For the White Sox and Carlos Rodon, the Road Ahead is Murky
Given Rodon’s injury history, his inconsistency when healthy, and the doubt that he’ll be open to a long-term extension, you have to believe that Rodon’s days are numbered in Chicago.
After hitting the injured list with left elbow inflammation, the White Sox announced on May 13th, 2019 that former first-rounder Carlos Rodon was set to undergo Tommy John surgery, ending his 2019 campaign. Before hitting the injured list, Rodon posted a 3-2 record with a 5.19 ERA for the Sox. At the time, the team was 18-21 and in fourth place in the American League Central.
Rodon, 27, was drafted third overall by the White Sox in 2014 out of N.C. State. At the time, most pundits were floored that he was available at that slot for Chicago. It seemed like a no-brainer selection, but it has failed to materialize in any expected fashion due to the southpaw’s injury history at the major-league level.
I remember being at his first appearance, a relief outing against the Cleveland Indians in April of 2015, which in retrospect has foreshadowed much of his inconsistent career to this point. Rodon entered the game in the top of the sixth inning and walked Brandon Moss on four straight balls to load the bases. Rodon then worked a full count against Ryan Raburn before allowing a two-run single to left field. He finally induced a groundout by Lonnie Chisenhall to end the inning.
In the top of the seventh, Rodon ran the count full before walking both Roberto Perez and Jose Ramirez to put himself right back into a jam. A sacrifice bunt by Michael Bourn moved Perez and Kipnis into scoring position, and a sac fly and line-drive single to centerfield by Jason Kipnis and Michael Brantley respectively would plate two runs for the Tribe before Rodon escaped the inning.
Rodon got the ball again in the eighth inning and tossed a scoreless frame. He notched his first-career strikeout when he rung up Lonnie Chisenhall swinging. That 2 1/3 innings of work was Carlos Rodon in a microcosm — nasty stuff with an inability to locate it consistently that often results in walks, baserunners, and an eventual mistake pitch that gets hammered to do the brunt of the damage.
Five years later, nothing has changed.
Now, with just two years remaining on the South Side — with an extension seeming highly unlikely at this point — Rodon will spend half of this season rehabbing from Tommy John surgery.
With the acquisition and development of young stars like Lucas Giolito, Michael Kopech, Reynaldo Lopez, and Dylan Cease coupled with the additions of Dallas Keuchel and Gio Gonzalez this winter — where does Rodon fit into the equation this summer when he makes his seemingly annual return from the IL?
We know that Michael Kopech will in all likelihood start the season with some combination of an extended Spring Training and/or a stint in Charlotte. He will likely get the call back up to the show sometime in May, but once he does get called up, the White Sox will be operating with six starting pitchers on the 26-man roster.
If I was a betting man, I would wager that Gio Gonzalez will be the buffer between Kopech and any innings or start limit that the team may impose on him. Gonzalez could be used to skip starts for Kopech and keep the young righty fresh throughout the year. The veteran southpaw could spend some time in the bullpen as a long-relief option since the Sox will only carry seven true relievers when Kopech returns.
I find it hard to believe that Rodon will walk into a spot in the starting rotation when he makes his return in June or July. That would leave him in a bullpen role, something he hasn’t experienced since April of 2015 in his rookie season.
That scenario may come to fruition, or he may become a trade candidate.
When he returns to action, he’ll have roughly a season and a half of control prior to hitting free agency after the 2021 season. If Giolito stays the course and if two of, or all three of Kopech/Cease/Lopez look like hits, Rodon becomes expendable to the highest suitor, possibly as early as next winter.
I remain firm in my belief that Rodon could be effective in a middle-to-late innings relief role, ala Andrew Miller during the Cleveland Indians 2016 World Series run, but I also believe that he won’t embrace being ousted from the starting rotation before he has his first crack at free agency two winters from now.
Ultimately, Rodon is a Boras Corp. client, so he’ll most definitely opt to hit the open market when his time comes. The White Sox have notoriously made locking up their young talent a priority; hell, it’s almost even an organization method of operating at this point. Given Rodon’s injury history, his inconsistency when healthy, and the doubt that he’ll be open to a long-term extension, you have to believe that Rodon’s days are numbered in Chicago.
As far as his performance this season is concerned, it’s tough to predict because of the uncertainty behind his return date and the role he’ll assume when he does return. We’ll have to wait and see when it comes to projections, but I hope he lights it up in whatever role is waiting for him when he returns. Ultimately, the best-case scenario for the White Sox would be for Rodon to help the 2020 club succeed while building some trade value for the front office to capitalize on in the not-too-distant future.