The Blue Jays are optimistic about landing right-hander Yariel Rodríguez, per Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic. That meshes with reporting last month from Enrique Rojas of ESPN, who said that the Jays had “taken the lead” in the righty’s market. Per today’s report from Rosenthal, immigration issues have prevented the deal from being made official. It’s unclear what exactly those issues are or when they are expected to be resolved.
Rodríguez, 27 in March, started his career in his home country of Cuba. He pitched in the Cuban National Series starting in the 2015-16 season when he was just 18 years of age. He eventually pitched in 91 games in that league, starting 72 of them, posting a combined earned run average of 3.30 over 464 1/3 innings.
He joined the Chunichi Dragons of Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball for the 2020 season, though that club kept him in a relief role. His three NPB seasons resulted in 175 1/3 innings with a 3.03 ERA. He struck out 25.4% of batters faced while walking 10.4%. In 2022, he seemed to find a new gear, with a 1.15 ERA in 54 2/3 innings, striking out 27.5% of opponents while walking just 8.3%.
He pitched for Cuba in the 2023 World Baseball Classic and then didn’t return to Japan. While he was able to secure his release from the Dragons and be declared a free agent by Major League Baseball, he wasn’t able to pitch in official games last year after the WBC.
He has received widespread interest this offseason, with some clubs viewing him as capable of returning to a starting role. At the start of the offseason, MLBTR predicted he could secure a four-year, $32MM contract. That’s roughly in the same ballpark as a couple of other pitchers who are possibly moving from the bullpen to a rotation. Reynaldo López signed with Atlanta for three years and $30MM while Jordan Hicks landed with the Giants for $44MM over four. Both of those pitchers have been effective relievers in recent years but will try to get stretched out as starters this spring.
The appeal of Rodríguez would likely be similar. If he turns out to be a viable starter, it would be a boon for the club that signs him, with a relief role serving as an acceptable fallback plan. Rodríguez might be a bit of a long-term project as a starter after missing out on the 2023 season, making a sudden jump to a full-time starter’s workload a tall ask.
The Jays already have four fifths of this year’s rotation spoken for, with Kevin Gausman, José Berríos, Chris Bassitt and Yusei Kikuchi all returning from last year’s club. The fifth spot is more open, with Hyun Jin Ryu now a free agent. Alek Manoah was a Cy Young candidate as recently as 2022 but it’s unclear how much faith the club has in him right now. The 2023 season saw him struggle and get optioned to the minors twice, which seemed to sour the relationship between him and the club. He may still be the favorite for the final rotation job but his name has also appeared in plenty of trade rumors this offseason. Prospect Ricky Tiedemann reached Triple-A last year and could be nearing his major league debut but was only able to log 44 innings on the year due to injury, plus another 18 in the Arizona Fall League. Mitch White and Bowden Francis could be in the mix as well but neither has a lengthy major league track record.
It’s plausible that Rodriguez could factor into that competition and log some innings in 2024. Kikuchi is slated for free agency after the upcoming campaign, Bassitt after 2025 and Gausman after 2026, which leaves future rotation innings for the Jays to fill. There’s also long-term uncertainty in the bullpen, where Yimi García and Trevor Richards are slated for free agency after 2024. Meanwhile, each of Jordan Romano, Erik Swanson, Chad Green, Tim Mayza and Génesis Cabrera are slated for the open market after 2025.
The Jays have had a somewhat quiet offseason thus far, in terms of completed deals. They’ve been connected to big names like Shohei Ohtani, Juan Soto and Yoshinobu Yamamoto but their most notable moves thus far have been to sign utility player Isiah Kiner-Falefa and re-sign outfielder Kevin Kiermaier. Roster Resource estimates the club’s payroll is at $221MM, just a bit above last year’s $215MM, with their competitive balance tax figure at $231MM.
The club’s CEO/president Mark Shapiro had previously indicated this year’s payroll would likely be similar to last year’s. Signing Rodríguez and/or some bats to upgrade the lineup would require them to push the payroll a little farther than it already is while also nudging them past the $237MM base threshold of the CBT. The Jays paid the tax for the first time last year and their base tax rate would jump from 20% to 30% as a second-time payor.