'Putting on these pinstripes is something special' for Rodón

December 22nd, 2022

NEW YORK – The Yankees pushed hard for Carlos Rodón at this past year’s Trade Deadline, envisioning the All-Star left-hander buzzing through American League lineups with his fastball and slider combination, helping the team make a deep postseason drive. It took a little longer than expected, but they’ve got their man.

One day after Aaron Judge was named the 16th captain in Yankees history, Rodón took his turn in the Bronx spotlight as the club formally announced a six-year agreement with the 30-year-old left-hander. Rodón’s deal is worth $162 million, according to a source, and includes a full no-trade clause.

“I've always enjoyed pitching at Yankee Stadium. It seems like I have good numbers here,” Rodón said. “Just putting on these pinstripes is something special. A lot of legends have been through this organization. There’s a lot of history here.”

Fans accustomed to seeing Rodón on the mound with his trademark beard may have needed a moment to recognize their new star as he found a seat in the Yankee Stadium press conference room. Rodón said he hasn’t been clean-shaven for nearly a decade, but he immediately found a razor when the contract was agreed to, then cleaned up a bit more on Thursday morning.

“You’ll get used to it,” manager Aaron Boone said. “There will be days when you push the envelope a little bit and I’ve got to walk up to you, so I look forward to that.”

Beard or not, Rodón was widely viewed as the top remaining starting pitcher on the free-agent market, with Jacob deGrom having relocated to the Rangers and Justin Verlander now across town with the Mets.

In 31 starts this past season for the Giants, Rodón was 14-8 with a 2.88 ERA, earning his second consecutive All-Star selection and placing sixth in the NL Cy Young balloting. In a career-high 178 innings, Rodón permitted 131 hits and 52 walks against a career-best 237 strikeouts, leading the Majors with a 2.25 FIP and 12.0 strikeouts per nine innings.

He will slide behind ace Gerrit Cole as the No. 2 starter in a rotation that also projects to feature Nestor Cortes, Luis Severino and Frankie Montas, with Domingo Germán and Clarke Schmidt now pushed back into depth options.

"The best starting rotations are the ones when you have a deep talented staff, and every day yesterday’s starter hands the ball off and the competitive spirit to his teammate and says, ‘Now top that,'" general manager Brian Cashman said. "If you can get a collection of talented pitchers that have that type of capability and makeup, that’s when some magical things have a chance to happen.”

According to FanGraphs, Rodón was worth 6.2 WAR in 2022, the second-highest mark among Major League pitchers behind Philadelphia's Aaron Nola (6.3). Rodón set a Giants franchise record with 11 double-digit-strikeout games, seven of which came in the second half. Opposing batters hit only .202 against Rodón, the fourth-lowest mark in the NL.

“He can be a dominant starting pitcher at any level, and especially for a championship-caliber team, he adds a lot to the equation for us,” said pitching coach Matt Blake. “Having success last year as a group, adding one more piece to it helps thicken up the rotation and takes some pressure off everybody else.”

Over eight seasons with the White Sox and the Giants, Rodón is 56-46 over 152 appearances (147 starts) with 947 strikeouts in 847 1/3 innings. He threw the 20th no-hitter in White Sox history against Cleveland on April 14, 2021, falling just short of a perfect game after he hit Roberto Pérez with a backfoot slider with one out in the ninth inning.

Cashman acknowledged that there is risk involved in the deal, as Rodón carries a lengthy injury history. He appeared in only 11 games from 2019-20 as he returned from Tommy John surgery and missed significant time from 2017-18 as he recovered from left shoulder surgery. Still, Rodón assuaged those durability concerns this past season.

“At the end of 2021, I got a little tired, but I knew I felt good,” Rodón said. “This past year is when I knew I was 100 percent, like, ‘I can do this.’ I knew I could take on a full season.”

Now three years removed from Tommy John surgery, Rodón is throwing harder than ever. He averaged a career-high 95.5 mph on his fastball in 2022, which ranked in the top five among lefty starters. According to Statcast, 135 of Rodón’s strikeouts this past season ended with a fastball -- the third-highest total in the Majors, behind only Cortes (144) and Cole (141).

“When you’re pitching, you try not to complicate things,” Rodón said. “It’s ‘keep it simple, stupid.’ If it gets outs, if they’re swinging and missing, why change something?”