On Sunday, the Chicago White Sox made the decision not to extend a qualifying offer to free-agent pitcher, Carlos Rodon.
The 28-year-old southpaw is coming off a career year in terms of production on the mound, sporting a 2.37 ERA, 2.63 xERA, and 2.65 FIP. The big lefty also recorded a career-best 12.55 K/9 with a career-low 2.44 BB/9. This was the exact type of performance the White Sox thought they would get out of Rodon when they selected him third overall out of North Carolina State in the 2014 MLB Draft.
For all the success Rodon had this year, it wasn't without its share of adversity. He topped 35 innings pitched for the first time since 2018 prior to his Tommy John surgery. Rodon's career on the South Side was marred by injuries and underperformance, but he seemed to finally put it all together in 2021 for the American League Central Division champions. However, he could not maintain the same durability and performance after his first All-Star selection as fatigue limited him to just 43 IP in the season's second half. Rodon's inability to maintain a healthy left arm was one of the factors that led to the team's early October exit and now leaves his future with the only organization he's ever known a mystery.
Filling Out The Rotation
Should Rodon depart 35th/Shields for good, the White Sox will need to address their starting rotation if they are serious about being a viable World Series contender.
General manager Rick Hahn previously stated the team will slot Michael Kopech into the starting rotation for the 2022 season. The problem with this scenario, as I outlined a few weeks back to the dismay of several readers incapable of grasping the bigger picture, is that Kopech's limited workload in 2021 will lead to similar issues to what we saw from Rodon in 2021. There is no reasonable expectation to believe that Kopech will be able to provide more than 130 IP in the 2022 campaign, and that will leave a lot of outs for this team to cover at critical times.
To further compound the problem, "Diamond" Dallas Keuchel is, well, bad at this point. 2021 looks like a harbinger of doom for a pitcher that has always been reliant on generating soft contact due to a lack of overpowering stuff in an age of power throughout the game. A rotation filled out with a pitcher on innings limitations and another that is in rapid decline is not exactly what you expect from a team that is publicly stating their goal is to win a World Series.
From my perspective, finding another viable starting option, whether it's a return from Rodon in some capacity or an external acquisition, has to take place. The 2021 White Sox sported the best starting pitching ERA in the American League and Carlos Rodon's contributions, again while limited in the second half, played a significant factor in that. Removing that level of performance creates a significant void for this team going forward in the midst of their contention window.
Game of Risk
Yes, Rodon's checkered health history has been problematic for a majority of his White Sox career. However, the $18.1 million qualifying offer represented an opportunity for this team to have some level of certainty within their rotation. While it is entirely possible the White Sox see red flags with the health of his arm that we aren't privy to, that is a relatively reasonable price to pay for the production the team received in 2021.
Again, maybe the team has viable concerns about how Rodon will bounce back in 2022 after his sizeable innings jump this year. But not extending the qualifying offer and receiving no compensation upon a potential departure would be puzzling without such concerns.
The team will now look to potentially replace All-Star level production with a set of questionable internal candidates or by venturing into the external marketplace. Keep in mind that this winter will bring about one of the most cloudy offseasons in recent memory given the upcoming expiration of the Collective Bargaining Agreement.
It's entirely possible that there could be a number of teams looking to unload talent, some even at prices below the qualifying offer level, that the White Sox could take advantage of to address the rotation. However, for a team that has not shown a willingness to be aggressive in the free-agent starting pitching market historically, it calls into question how much risk this team will be ready to take.
Could 2021 have been Carlos Rodon's career year, and were his second-half health issues the continuation of a trend throughout the course of his career? It's also entirely possible that it was merely the signs of a pitcher running out of gas following reconstructive elbow surgery and a pandemic-shortened season in consecutive years.
Objectively speaking, Rodon showed in 2021 what the White Sox saw when they made him a first-round pick close to a decade ago. How they go about equaling or surpassing that production in 2022 as they attempt to reach the postseason for a third consecutive season and win a playoff series for the first time since the 2005 World Series remains to be seen.