Left-hander Carlos Rodon is returning to the White Sox on a one-year contract, sources confirmed Saturday. The $3 million deal is pending a physical, which will take place next week.
Physicals have been none too kind to Rodon in the past, but the Sox believe his exceptional slider and mid-90s four-seam fastball are good enough to warrant another chance, specifically to compete for a spot at the back end of a rotation on a championship-contending club in 2021.
The third overall pick in the 2014 draft, Rodon, 28, has battled shoulder and elbow injuries throughout his career and was limited to four games and two starts in 2020, allowing seven earned runs in 7⅔ innings.
Rodon also pitched in relief in the Sox’ deciding 6-4 loss to the Athletics in Game 3 of the wild-card series, allowing two walks and a hit to the three batters he faced. He was charged with two runs. Despite the ineffectiveness, his four-seamer averaged 96 mph that day, and his slider has always been elite, enough for the Sox to allow him one more chance — with a fresh start under new pitching coach Ethan Katz and new manager Tony La Russa — to see if he can stay healthy.
If Rodon doesn’t win a starting job, he could provide lefty depth to the Sox’ bullpen, although the newness of pitching in relief last season didn’t seem to suit him.
The Sox non-tendered Rodon in December, and general manager Rick Hahn said they would keep the door open. He was projected to make $4.5 million in arbitration this season, so they saved about $1.5 million by going the re-sign route.
With no more pricey additions expected, the top of the Sox’ rotation is set with Lucas Giolito, Dallas Keuchel and Lance Lynn, all top-seven finishers in American League Cy Young voting last season, but it gets iffy behind them with Dylan Cease, Reynaldo Lopez and Rodon. Prized flamethrower Michael Kopech is a possibility, although he doesn’t figure to make the Opening Day roster after opting out last season and with only four major-league innings on his résumé, all in September 2018 before Tommy John surgery ended his season.
Prospects Jimmy Lambert and Jonathan Stiever, who made debuts last season, also are on the rotation depth chart.
Speaking of depth, with 2½ weeks left before the start of spring training on Feb. 17, Hahn is likely exploring additions at backup catcher behind Yasmani Grandal and perhaps a bat to shore up his collection of designated-hitter options.
Rodon, meanwhile, is something of an unexpected option for the back of the rotation. His best season was his second, in 2016, when he had a 4.04 ERA in 165 innings covering 28 starts, but his ERA has grown in each successive season. After working his way back from shoulder surgery, Rodon was named the 2019 Opening Day starter but would make only six more starts before having Tommy John surgery in May. Shoulder problems resurfaced in 2020.
He was limited to 11 games the last two seasons and owns a career 29-33 record with a 4.14 ERA and 525 strikeouts in 536⅔ innings.