The Blue Jays and right-hander Yariel Rodríguez have agreed on a contract, per reporter Francys Romero. The details aren’t known but Romero says that the WME client is expected to have his physical in Toronto in the coming days. It was reported yesterday that the Jays were optimistic about signing the righty but that immigration issues needed to be sorted out. As he’s now apparently headed to Canada, it would appear those issues have been resolved. Toronto has a full 40-man roster and will need to make a corresponding move to make this deal official. Per Romero, the agreement is for four years and $32MM.
Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic confirms that there is an agreement but adds that immigration hurdles remain. Enrique Rojas of ESPN reports (Spanish-language ESPN link and X post) that Rodríguez will actually do his physical in The United States but is waiting for a visa that will allow him to enter that country from the Dominican Republic.
Rodríguez, 27 in March, has been an interesting wild card of this offseason. He had pitched as a starter at the beginning of his career in Cuba but then was moved to the bullpen during a three-year stint in Japan. He then briefly returned to a starting role for Cuba in the 2023 World Baseball Classic, then didn’t return to his club in Japan. He was eventually granted his release and has been holding showcases for MLB clubs.
Players coming to North America from leagues in other countries will often have wide ranges of evaluations from MLB clubs. Given the unusual path of Rodríguez, that variance might be even higher than normal. An optimistic club could look to his youth, past work as a starter and strong results as a reliever in 2022. But on the pessimistic side of things, the righty hasn’t worked as a starter in many years and hardly pitched at all in 2023, which gives him an uncertain path forward. At the start of the offseason, MLBTR predicted that Rodríguez could secure a four-year, $32MM deal.
He began his career in the 2015-16 season of the Cuban National Series when he was just 18 years old. He pitched in 91 games in that league over multiple seasons, starting 72 of those and posting a combined earned run average of 3.30 in 464 1/3 innings. For the 2020 season, he signed with the Chunichi Dragons of Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball. That club kept him in the bullpen over the next three seasons. He tossed 175 1/3 innings in that time with a 3.03 ERA. He struck out 25.4% of opponents while walking 10.4% of them. His 2022 campaign was especially impressive, with a 1.15 ERA in 54 2/3 innings, striking out 27.5% of opponents while walking just 8.3%. He made two starts in the WBC, throwing 7 1/3 innings with 10 Ks but six walks.
Rodríguez got plenty of interest this offseason, with many clubs attending his showcases. The Rays, Red Sox, Padres, Astros, Pirates, Yankees and Reds all were connected to him at various points, with some viewing him as a starter while others considered him a better fit as a reliever. The Jays were one of the clubs that viewed him as a capable starter and they appeared to emerge as the favorite to land him in recent weeks.
The Jays came into the winter with their pitching staff in decent shape while their lineup seemingly needed more attention. But adding some pitching was also still a consideration for the club, as shown by their interest in Yoshinobu Yamamoto and Blake Snell. The Jays have four rotation spots spoken for, with Kevin Gausman, José Berríos, Chris Bassitt and Yusei Kikuchi all still with the club for 2024.
But the final spot in the rotation is a bit more murky. Alek Manoah had a rotation job coming into last year but struggled badly enough that he was twice optioned to the minors. Hyun Jin Ryu returned from his Tommy John surgery rehab midseason and supplanted Manoah in the rotation, but then reached free agency at season’s end. The relationship between Manoah and the Jays may not be perfect after last year’s struggles but he was still considered to have an edge on a rotation spot not too long ago.
Manoah’s name has also been in some trade rumors this winter and it’s possible that bringing Rodríguez aboard makes a deal more likely. But as mentioned, Rodríguez didn’t pitch last year after the WBC and was working as a reliever for the previous three seasons. The Jays likely don’t expect him to suddenly pitch 200 or even 150 innings this year without issue, meaning he might be more of a long-term project. It’s entirely possible that they keep Manoah and then have Rodríguez working multi-inning stints out of the bullpen with an eye on a larger workload in 2025 and beyond.
They also have other potential starters on the roster, such as Mitch White, Bowden Francis and Wes Parsons. Not yet on the roster but in the mix is prospect Ricky Tiedemann, who is on the cusp of the majors after he reached Triple-A last year. However, injuries limited him to just 62 innings for the year, between the minors and then a stint in the Arizona Fall League. Similar to Rodríguez, he will likely have some sort of workload limit in front of him this year.
There are still a few unanswered questions for the Jays. How Rodríguez looks in spring and then how he proceeds throughout the year will undoubtedly impact the answers to those questions. If he becomes a viable starter going forward, he can help the Jays absorb some upcoming departures. Kikuchi is slated for free agency after 2024, Bassitt after 2025 and Gausman after 2026. If that doesn’t pan out, the club will be hoping for a fallback plan of him settling in as an asset in their bullpen. Relievers Yimi García and Trevor Richards are slated for free agency after 2024 while each of Jordan Romano, Erik Swanson, Chad Green, Tim Mayza and Génesis Cabrera are slated for the open market after 2025.
If the Jays have enough confidence in Rodríguez and the rest of their staff, perhaps they can use it to address their lineup in some way. They lost Matt Chapman, Brandon Belt and Whit Merrifield to free agency a few months ago and have thus far made one addition by signing glove-first utility player Isiah Kiner-Falefa.
The club can still sign free agents, with each of Chapman, Belt and Merrifield still being available, but it’s possible the budget is getting tight. Roster Resource estimates the club’s payroll is at $221MM, just a bit above last year’s $215MM, with their competitive balance tax figure at $231MM. The club’s CEO/president Mark Shapiro had previously indicated this year’s payroll would likely be similar to last year’s. The details of the deal for Rodríguez still aren’t known but the club will be pushed further beyond last year’s payroll. Their CBT number will also surely wind up over the $237MM base threshold.
A trade could allow the club to get another bat or two without having to pay open-market prices for current free agents, but it’s also possible there’s still more spending capacity for a free agent addition. The club has been connected to sluggers like Joc Pederson, Jorge Soler, J.D. Martinez and others.