TORONTO -- After agreeing to a deal in January, the Blue Jays announced on Friday they'd signed Cuban right-hander Yariel Rodríguez to a five-year, $32 million contract.
“Yariel brings a diverse arsenal, impressive athleticism, and ability to get swing and miss to our team,” said Ross Atkins, EVP of baseball operations and general manager in a statement. “He adds starting depth to our pitching group and has a chance to impact our Major League team in multiple roles. We’re excited to welcome Yariel to the Blue Jays and look forward to seeing him on the mound in spring.”
Rodríguez was one of this market’s biggest mysteries, bringing considerable upside from his time pitching in Cuba and Japan, but he has not pitched competitively since the 2023 World Baseball Classic in March. Following that event, Rodríguez did not return to his professional team in Japan, the Chunichi Dragons, and was later declared an MLB free agent, allowing him to sign at the prime age of 27.
Rodríguez made two starts for Cuba at the Classic, posting a 2.45 ERA with 10 strikeouts and six walks over 7 1/3 innings, and a showcase later in the year generated even more buzz about the right-hander. His raw talent inspires optimism, led by a fastball that sits at 96 mph and a deep repertoire, but his role in the Major Leagues isn’t as certain.
After coming up as a starter in Cuba, where he pitched for Camaguey, Las Tunas and Sancti Spiritus, Rodríguez eventually transitioned to the bullpen in Japan. As a full-time reliever in 2022, Rodríguez posted a 1.15 ERA with 60 strikeouts over 54 2/3 innings. A logical fit exists for him in Toronto as a versatile swingman, particularly given the Blue Jays' roster construction.
Toronto’s starting rotation boasts the foursome of Kevin Gausman, Chris Bassitt, José Berríos and Yusei Kikuchi, while Alek Manoah has the inside track on the No. 5 job as he works to rebound from a dreadful 2023 season. Depth behind that group is thin, though, leaving room for Rodríguez to build up his workload after a year away from pitching competitively. Kikuchi is entering his final year of club control, while No. 1 prospect Ricky Tiedemann headlines the depth in Triple-A.
So much is still unknown, though, and so much will be left to develop as camp unfolds in Dunedin, Fla., through February and March. For a club with so few roster competitions heading into Spring Training, Rodríguez immediately lands on the short list of must-watch stories beginning just four weeks from now.