After the reported signing of Yariel Rodriguez to a four-year deal, questions now arise on who exactly he is as a pitcher, and where he fits on this Blue Jays roster now and in the future.
For starters, the Blue Jays currently have a full 40-man roster, thus a move will have to be made to make room for the Cuban righty. Second, it was reported by Jays Journal's Eric Treuden that the Blue Jays will give Rodriguez an opportunity to start, which gave them an edge on other teams wanting his services. Even if Rodriguez profiles well as a starter, there’s presently no room for him in the Blue Jays rotation. This is based off the assumption that Manoah will re-enter the five man group in the spring. The Blue Jays also have a crowded bullpen that's deep with talent. Should Rodriguez find himself there at some point in 2024, he would help make up one of the most dominant relief cores in baseball.
As mentioned, the Jays view Rodriguez as someone who can pitch effectively in a starters role. Does his makeup justify their projections? It’s worth noting that the last time he pitched was back in the WBC, during which he was the ace for team Cuba. This was a differing role from his one in Japan, as Rodriguez spent 2020-2022 working out of the bullpen. He got better year by year in this role, and in 2022 he pitched to a 1.15 ERA while striking out just under ten batters per nine innings and giving up zero home runs over 54.2 innings.
Despite dominance in the bullpen, it’s clear Rodriguez wants to start. He was good in the WBC, and has the tools to be a solid starter in MLB.
Just Baseball did an excellent writeup on Rodriguez’s repertoire of pitches, painting a picture of what he could look like as a starter or reliever in 2024 and beyond.
Rodriguez works with a fastball in the mid-nineties, which occasionally touched the upper-nineties in the WBC. The pitch has a considerable amount of arm-side run, and can be compared to a faster version of Justin Steele’s fastball.
His best pitch is his sweeper. This pitch induced a lot of chase and low batting averages during his time in Japan. The sweeper is effective against both righties and lefties thanks to it’s above average horizontal movement. This pitch could be compared to that of Jose Berrios' sweeper. One that moves from the right to left side of the plate and is effective in any count.
Rodriguez also offers a splitter, a pitch he began throwing in 2022. This pitch is key, as having an effective third pitch that varies speed could help him work deeper in games and continue to give batters differing looks multiple times through the order.
With these skills at his disposal, what role with Rodriguez serve in 2024? He’s likely to fill whatever role is needed at the conclusion of spring training. Assuming Alek Manoah is the fifth starter and the rest of the rotation is healthy entering the regular season, it’s likely that Rodriguez will resume his role as a versatile reliever. With his near elite mix of at least his fastball and sweeper, it’s conceivable that he has the potential to be a high-leverage reliever. In addition to being relied on in important situations, his history of starting could indicate him being able to work multiple innings as well.
There are also rumours of Rodriguez starting the season in Buffalo with the intention of stretching him out for a starters role. While this remains a possibility, it would seem to be a waste of his talent, in addition to being a waste of the multi-million dollar salary he’ll be earning in 2024. This makes it more likely he’ll break camp with the team as at least a reliever, assuming he performs well in spring training.
Beyond this season, opportunities start to arise for Rodriguez. While an obvious opening in the 2024 rotation doesn’t exist, 2025 could be a different story. Yusei Kikuchi is set to test the market as a free agent at the outset of that season, creating a spot for guys like Rodriguez to fill. He won’t be without competition, as prospects like Ricky Tiedemann or pitchers without options like Bowden Francis will be gunning for that spot as well.
Yariel Rodriguez is set to play an important role on this team going forward, however it is likely to shift as the Blue Jays see fit.