As the MLB regular season winds down, the storylines surrounding the Chicago White Sox are seemingly endless. High-impact trades with our northside rivals. The long-awaited returns of Luis Robert and Eloy Jiménez. An eccentric, entertaining Aussie closer. The dynamic young arms of Kopech, Giolito, Crochet, and Cease. The statistically mystifying, yet marvelous season of Yasmani Grandal. The emergence of pitching coach Ethan Katz. The continual ascent to stardom for Tim Anderson. The excellence and superb swing-and-miss capabilities of Lance Lynn and Carlos Rodón. The beauty of José Abreu’s consistency and run-producing prowess. The uniqueness of a current Hall-of-Fame manager steering the ship. The list goes on and on.
With the thick anticipation of a deep playoff run looming large, difficult postseason roster decisions will have to be made, as Jordan Lazowski elaborates on in his September 3rd article. You can catch the discussion on the playoff roster construction in the aforementioned article by Jordan, and you can find complaints about the daily lineup and playoff home-field advantage from feisty Twitter handles. With the Sox having a firm grasp on the AL Central, it’s safe to say that the entire fanbase is confident that the South Siders will clinch the division in the coming days and will be playing in the ALDS in October. The big division lead allows the opportunity to rest key players and ensure that Engel, Giolito, Anderson, and Lynn are healthy going into the playoffs. It also allows the fans the opportunity to take a deep breath, relax, and enjoy the stretch run (no need to sweat every single out in September people).
I personally have taken a mental step back from the day-to-day aspect of this team and have had thoughts on the big picture. I’m a planner by nature, so I can’t help but ponder the future for this core. That sentiment combined with Dallas Keuchel’s struggles have made it clear to me that Rick Hahn and the front office should have one item at the top of their list this off-season: re-signing Carlos Rodón.
Let me preface this aspect of the conversation by saying that I could not be more excited for October and am dialed in to watch every pitch this postseason. However, as previously mentioned, with a big division lead and the focus being more on getting the team healthy and mentally ready for the playoffs, I can’t help but let my mind wander.
I’ve been thinking a lot about the future of Carlos Rodón with the White Sox. Will he stay? What would he sign for? How much will his agent Scott Boras ask for? What teams would be in on the pursuit of him?
I believe the Sox should re-sign “Los” for numerous reasons, but I’ve outlined the main four, and I will touch on each.
- Carlos’ excellence this year and the need for him moving forward
- The downfall of Dallas Keuchel
- Michael Kopech’s inevitable shift to the rotation
- The resurgence of Reynaldo Lopez and what it means to the rotation
#1: Carlos’ excellence this year and the need for him moving forward
You don’t need me to tell you that “Los” has been nothing short of magnificent this year. The former first-round pick has enjoyed a marvelous season after being non-tendered last December (re-signed Feb. 1st) and has been one of the biggest success stories in the MLB this season. Take a look below.
Carlos ranks in the 90th percentile or higher in the entire MLB in strikeout %, whiff %, and expected ERA, expected Batting Average, expected weighted on-base average, and expected slugging %. Those elite metrics are backed by his superb 2.38 ERA, 12.6 K/9, and 0.96 WHIP, resulting in a career-high 4.6 WAR. To put it bluntly: “Los” has been elite this year, and has proven that when he is healthy, he is a devastating pitcher to face. Whether you contribute his breakthrough season to health, mechanical adjustments / working with new pitching Coach Ethan Katz, or vastly improved velocity/command, there is no denying that he is a key cog for this team both now and moving forward. To me, his emergence seems to be a perfect combination of all three of those components, and it will be extremely interesting to see how he pitches down the stretch.
It is undeniably difficult to draft and develop a top-of-the-line starter in the MLB. Many highly touted prospects fail to make it to the big leagues or make it and have short careers. While Carlos’ path was rocky and filled with serious injuries (shoulder surgery to address left biceps bursitis and left shoulder inflammation in 2017, Tommy John surgery in 2019, etc.), he has overcome those struggles and transformed into a bonafide ace. His presence in the rotation is crucial for this team and organization moving forward, and I believe Rick Hahn and co. should do everything in their power to bring him back after this year.
#2: The Downfall of Dallas Keuchel
While Carlos Rodón’s career has catapulted forward, his teammate Dallas Keuchel’s career has been on a severe downwards trajectory this year. It feels like forever ago that he placed 5th in AL Cy Young voting in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season (below).
Upon signing a 3-year, $55,500,000 contract before the 2020 season, Dallas Keuchel was locked in to be a crucial veteran starter and leader for a team that had never won at the big-league level. He was all of that and more last year, posting a 6-2 record in 11 starts covering 63.1 innings while sporting a minuscule 1.99 ERA. However, beneath those numbers, one could gather that Dallas was due for regression. His expected ERA last year was 4.30 and his Batting average on balls in play (BABIP) was a career-low .255. In other words, he was very lucky last year to post the ERA that he did.
This year, the expected regression happened and then some. His ERA sits at an unsightly 5.23, his 1.48 HR allowed per 9 IP ties the worst mark of his career, and his 13.5% K% is the worst mark of his career since his rookie season (2012). Since July 1st, he’s labored to a 2-7 record with a 7.00 ERA and a paltry 37:28 K/BB.
We’ll wait and see what happens with his next few starts, but as Jordan alluded to in his “Projecting the Postseason Roster” article, Dallas may not even make the playoff 26-man. We’ve seen enough of his severe struggles for me to make the conclusion that Dallas Keuchel should not be a part of this rotation in 2022, making it that much more important to re-sign Rodón.
