As I was reading Michael’s Lukewarm Stove last night, I was thinking more and more how much sense Carlos Rodon makes for the Chicago Cubs, even after the additions of Marcus Stroman and Wade Miley, and even after Jed Hoyer said that the rotation wouldn’t be getting as much focus from here as other parts of the roster. Then I read the latest mailbag from Sahadev Sharma and Patrick Mooney (they don’t rule out Rodon for the Cubs), and I got the itch again. So I want to say some things about Rodon and the Cubs.
Fully inhabiting the high-upside, high-risk, short-term, high-AAV type pitcher we’ve been discussing for the Cubs since September, the good version of Rodon is probably the most impactful pitcher the Cubs could dream of adding to their rotation after the lockout ends. A premium velocity lefty who gets a ton of strikeouts and completely changes the look from the rest of the rotation? And no draft pick compensation, either.
But, yes, there’s that “high-risk” part. I am not blind to the very real risks of getting zero from Rodon in 2022 (or, worse, 100-ish diminished-velocity, terrible-result innings). The injury issues before last season and late in the year, coupled with the substantial velocity drop, coupled with the White Sox’s extremely-telling decision not to make a Qualifying Offer all tell us that Rodon is as high-risk as an option can get in the offseason.
On a short-term deal, though, the real risk to the Cubs is just about zero. How can I say that about a guy with such obvious injury red flags? It’s really just a combination of two relatively simple things for me, both of which really push in favor of a team like the Cubs signing Rodon:
1.) The Cubs are a flyer team for 2022. If things pop and they compete and head to the playoffs, great! If they disappoint in the first half, they will sell off again. They want to give themselves a chance to be a playoff team in 2022, but they are clearly not in a situation where anything short of the playoffs is a shocking blow. This is the reality that comes after letting your roster – with so many guys’ free agency synced up – go off a cliff as it did heading into 2021.
2.) On a short-term deal (one or two years), the money is off the books either right after the flyer season or within a year of that. The deal has no real impact on the financial future of the org, and everything just kinda resets. If Rodon is awesome and the Cubs compete (or he gets traded), cool. If he breaks completely, then whatever, your rotation is in the same place it would’ve been anyway, and he’s off the books soon thereafter anyway. You took a shot, it didn’t work, and after the season, everything is back to where it would’ve been.
So what exactly is the real downside here? I just don’t see it, especially now that most of this tier of starting pitcher has already signed. There was a time when you could’ve made the argument that the real risk is signing the wrong short-term, high-risk starter – “If only the Cubs had signed Andrew Heaney instead of Carlos Rodon, they would’ve competed!” I guess you can squint and still try to make that argument based on the remaining starters, but Rodon is pretty clearly the highest-upside (and highest-risk) guy out there. At this moment in time, the opportunity cost of signing Rodon instead of some other starter is pretty darn small.
I suppose the other opportunity cost argument you could make is that signing Rodon for $15 or $20 million on a one-year deal removes a lot of the short-term dollars that might be available to a big bat who falls through the cracks late in the offseason. Fine, but I would respond that (1) I’m still not sure anyone realistically in that tier of bats has as much upside potential for this roster as Rodon does, and (2) the Cubs should be able to do both on short-term deals (and more!). They aren’t going to come anywhere close to the luxury tax, and even in a world where the Opening Day payroll is very conservative, they still have upwards of $50+ million available to spend in 2022 dollars. I really don’t see signing Rodon as being “the reason” the Cubs can’t sign a bat.
Anyway, long story short: even if the rotation is no longer the primary focus for the Cubs, and even if we all know Rodon is a huge risk, I think he should be a target for the Cubs from here, once the lockout is resolved. He’s going to make a lot of sense for other teams, too, though I’m not sure every team is in quite the same spot as the Cubs, in terms of being able to risk getting nothing from a $15 to $20 million starting pitcher.
(If Rodon winds up taking an incentive-laden deal, then everything I said applies double, though the pool of pursuing teams would increase commensurately. I tend to think he’s probably going to be able to get a really healthy guarantee AND substantial incentives, and maybe won’t even have to give up a club option.)