Why Rodón is perfect fit for Giants' starting rotation

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PHOENIX — The biggest surprise before the lockout started in early December was the Giants failing to fill their 40-man roster. One of the game’s busiest front offices spent 99 days with one open roster spot, but Farhan Zaidi and Scott Harris didn’t waste any time once free agency reopened.

The first addition shouldn’t have come as a shock, either. 

The Giants on Friday agreed to a two-year, $44 million contract with Carlos Rodón, widely viewed as the best starter still on the market. The contract, a new Giants high under Zaidi, was first reported by ESPN. See if this resume looks familiar …

A former first-round pick who has shown flashes of brilliance but also struggled with consistency. An injury history that might scare off others. A devastating secondary pitch. A desire to sign a short-term deal and get back out on the market. Young enough to have upside left, but experienced enough to step right into the rotation for a contender.

That’s the template, and for as much as Zaidi maintains that the Giants do not target pitchers with somewhat iffy medical charts, well, sometimes the opportunity just makes too much sense. 

Meet Carlos Rodón, a 29-year-old who was the No. 3 overall pick in the 2014 draft. He had a 2.37 ERA last season and was an All-Star, but the results the prior two years were ugly. He has never made 30 starts in a season, had Tommy John surgery in 2019, and was limited to 24 appearances last year by shoulder fatigue, but what he put on paper was enough to finish fifth in the AL Cy Young voting. Rodón has a fastball that averages 95 mph and complements it with one of the game’s better sliders.

In essence, Rodón has the tools to slide right in for Kevin Gausman and give the Giants a co-ace for Logan Webb. And he’ll come on the same annual salary as Gausman, but for just two years -- or one if he stays healthy and opts out -- rather than five. 

There is, of course, that major reason why Rodón signed for two years and not five. His velocity was down when he returned from injury last year and he has thrown 140 innings just once in seven big league seasons. 

That would scare away a lot of suitors. But not Zaidi and Harris. 

The Giants have talked repeatedly about building a staff that covers nine innings over a full season, not a traditional rotation. Zaidi, in fact, repeated the mantra Friday afternoon, shortly before the Rodón news leaked. 

“We're still looking to add starting pitching depth,” he said. “We talk a lot about not just looking for a five-man rotation but a group that can cover us over 162 games."

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Two of those five -- Alex Wood and Anthony DeSclafani -- had injury or performance concerns before they became Giants but thrived in 2021. Alex Cobb has also at times struggled to get through a full season. The Giants are fine with that, though. 

If they get 24 good starts out of Rodón instead of 33 lesser ones from someone else, Zaidi will be thrilled. The rest will be filled by Sammy Long or Tyler Beede or a veteran depth option to be determined. It’s a plan that worked last year, and sometimes the idea works out even better than the Giants hoped.

Gausman came over with a similar resume and proved to be a workhorse. He’s a Blue Jay now, but Rodón is as good a replacement as there still was on the market. 

He made perfect sense all along. The Giants just had to wait a few months to put the finishing touches on the deal, and what now stacks up as one of the better rotations in baseball.

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