Now that the dust is settling on the offseason without the White Sox scoring a transcendent talent to accelerate the timeline to competitiveness, it’s fair to examine the harsh reality of what lies ahead. Carlos Rodon is the best pitcher on the club and arguably the best player, which also makes him the most valuable asset. As the deals for Chris Sale and Jose Quintana have demonstrated, controllable pitching at a reasonable price can snare an abundance of talent in return.
Per Spottrac, Rodon is scheduled to make $4.2 million this year while being arbitration eligible in 2020 and 2021. He becomes an unrestricted free agent in 2022. At just over 26 years old, he embodies the definition of young, controllable pitching.
To quote a line from one of my favorite movies Blackhawk Down “I need an honest, no bullshit assessment of what is going down there.” At this point, the White Sox rebuild is behind schedule. The current acquisitions on the MLB roster, Yoan Moncada, Reynaldo Lopez, and Lucas Giolito have done little to indicate they are players that will make a significant impact on a championship club. Pitchers, Michael Kopech and Dane Dunning, are currently on the shelf. Eloy Jimenez and Dylan Cease represent the optimism that the others previously carried.
The 2019 season is shaping up to be another 90-100 loss campaign. 2020 will be a fun year for Sox prospect watchers. Kopech will be ready at the start of the season, Jimenez and Moncada will be in years two and three respectively. Dylan Cease, Luis Robert, and Nick Madrigal will likely be joining the club at some point. This team will be the most entertaining in years, but making a playoff run is a big ask. The competitive window opens in 2021, but more realistically 2022. This coincides with the window closing on the trade value for Carlos Rodon, making the next few months decision time for White Sox GM Rick Hahn and the rest of the brain trust.
The Case for a Trade
The longer a team has control of a player at a reasonable price, the higher the trade value. To receive optimum value for Rodon, the White Sox need to move him before the beginning of the 2020 season. After that, his marketability begins to diminish.
Although the farm system is still strong and it’s far too early to give up on the more promising players currently at the MLB level, it’s clear the White Sox need more talent for the rebuild to net a championship. High draft picks increase the odds of success, but offer little in the way of guarantees. For every Kris Bryant(number 2 in 2013), there’s a Mark Appel taken one slot before. No one needs to be reminded of the White Sox challenges in free agency. With the tepid marketplace of the last two years, more players are opting for extensions (see Nolan Arenado for reference). Which leaves the trade market as the best avenue for improving the team.
The highest value asset on the current roster is Rodon. Could he bring back a Jimenez/Cease like haul? He has a wipeout slider and devastating fastball, but he hasn’t pitched to the same level of success or consistency of Sale or Quintana. To further slash his worth, he’s missed a significant number of starts with a shoulder injury. Although he appears healthy, those types of injuries are far more problematic for a pitcher than the more frequent and publicized elbow injury. How he performs, this year will go a long way in determining the type of return he could extract.
The Case for an Extension
It appears counterintuitive for a team that is trying to develop talent through prospects, to trade away one of its own draftees for more prospects. The reasons for extending Rodon, go beyond the mere philosophical. He’s a premium talent that is just beginning to reach his potential at a time when you are expecting to be competitive. Isn’t that precisely what you are looking for? What is the point of trading him for a prospect in the hopes that said prospect becomes what Rodon already is?
As an elite left-hander, Rodon fits in nicely at the top end of a starting rotation that could potentially include Kopech, Cease, and Lopez with a number of internal options or a veteran import in the fifth spot. Given the White Sox success with developing pitchers, that sounds like a playoff caliber rotation that will terrorize the American League for a long time.
A pessimist will be quick to point out that Kopech is coming off Tommy John surgery. Dunning’s latest injury is cause to ring the alarm bell, and Cease has yet to pitch above Double- A. With the jury still out on Lopez and Giolito, if one or two of those scenarios go the wrong way, the White Sox will find themselves in the market for pitching. It’s far less risky to retain your own player than take a chance with somebody else’s castoff, so retaining Rodon is preferable to another free agent signing. Besides, what sense does it make to trade a pitcher and then need to acquire more pitching?
There are other components outside of the team’s control that will most likely be the overriding factors in making the final decision.
What are other teams offering in return? If the White Sox receive a package they find overwhelmingly favorable then they’d jump on a deal. If not, they could opt to resign Rodon. Conversely, they may determine that resigning him is impossible and need to settle for a lesser value in return.
What is the price tag? If Rodon is willing to sign a team-friendly deal in exchange for long-term security than retaining him may be the best option. With top pitchers still unsigned this deep in 2019, Rodon may choose to stay in Chicago rather navigate the tricky free agent waters. With a family en route, these aspects will likely play a significant role in his decision.
Ultimately, Rodon has as much leverage as the team. His agent, the notorious Scott Boras, always advises his clients to opt for free agency to get the maximum return. However, a good agent wouldn’t/shouldn’t force his client to do something against his will. The lack of an opt-out clause in Bryce Harper’s contract is hard evidence that Boras will seek a deal within the client’s parameters. Considering the tepid free agent market of the last two years, Rodon may prefer to stay with the team he’s grown up with. If his only desire is to haul in as much cash as possible, then he’ll opt for free agency and go to the highest bidder regardless of the situation and location.
As an outsider, it’s impossible to make a decision without knowing the variable factors that may swing the outcome in either direction. Up until a week ago, I would have advocated trading him, but with the Dunning situation now uncertain, extending him might be the better option. The early part of the season will go a long way in determining the future and possibly the fate of the franchise.
Your witness counselor, leave a comment in the space below to make your case.