On Wednesday, after weeks of lying dormant, the Toronto Blue Jays made a significant move to bolster their roster. For once, the Jays successfully landed one of their targeted free agents as they signed Cuban pitcher Yariel Rodríguez to a reported four-year, $32M contract.
Despite pitching primarily as a reliever in his most recent years in Japan, Rodríguez had also seen time as a starter earlier on in his career in the Cuban leagues and performed admirably in the role. Overall in his eight professional seasons, he has amassed a record of 48-38 with 6 saves, along with a tidy 3.06 ERA, 1.31 WHIP and 645 strikeouts in 731.1 innings pitched in 195 career games (76 starts). As a result, it will give the Jays plenty of options in how they intend to deploy the Cuban sensation when he is ready.
In terms of the impact the signing could have, what would it potentially mean for the Jays’ current starting rotation situation? After all, Rodríguez had constantly maintained a winning record along with an ERA below 3.70 during his tenure as a starter. Therefore, giving him a legitimate possibility to challenge for a starting role with the ballclub makes too much sense. No doubt the top three for the Jays is already set for the 2024 season with ace Kevin Gausman, Chris Bassitt, and José Berríos leading the way. However, in the case for both Yusei Kikuchi and Alek Manoah, the addition of Rodríguez could put added pressure on the duo to perform right from the get-go this season.
Last season, Kikuchi bounced back from a horrendous 2022 year with the Jays by posting vastly improved numbers across the board. He lowered his ERA from 5.19 down to 3.86, his WHIP from 1.50 to 1.27, and increased his ERA+ from 74 to 110. He even had a dominant stretch following the All-Star break that had him among the top pitchers in the league. However, his inconsistency that plagued him in his previous MLB seasons did manage to rear it’s ugly head once again when he ran into some control issues near the end of last season.
As in the case for Manoah, almost the exact opposite took place for him as he went from being on top of the world as an AL Cy Young finalist in 2022 to a completely disastrous season in 2023 that he would like to forget. Battling command and control issues all season, Manoah compiled a less-than-stellar 3-9 record with a 5.87 ERA, 1.74 WHIP, giving up 57 earned runs and 59 walks in just 87.1 innings pitched. He ended up seeing time in the minors to help rebuild his mechanics and restore his confidence, but when things remained stagnant, he was eventually shut down at the end of the season. The outlook for Manoah for 2024 may appear bleak, but GM Ross Atkins had strongly indicated that Manoah will have all the opportunity to earn his starting role again with the sincere belief that he is more than capable in doing it.
Nevertheless, with the uncertainty of whether Kikuchi’s inconsistency and Manoah’s ability to regain his dominant form will arise again in 2024, this is where Rodríguez may aggressively come into the picture. If he can prove to be a viable starting option with an impressive spring, he would evidently push one of Kikuchi or Manoah out of a starting role this season. If that happens, either one of Kikuchi or Manoah could then be used as a potential valuable trade chip. In doing so, it can help the ballclub bring in the necessary pieces to convert the ballclub into serious contenders for the World Series championship and at the same time, keep both parties happy.
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