One year after shocking baseball by signing both Marcus Semien and Corey Seager for a combined half-billion dollars, the Rangers appear to be considering at least a similar double-dive into the deep end of the free agent pool. Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic reports that the Rangers met Carlo Rodon just one day after signing Jacob de Grom to a hefty five-year, $185 million contract.
With deGrom in Texas and Justin Verlander after reaching an agreement with the Mets, Rodon is the only free ace left on the board. He is reportedly seeking a six-year deal worth more than $30 million a year — a hefty sum for a pitcher with a long injury history that has included both shoulder and Tommy John surgeries.
That said, Rodon has had little doubt in recent years that he ranks among the sport’s most talented pitchers. After signing a $3 million cushion contract with the White Sox in the 2020–21 off-season, he finally lived up to the expectations associated with his name dating back to his No. 3 overall selection in the draft. For the first four months of the 2021 season, Rodon was arguably the best pitcher in baseball and looked like the clear front-runner for the American League Cy Young Award.
However, shoulder fatigue limited Rodon to just 28 turns in the last two months of the season, and when he completed the stretch in 2021, it was often at reduced speed. The White Sox were apparently wary of refusing to make a qualifying offer, and Rodon signed a two-year, $44 million deal with the Giants that would allow him to opt back into the open if he reached 110 innings on the season .
Not only did Rodon reach 110 turns, but he did so while once again putting himself on the periphery of the Cy Young race. The southpaw pitched a career-high 178 innings with a 2.88 ERA, maintained his speed late into the season and averaged over 5 2/3 innings per start as a member of the Giants. He led the National League in strikeouts and, as of Opening Day 2021, leads all major league pitchers (min. 200 innings) with a strikeout percentage of 33.9%. Rodon did all of that while throwing for a combined ERA of 2.67 with similarly outstanding marks in FIP (2.42) and SIERA (2.88).
Onlookers may wonder how the Rangers could even contemplate spending so aggressively in such a short period of time – especially when so many teams have been averse to paying the luxury tax in recent seasons. The increased luxury tax thresholds in the 2022-26 collective bargaining agreement certainly play a role, as the first-tier threshold has increased from $210 million in 2021 to $233 million this coming season.
However, the luxury tax isn’t a big deal for the Rangers – at least not yet. Roster Resource projects that they currently have about $192.4 million in luxury obligations, meaning that even signing Rodon to a $30 million AAV would still give them more than $10 million breathing room from the first level of punishment. It’s also worth noting that the punishment for first-time offenders is rather lukewarm – relatively speaking. The Rangers would owe a 20% tax on the first $20 million that crosses the $233 million threshold and a 30% tax on the next $20 million. Even breaking the luxury barrier with a $40 million fee would earn the Rangers $10 million in fines – about the price of signing a back-of-the-rotation starter in today’s market.
Of course, the signing of Rodon would squarely prepare the Rangers for potential long-term status as a luxury payer. The combination of deGrom, Seager, Semien and Jon Gray stands at $107.5 million on its own, and if you tack $30 million+ for Rodon, Texas would get nearly 60% of the road to luxury territory even as far away as the 2024 campaign – and that’s not agree including players eligible for arbitration and pre-arb players to round out the list.
However, Texas is enjoying the fruits of a newly built stadium that drew more than two million fans in 2022 and can certainly expect that number to rise in 2023, with deGrom (at the very least) now on board. Ownership of all 30 clubs may also be a little more willing to spend after the league sold its remaining 15% stake in BAMTech to Disney for $900 million, with the loot split among the teams. Meanwhile, lucrative streaming deals with Apple and NBC/Peacock have only further bolstered revenues for the league’s 30 teams. Heading into the 2022 season, the national television and streaming rights brought all 30 teams approximately $65 million in revenue, excluding local television deals, attendance, concessions and other sources of income.