Just under a month ago, the Toronto Blue Jays reportedly came to an agreement with free agent pitcher Yariel Rodriguez on a four-year contract. The deal didn't become official right away, as the 26-year-old had to get some Visa issues sorted out before he was able to take his physical and put pen to paper.
On Friday, the Blue Jays officially took to social media (X link) to announce that Rodriguez is the club's newest member. Of note, the Jays said that his deal will be for five years, $32M rather than for four years. He will now be in town until the 2028 season.
Sportsnet's Ben Nicholson-Smith followed up to say that utilityman Otto Lopez was being designated for assignment to make room for Rodriguez on the 40-man. He had long been a DFA candidate as he played all of the same positions as so many others around the roster.
At the time of the deal's first announcement, sources told Jays Journal that Rodriguez will be brought aboard as a starting pitcher. With a rotation of Gausman, Manoah, Kikuchi, Bassitt and Berrios already on hand, it seemed that Rodriguez may have started his career in Toronto as a long-relief option. Interestingly, there's also a chance that he begins the 2024 campaign in Triple-A so he can build up to a starter's workload, a source says.
On the surface, it may be confusing as to why he'd need time to build up. But he did not make a single appearance at any professional level while he waited for the Chunichi Dragons to release him. The year before, he was dominant as a reliever, posting a 1.15 ERA across 56 outings. Just Baseball put together a highly detailed scouting report on Rodriguez and what his repertoire looks like.
Now that the deal is official, there's even more pressure on someone like Alek Manoah to bounce back in 2024. All signs point to him being a part of the Blue Jays' Opening Day rotation, but a little bit of added pressure may be what he needs to turn his game up a notch. Otherwise, a trade sending Yusei Kikuchi, a pending free agent, away while his value is at its highest is another scenario that feels plausible.
Lopez, 25, sees his time on the Blue Jays' 40-man roster come to an end after a tough past few years. He went 6-for-9 in an eight-game showing back in 2022 but dealt with a long-term oblique injury and seriously underperformed in Triple-A. His skillset is so similar to many other 40-man options, so he was just squeezed out. Ultimately, the fact that he's out of minor league options also did not help his case. He does not feel like a prime candidate to pass through waivers unclaimed.