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Why Yariel Rodríguez makes sense for the Toronto Blue Jays

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Tyson Shushkewich
3 months ago
The Toronto Blue Jays have made a few moves this offseason, starting with the acquisition of Brendon Little from the Chicago Cubs early into the winter before the front office added Kevin Kiermaier and Isiah Kiner-Falefa on short-term deals last week that will cost the team just over $25.5 million through the next two years.
Compared to last winter, the Jays have been pretty dormant, although the offseason has been dragging on as we turn into a new year. Even after Shohei Ohtani and Yoshinobu Yamamoto signed their respective deals with the Dodgers, there are still some prominent names left on the free agent board, including LHP Blake Snell, OF Cody Bellinger, and former Jays third baseman Matt Chapman.
While the Jays’ primary focus for the rest of the offseason appears to be on adding a bat or two (as mentioned by Ross Atkins during his press conference yesterday), the club has also been tied to international free agent right-hander Yariel Rodríguez over the past few months.

The Toronto Blue Jays would benefit by adding Yariel Rodríguez to the rotation depth

A product of Cuba, Rodríguez spent the past three seasons pitching in Nippon Professional Baseball for the Chunichi Dragons, splitting time between the rotation and the bullpen. A starter through his first two campaigns while working between the two levels within NPB, Rodríguez moved to the bullpen for the 2022 season and found much-improved results, amassing a 1.15 ERA through 54 2/3 innings to the tune of a 0.915 WHIP and a 9.9 K/9. As a reliever, he did not allow a single home run while limiting hitters to a 5.3 H/9, allowing just seven earned runs all season long.
Earlier this year, Rodríguez joined Team Cuba at the World Baseball Classic and made two starts for the club, authoring a 2.45 ERA through 7 1/3 innings while striking out ten batters. He started the opening game for Cuba against the Netherlands and also got the nod to face Australia in the quarterfinals, holding his opponents to a .200 average before Cuba was eliminated by the United States in the semi-finals.
Following the WBC, Rodríguez did not return to Japan but instead stayed in the Dominican Republic to continue training as he wanted to pursue an MLB opportunity. After being on the restricted list, the Dragons eventually granted his release in early October and the MLB recognized him as an MLB free agent a month later.
The 26-year-old is an incredibly interesting arm and has been pitching competitively since he was 18 years old, suiting up for Ganaderos de Camaguey in the Cuban National Series, the country’s highest level of baseball. The right-hander features a five-pitch arsenal, led by his fastball that sits in the mid to upper 90s while complimenting the heat with a slider, curveball, splitter, and changeup, with roughly an 8-10 MPH difference between the slider and curveball. Working with an abbreviated leg kick, the 6 foot 1 right-hander drives toward home pitching over the top with a repeatable delivery.
For the Blue Jays, it appears that the club views him as a starter, which makes sense given the current depth of the organization. Enrique Rojas with ESPN noted just before the new year that Toronto was still evaluating the right-hander and his ability to start while stating the Jays are “in the lead” to sign him, which really doesn’t hold that much value in free agency (things can turn quickly).
Outside of top prospect Ricky Tiedemann, the Jays don’t possess a ton of dedicated starters in the higher levels of the minor leagues.
The likes of Bowden Francis and Mitch White remain in the mix but the club hasn’t been afraid to use either one of them in the bullpen, which adds some intrigue to their long-term roles with the club heading into the upcoming season (especially since White is out of minor league options). The Jays do have a few arms to keep an eye on in Chad Dallas, Brandon Barriera, Juaron Watts-Brown, Adam Macko, and Landen Maroudis but none of them are likely ready for the big leagues next season, except Dallas potentially being a late-season look.
Adding Rodríguez into the mix gives the Jays some additional depth if one of the Jays starters misses some time on the injured list and some added insurance in the event Alek Manoah continues to struggle into the 2024 campaign. While there isn’t necessarily a spot for the Cuban pitcher in the rotation right now barring Manoah struggling out of the gate, with Yusei Kikuchi’s deal expiring after this season and Chris Bassitt’s due the following year, even with Tiedemann knocking on the MLB door, there is room for Rodríguez to potentially slot into the rotation at some point soon.

Rodríguez and his fit within the Blue Jays organization

Even if Rodríguez is unable to lock down a spot in the rotation, the Blue Jays can slot him into the bullpen as a long-man/spot starter option, which moves Trevor Richards back into the middle relief role and likely keeps Francis starting in triple-A. This will all likely depend on how Rodríguez adapts to playing after taking the year away from playing in Japan and to playing stateside but there are multiple roles the club could use the right-hander in heading into next year.
From a financial standpoint, the jury is still out on what a potential contract could look like for Rodríguez. It likely depends on whether a team views him as a starter versus a reliever and term length but somewhere between $5-10 million seems to be where everyone is settling. This could fit within the Blue Jays’ plans this offseason although after Ross Atkins’ recent comments, it doesn’t appear that the front office is that dead set on adding to the pitching corps, but that can always change as the offseason wears on and if the right deal presents itself.
For a team lacking depth behind the current rotation, bringing in Rodríguez makes sense given his experience with the Dragons and how he was able to hold his own at the World Baseball Classic (albeit a small sample size). While the team may be focused on adding a bat or two to the lineup, a depth move for a pitcher like Rodríguez adds to the security of the rotation and could come in handy this upcoming season (and beyond).

ARTICLE PRESENTED BY BETANO

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