Yariel Rodriguez’s market continues to percolate, as the Astros, Blue Jays, Pirates, and Yankees “are still in the bidding for” the right-hander’s services, according to reporter Francys Romero (X link) earlier this week. Romero’s post came prior to Yoshinobu Yamamoto’s deal with the Dodgers, as Romero suggested that Rodriguez’s suitors were first waiting for Yamamoto to sign.
This would seemingly refer to the Yankees and Blue Jays in particular, who were known to be in the running for Yamamoto’s services. Toronto was a bit more on the periphery of the hunt while the Yankees were seemingly one of three or four finalists, joining the Mets and Giants in falling short of the Dodgers in the bidding for the Japanese ace. Presumably neither the Yankees or Jays would’ve been in on Rodriguez if they had signed Yamamoto, so the presence of two big spenders still in the market is good news for Rodriguez and his reps at WME Baseball.
It should be noted that Romero didn’t state that these four teams were finalists for Rodriguez, or that any other known suitors were out of the running. The Astros, Jays, Pirates, and Yankees were all listed among the 10 interested teams in Romero’s initial report about Rodriguez in early November, and that group (which also included the Dodgers, Giants, Mets, Phillies, Rangers, and White Sox) has grown to include the Rays, Red Sox, and Padres in subsequent reports.
Rodriguez is something of a wild card in the free agent pitching market, given that he has spent most of his career pitching in Cuba, he worked mostly out of the bullpen with the Chunichi Dragons of Nippon Professional Baseball from 2020-22, and he didn’t pitch at all in 2023 (apart from the World Baseball Classic) since he sat out the NPB season trying to get released from his contract with the Dragons. However, Rodriguez doesn’t turn 27 until March, and there is enough intrigue in his upside as a starter that MLBTR ranked him 28th on our list of the offseason’s top 50 free agents, and projected him for a four-year, $32MM contract.
This price point would put Rodriguez in range for even lower-payroll teams, even if such clubs are taking more of a risk in such a financial commitment for a pitcher with no Major League track record. For the Pirates specifically, $32MM for Rodriguez would rank as one of the eight most expensive contracts in the franchise’s history, so it would seem rather aggressive for a Bucs team just coming out of a rebuild to suddenly splurge on an unproven arm. That said, the Pirates are known to be looking for more rotation help, and they could have enough faith in Rodriguez’s upside that they could view something like a $32MM investment as a potential bargain.
International signings have been the backbone of the Astros’ run of success over the last decade, in the form of inexpensive deals for future stars like Jose Altuve or Framber Valdez, or Houston’s more significant investment in a five-year, $47.5MM deal for Yuli Gurriel when he came to the big leagues from Cuba during the 2016 season. Current Astros general manger Dana Brown naturally wasn’t in change of the front office back in 2016, though he did suggest that his team was looking to add “a legit third starter or better” this offseason, while acknowledging that the Astros were working with a somewhat limited amount of spending space. Roster Resource projects Houston’s 2024 payroll to sit almost exactly at the $237MM luxury tax threshold, which is notable since the Astros have only once (in 2020) exceeded the tax line in their history.
Signing Rodriguez would be an interesting fallback position from Yamamoto for either New York or Toronto. Rodriguez’s lack of track record wouldn’t necessarily solidify a rotation that already has a couple of injury-related question marks in Nestor Cortes and Carlos Rodon, as well as the unproven Clarke Schmidt as the projected fourth starter. However, the Yankees might view Rodriguez as an upside play as a de facto fifth starter, or perhaps even a bullpen addition if he doesn’t work out as a starter.
The same could be said about Rodriguez’s possible usage on the Blue Jays’ staff, even if Toronto’s rotation is a little more defined. Kevin Gausman, Chris Bassitt, Jose Berrios, and Yusei Kikuchi project as the top four, with Alek Manoah penciled in as the fifth starter for now despite all of the uncertainty in the wake of Manoah’s rough 2023 season. Adding Rodriguez would give the Blue Jays more depth if Manoah can’t bounce back, or perhaps the Jays would then feel more emboldened to trade Manoah or even Kikuchi to address other needs in the lineup.