The Cardinals are one of the many teams to have been connected to free agent lefty Carlos Rodón. However, Katie Woo of The Athletic reports that it’s “unlikely the Cardinals would shell out the years and money” that Rodón is seeking.
The fact that the Cards have been priced out of Rodón’s market isn’t exactly shocking. The latest report on his asking price indicates that he’s looking for a guarantee over $200MM on a deal of seven years or longer. That’s extremely rarefied air for a pitcher, with only a handful ever reaching either that length or that kind of guarantee or both.
The Cardinals have never given out that kind of money to any player, a pitcher or otherwise. They’ve never really come close, in fact. The largest contract in franchise history is the five-year, $130MM extension they gave to Paul Goldschmidt in March of 2019. The largest guarantee they’ve given a free agent is the $120MM they gave to Matt Holliday in 2010. The largest contract they’ve given a pitcher was the $97.5MM extension given to Adam Wainwright in March of 2013, whereas the largest guarantee they’ve given to a free agent pitcher was $80MM for Mike Leake going into 2016.
A deal in the $200MM range for Rodón would dwarf any of those deals, meaning that the Cardinals have to set an aggressive new standard to get it done, even in a vacuum. Outside of the vacuum, there are other factors that also make it unlikely. The highest Opening Day payroll in club history is $164MM, per Cot’s Baseball Contracts. They are already effectively even with that record, according to the calculations of Roster Resource. The club’s president of baseball operations John Mozeliak has indicated that the club will increase payroll this season, but meeting Rodón’s asking price would mean going about $30MM beyond previous levels in 2023 while also adding significant long-term commitments. Between Nolan Arenado and Willson Contreras, the Cards already have over $40MM on the books for 2026 and over $30MM for 2027. Giving Rodón what he’s looking for would come close to doubling those figures and have the club committing a huge chunk of their payroll to three players who will each be in their mid-30s by then.
The Cardinals also don’t strictly need a starter right now, as they have a number of rotation options. Their current crop of starters includes Wainwright, Jack Flaherty, Miles Mikolas, Steven Matz, Jordan Montgomery and Dakota Hudson. There are some injury concerns in there but it’s still a solid group overall, with depth options like Matthew Liberatore and Zack Thompson available if needed. Adding Rodón would certainly be an upgrade, especially after 2023 when Wainwright will retire and Flaherty, Mikolas and Montgomery will all be free agents. However, that group is also decent enough for the club to compete in the National League Central this year.
It’s always possible that Rodón’s asking price will come down if he fails to find a deal that he likes. As mentioned, it’s quite rare for pitchers to crack $200MM. Only six pitchers have ever gone above that line: Gerrit Cole, Stephen Strasburg, David Price, Clayton Kershaw, Max Scherzer and Zack Greinke. Rodón has been quite good over the past two seasons but doesn’t have the track record to match up with those guys in their respective primes. Injuries have limited him to 847 1/3 innings so far in his career and he only just cracked 170 for a single season for the first time in 2022. Each of those other guys had multiple seasons of over 200 innings and well over 1,000 total innings. Starting pitcher usage has gone down in recent years but it’s still a significant difference.
There are many teams still interested, such as the Yankees, Twins, Giants and others. However, no one has met his asking price just yet. If it drops, perhaps the Cardinals will reconsider their pursuit, but it doesn’t seem to be the most probable course of events at the moment.
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