The Yankees are one of many teams known to be interested in lefty Carlos Rodón, but Jon Heyman of The New York Post reports that they would prefer to limit him to a four- or five-year deal. That might be a problem, since Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle reports that Rodón is looking for at least seven years. Reporter Marino Pepén says the Red Sox are interested, though the extent of interest isn’t clear.
Just a few days ago, it had been reported that Rodón was seeking a six-year deal, but there may be good reasons why he’s upped his ask. The free-agent market has been broadly aggressive, with many of the top free agents going well beyond expectations in terms of contract length.
In recent offseasons, teams have generally cut off guarantees to position players in their age-37 seasons, but Aaron Judge got a nine-year deal taking him through age-39. Trea Turner and Xander Bogaerts each landed 11-year deals that run into their 40s. Brandon Nimmo will be paid through age 38 with the Mets. Pitchers, meanwhile, have struggled to land guarantees beyond their age-36 season (with older veterans like Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander standing as exceptions for obvious reasons), but Jacob deGrom signed through age 39 in Texas. The length of all those deals is generally rooted in lowering the luxury-tax hit, though, and Rodon’s ostensibly new goal of seven-plus years could be a matter of falling in line with that broader market trend.
DeGrom and Rodón are somewhat analogous, though not the exact same. Both are extremely talented pitchers with some injury concerns in recent years. DeGrom is arguably the best pitcher alive when healthy but missed over an entire year from mid-2021 to mid-2022 due to forearm and scapula injuries.
Rodón is much younger, as he will turn 30 years old tomorrow. Injuries limited him to just over 40 combined innings in 2019 and 2020 and the concern was high enough that the White Sox actually non-tendered him after that. There were enough red flags that he had to settle for a one-year, $3MM deal to return to the Sox. He’s been on a straight upward trajectory since.
Rodón tossed 132 2/3 innings in 2021 with a 2.37 ERA and excellent 34.6% strikeout rate. He seemed to run out of gas down the stretch, leaving some lingering health concerns as he returned to free agency. He didn’t get a qualifying offer and had to “settle” for a two-year, $44MM deal with the Giants, though one that gave him a chance to opt-out after the first campaign. He pushed further away from the injury worries by making 31 starts and logging 178 frames with a 2.88 ERA and 33.4% strikeout rate. He made the easy decision to opt out and also reject a qualifying offer from the Giants.
The fact that Rodón is now reasonably seeking a seven-year deal is nothing short of remarkable, given where he was just two years ago. It’s also not surprising that he’s looking to strike while the iron is hot, given the ups and downs he’s had in his career. Still, contracts of this length for free agent pitchers are quite rare. Gerrit Cole got nine years but with a much stronger record of health than Rodón. Prior to that deal, he had made at least 19 starts for seven straight seasons and at least 32 in the previous three. Kenta Maeda got eight years when coming over from Japan, but that was a unique situation. Maeda was going into his age-28 season but had some health concerns, leading the Dodgers to give him a modest $25MM guarantee spread out over eight years but with $10MM in incentives available each year that Maeda could trigger by staying healthy.
There are a handful of aces that have gotten to seven years, including Max Scherzer, David Price, Stephen Strasburg, CC Sabathia and Masahiro Tanaka, the latter of whom was only 25 at the time and is hardly a similar situation. Strasburg had dealt with some injuries but was coming off a World Series MVP performance that pushed his bidding up. The others in that group, similar to Cole, had fairly solid records of health and durability. As great as Rodón has been for the past two seasons, any seven-year deal would generally be rarefied air for a pitcher.
Now, with this offseason’s trend of utilizing longer contracts to tamp down AAV (and, thusly, luxury-tax penalties), it seems more plausible than before that Rodón might indeed command seven-plus years. Initial reports indicated that he was seeking six years with a $30MM+ annual salary. If Rodón and agent Scott Boras are fixated more on the contract’s total than on its length, then spreading that, say, $175-200MM goal out over a period of seven, eight or even nine years would greatly reduce the potential luxury penalties for whichever team signs him. That’s more a concern if he signs with a major-market club that regularly finds itself in luxury peril (e.g. Yankees, Red Sox) than if he were to sign with one of his reported suitors that has never held much of an appetite for the luxury tax (e.g. Twins, Orioles).
The Yankees are clearly willing to spend, as they just gave Judge a record-breaking $360MM guarantee. How much they want to continue spending, however, is an open question. Roster Resource currently pegs the club’s payroll for next season at $250MM with a competitive balance tax figure of $266MM. That already places them beyond last year’s Opening Day payroll of $246MM, per Cot’s Baseball Contracts, and beyond the second tier of luxury tax penalization. The tiers begin at $233MM next year and go up in $20MM increments to $293MM. Adding $25-30MM for Rodón would push them near or above that top penalty threshold.
The club doesn’t strictly need an elite starter like Rodón, but he would certainly be an upgrade for any rotation in the game. The Yanks currently have Cole, Luis Severino, Nestor Cortes and Frankie Montas for four spots with solid options for the last spot including Domingo Germán and Clarke Schmidt. That’s a solid group, but Montas and Severino both have some recent injuries that make them question marks going into next season, so there would be plenty of sense in adding another arm and pushing some guys down the depth chart. The question will be whether the Yanks would prefer paying the price for an ace like Rodón as opposed to turning to mid-rotation options like Chris Bassitt or Sean Manaea.
If Rodón indeed is open to seven or more years in order to obtain the contract total he’s eyeing, that would be an interesting situation for the Yankees to ponder. They already have expensive contracts for Cole and Judge on the books for the next six and nine years, respectively. Giancarlo Stanton has five years left with a $25MM club option for 2028 with a $10MM buyout. Adding a lengthy deal for Rodón would likely mean their 2028 payroll would already be well beyond $100MM.
The Red Sox, on the other hand, have plenty of space before thinking about the tax. Roster Resource currently has their payroll at $172MM and their CBT figure at $192MM. That leaves them about $40MM away from the lowest threshold, meaning they could add Rodón with room to spare. There would be plenty of sense in adding to their rotation given all the question marks they have there. Nick Pivetta is probably the only solid member of their group right now, as Chris Sale and James Paxton have hardly pitched in the past three years. Brayan Bello and Garrett Whitlock are penciled into two spots, though they are young and only have 20 MLB starts between them. They also have other areas worth addressing on the roster, such as catcher and figuring out how to deal with the departure of Bogaerts from their infield. Long-term, they have Story and Masataka Yoshida locked in for the next five seasons but nothing guaranteed for 2028.