#3: Michael Kopech’s inevitable shift to the rotation
When the White Sox acquired Michael Kopech alongside Yoan Moncada, Luis Alexander Basabe, and Victor Diaz for Chris Sale in December of 2016, it was evident that he was seen as a key piece of the rebuild.
At the time, “Kopech earned comparisons to Noah Syndergaard because of his electric stuff. He worked at 95-99 mph with late run on his fastball, regularly pushed his heater into triple digits, and legendarily hit 105 mph during a 2016 start. He also blew hitters away with an 85-89 mph slider with two-plane break” (MLB.com).
Kopech flashed that nasty fastball and sharp-breaking slider in his debut versus Detroit in 2018. He would go on to make 3 more starts that year before ultimately tearing his UCL and undergoing Tommy John surgery. He would end up missing the next two seasons, 2019 due to TJ rehab, and 2020 due to opting out in the COVID-19 shortened season. However, regardless of questions about his performance and reasons for opting out of the 2020 season, the Sox still had high expectations for him this year. Though some called for him to start the year as a starter, it made no sense to force him into that role after not pitching in the majors since 2018.
Outside of a few rough outings, he has been very strong this year out of the bullpen (with a few spot starts out of necessity). He’s posted a dynamic 13.3 K/9, his fastball velocity ranks in the 95th percentile in the MLB, and his K% sits at a superb 35.5%. While his 3.81 ERA is higher than we would like, his xERA is 2.89 and his xBA against is .178. I have full confidence in his abilities this year out of the ‘pen, and with a healthy offseason and proper guidance, his arm should be healthy and strong enough to enter the rotation next year. Keep in mind that he has never eclipsed 141 innings pitched in a season with a professional organization, dating back to his minor league days with Boston from 2014-2016 and through his tenure with the White Sox. The goal for Kopech in 2022 should be 150-170 high-quality innings (give or take) as a starter.
The Sox have always viewed Kopech as one of their long-term starters. After seeing him shoot through the minor league system, debut in 2018, and excel in his return to the ball club this year, his time in the rotation should most definitely come in 2022.
#4: The resurgence of Reynaldo Lopez and what it means to the rotation
It can never hurt to have too many arms. A decent portion of the Sox fanbase had been calling for the front office to part ways with Reynaldo López after last season. However, after signing him to a 1 year, $2.1 million dollar deal on January 15th of this year to avoid arbitration, Hahn & co. demonstrated that they were willing to give “ReyLo” another shot.
It has certainly paid off.
He’s enjoyed a resurgent campaign in the 6th starter/swingman/long reliever role, posting a 3.00 ERA in 48 innings with a career-high 24.5 K%. He’s also posted a career-low WHIP (0.94) and his lowest Hard-Hit % (33.9) since 2017. Taking a deeper look, from last year to this year, ReyLo has also increased his average fastball velocity by 1.4 mph and his breaking velocity by 3.4 mph. His career average breaking velocity prior to this year topped out at 82.5 mph, and this year it sits at 85.5 mph.
His increased velocity has resulted in sharper, crisper breaking balls, and livelier 4-seam fastballs compared to last year.
Whatever Ethan Katz has done to help turn ReyLo’s career around behind the scenes, it is a very welcomed transformation for our ballclub. I know he recently struggled at home against the Angels, but I still have seen enough of an improvement in his mechanics, confidence, and competitiveness to be comfortable with him as a 6th starter. Moving forward, I am a believer in López’s abilities to thrive in the 6th starter/swingman role, and hope that we can reach an affordable deal with him this offseason and keep him in that role next year.
In 2022, I would feel extremely confident with the following rotation structure:
6th starter / swingman: López
Though “Los” has an extensive injury history and is showing shoulder fatigue at the end of this season, I still believe he would garner a significantly large deal in free agency. With Boras as his agent and the need for strong starting pitching at a premium, he should get a multi-year deal worth somewhere in the ballpark of $80-$100 million. I could be off, but that makes sense in my eyes. I can’t speculate exactly what his market would be in terms of teams, but I know that just about every team could use his services. A particular AL East team with weak starting pitching (outside of Cole) and a historically big payroll comes to mind.
The Atlanta Braves extended a 37-year-old Charlie Morton for $20 million earlier today, and while “Los” should get multiple years, I expect a deal for him to be near that AAV.
The front office has shown a desire to win now (Kimbrel trade among other moves), and a 4-year deal worth $88 million is something that is fair for a pitcher of Carlos’ value. Yes, the injury concerns will always be there, but I see Rodón continuing to succeed post-2021. After all, he only turns 29 years old this December. Yes, the payroll would be much higher, but it’s now or never with this core, and Jerry Reinsdorf certainly has the money. The team’s 2022 payroll likely wouldn’t enter the top 5 in the MLB regardless, especially if Rick Hahn finds a way to move Keuchel and his contract ($18M in 2022).
Now, it’ll be very interesting to monitor Los’ performance in the postseason, and see if that has any impact on his market this off-season. Additionally, one would assume that Keuchel’s contract would have to be moved in order to give Los a significant contract. Obviously, as we head down the stretch, the team’s playoff success is all that matters. Having said that, Rick Hahn always talks about “building a sustainable roster that can contend for multiple championships.” Re-signing Rodón to keep the starting rotation among the best in the game falls in line with that sentiment.
Carlos Rodón has displayed this year how important he is to the performance of the rotation and the team. He deserves to be rewarded and kept here on the southside. Let’s make it happen.
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