Giants To Sign Carlos Rodon

3:21pm: Rodon will earn $21.5MM in 2022 and $22.5MM in 2023, tweet USA Today’s Bob Nightengale.

3:07pm: The Giants have reached a two-year, $44MM deal with left-hander Carlos Rodon, reports ESPN’s Jeff Passan. Rodon, a client of the Boras Corporation, can opt out of the contract after the first year of the deal. Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle reported shortly beforehand that Rodon was “very much in play” for the Giants.

The 29-year-old Rodon is arguably the top starter on the market at this point after a breakout 2021 season. The former No. 3 overall pick returned from a series of injury-marred seasons to turn in the finest performance of his career, dominating the American League for much of the season. Through late July, Rodon was one of the favorites for the Cy Young Award, having pitched to a sparkling 2.14 ERA with a sensational 36.6% strikeout rate against a 6.8% walk rate.

Rodon overwhelmed the Astros on July 18, pitching seven innings of scoreless, one-hit ball and racking up 10 punchouts. That, however, would be the last time the southpaw pitched more than five innings in an outing. Rodon lasted just four frames and allowed four runs in each of his next two starts. He rebounded to dominate a stripped-down Cubs team that had traded away most of its lineup, tossing five shutout innings with 11 strikeouts on Aug. 7.

Rodon then hit the injured list with shoulder fatigue, returned on Aug. 26, and went on to make only five starts over the regular season’s final 39 days. He reached 80 pitches in just one of those five appearances, and his fastball sat at a greatly diminished 93.2 mph in that time. Rodon was still effective in that time (2.35 ERA in 23 innings), but his strikeout rate was down to 27.2% — still strong, but not quite elite.

Heading into the postseason, Rodon’s status was a question mark, though he was ultimately included on the ALDS roster and deemed good to go for a Game 4 appearance. Rodon came back out slinging his fastball in the upper 90s, but he lasted just 2 2/3 innings in a game that would eventually result in Chicago being bounced from the playoffs.

On the whole, Rodon finished out the regular season with a 2.37 ERA, a 34.6% strikeout rate and a 6.7% walk rate in 132 2/3 innings. He ranked among the league leaders in terms of swinging-strike rate, opponents’ chase and overall strikeout rate. Statcast generally felt that Rodon’s breakout ERA was legitimate, pegging him for an “expected” 2.68 ERA in addition to a .189 expected opponents’ batting average and .316 expected slugging percentage.

As if the late-season shoulder woes weren’t troublesome enough, further questions surrounding Rodon’s health emerged after the White Sox opted against issuing him an $18.4MM qualifying offer. The fact that the team that knew Rodon best wasn’t comfortable with a one-year deal even after a season of that cast serious doubt on the status of his shoulder. Earlier this morning, however, SNY’s Andy Martino tweeted that the medicals on Rodon were “actually very good,” citing multiple teams who’d looked into the southpaw. Clearly the Giants agree, as they saw fit to promise Rodon more than double what he’d have received upon signing a qualifying offer. Because Rodon did not receive the QO, the Giants won’t have to surrender any draft picks to sign him—and the White Sox won’t receive any compensation for his departure.

Rodon’s contract may have guaranteed two years, but it’s essentially a more modern version of the oft-seen one-year “pillow” contract. If he remains healthy and pitches well, Rodon will be a lock to opt out of the contract in search of a nine-figure guarantee heading into what would be his age-30 season in 2023. If not, he’ll still have the safety net of a weighty salary for the 2023 season — after which he’d have another bite at the free-agent apple.

The signing isn’t without its risk for the Giants. Beyond Rodon’s obvious health concerns, the left-hander had simply never performed anywhere near this level prior to the 2021 season. This is the type of performance that both the White Sox and their fanbase hoped for when Rodon was drafted No. 3 overall and immediately ranked as one of the sport’s best pitching prospects. However, Rodon was more of a third or fourth starter for the bulk of his career in Chicago, pitching to a 4.01 ERA through 494 1/3 innings from 2015-18. Along the way, he dealt with a litany of injury troubles, ranging from minor issues like a wrist strain to more severe problems in his shoulder (which required surgery in September of 2017) and in his elbow (which required Tommy John surgery in May of 2019).

Red flags aside, this type of short-term, high-annual value structure is one with which Giants president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi is quite comfortable. Zaidi, the former Dodgers general manager, pursued arrangements of this type often in Los Angeles, and since moving to the Giants he’s had a clear preference to avoid long-term contracts — even if it means paying a higher annual premium. Notably, Rodon’s $22MM annual rate of pay is a match with that of now-former Giants righty Kevin Gausman in Toronto, but Gausman commanded a five-year pact. Gausman has a greater track record of durability, of course, but Rodon certainly has the ability to match or even exceed Gausman’s production, provided he can remain on the mound.

More to come.

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