, the Yankees are faced with two paths. One, they can shell out cash or prospects to build up a top-flight rotation — the current Yoshinobu Yamamoto sweepstakes and rumors of interest in Dylan Cease fit this plan. Alternatively, or perhaps in parallel, the team can invest in bullpen arms and shorten games on the back end — adding a pitcher to the likes of Clay Holmes and Jonathan Loáisiga helps keep runs off the board too.
Yariel Rodríguez could be one of those game-shorteners, as one of NPB’s best relief pitchers is officially a free agent. Although he had a rather messy ending to his business relationship with the Chunichi Dragons, he was excellent the last time he appeared on an NPB mound, throwing 54.2 innings with a 1.15 ERA in 2022. Ten MLB teams are reportedly in on the righty, who spent the year training in the Dominican Republic, and 15 clubs attended his showcase in October. Rodríguez sits 96 and can touch triple digits with his fastball, and features four other pitches although his curveball and slider are the ones we’ll likely see the most of stateside.
Perhaps more intriguing than using him as a setup man — his role in NPB — is the potential that he could fill a swingman role in MLB. Part of his training in the DR is about building up stamina, and he featured in the starting rotation for Cuba in the WBC, albeit in abbreviated starts. The pitch repertoire suggests he could get through a lineup twice, although not having a true plus third pitch may hold him back from a fulltime move into the starting rotation.
Still, it’s easy to look at the full package and see something like the old Adam Warren role, or a lesser version of what Michael King became. The Yankee rotation carries a fair amount of downside risk, with Nestor Cortes coming off of rotator cuff problems, and whatever the heck is going on with Carlos Rodón.
The idea of a “piggyback” has been kicked around the baseball landscape for the better part of a decade now. Starters are throwing fewer innings over time, teams are prioritizing stuff above all else, we’ve been thinking for a while that the future of pitching is teaming a couple guys together to throw three innings each. That might end up the ideal deployment for Rodríguez, as the Yankees look to hedge that rotation risk.
The downside to Y-Rod is control. His 11.2 percent career walk rate is rather ugly, although he shaved three points off figure rate in 2022. In the WBC, he walked six and hit two batters in 7.1 innings of work, so being able to find the strike zone had to be as important in his year of training as stamina.
The Yankees need to rebuild some pitching, and a fair amount of talent is crossing the ocean into MLB. Yamamoto still needs to be the primary target, but Yariel Rodríguez brings a swingman potential that could help most teams’ depth charts.