What a Carlos Rodon-Giants reunion would cost to bring co-ace back

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What would it cost Giants to bring Rodón back in free agency? originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea

SAN FRANCISCO -- As he chatted with reporters a few days after the end of the season, Giants president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi gently pushed back on the perception that the organization has a line it won't cross when it comes to contracts for starting pitchers.

"I know your history of contracts lines up, it's easy to have set rules from that," he said in response to a question about shorter-term deals. "We don't have strict, hard-and-fast rules in terms of contract lengths or things like that. With starting pitchers, there's a track record and a history of the longer contracts and you try to factor that in, but he had a spectacular season for us, there's no doubt about that."

The player Zaidi referred to was Carlos Rodón, the best player on the 2022 Giants and possibly the best starting option on the market this offseason. Rodón became a Giant because he fit in perfectly with their recent history of contracts, and to bring him back, the Giants would have to make their first huge splash on a starting pitcher since Zaidi and a new front office took over in 2018.

There might not be hard-and-fast rules about contracts for pitchers, but the Giants certainly have shown a strong lean. As he tried to get the organization's payroll under control, Zaidi focused initially on one-year deals for starting pitchers looking to rebuild their value. Last offseason, the Giants went to multi-year deals, but not by much.

Anthony DeSclafani signed a three-year, $36 million deal that still stands as the largest guaranteed contract given out by the Giants since 2017. Alex Wood and Alex Cobb got two years each, and Rodón signed a two-year deal with an opt-out after the first season.

When Rodón stayed healthy in 2022, that opt-out became an off-ramp to a nine-figure deal, and if the Giants are to bring him back, they'll need to at least triple this front office's previous high for a starting pitcher.

The Giants know what the baseline is because they were in this same position just a year ago. Rodón's 2022 season was better than Kevin Gausman's 2021 and he's a year younger, so even when you throw in his injury history, he'll sail past Gausman's five-year, $110 million guarantee from the Blue Jays last offseason.

At the same time that Gausman was signing with Toronto, Cy Young winner Robbie Ray went from the Blue Jays to the Mariners for $115 million over five years. Like Rodón, Ray is a left-hander who has piled up strikeouts during his career but also dealt with inconsistency, but he had one hurdle in his way that Rodón won't have to worry about this offseason.

Both Gausman and Ray signed their deals just before the lockout, when teams were uncertain about their budgets for 2022 and many players rushed to find homes before contact was cut off. A year later, Rodón enters a wide-open market in which the other two aces -- Jacob deGrom and Justin Verlander -- figure to get short-term deals because of injury (deGrom) and age (Verlander) concerns. Rodón can aim much higher than Gausman and Ray did last offseason.

At this time four years ago, Patrick Corbin signed a six-year, $140 million deal with the Nationals. Chris Sale signed a five-year, $145 million extension with the Red Sox the next spring, and the next offseason, Stephen Strasburg got $245 million over seven years from the Nationals.

Strasburg and Gerrit Cole became the first pitchers to cross the $35 million mark per year, with Max Scherzer later shattering Cole's AAV record by signing a three-year, $130 million deal with the Mets.

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Verlander and deGrom are expected to use Scherzer as a comp and either could beat his record for average annual salary, but Rodón should fit somewhere in the middle. He is young enough -- turning 30 next month -- to seek five-plus years, but talented enough to break into the $30-million-per-year club. As a Scott Boras client, you can expect Rodón to finish on the high end of the estimates.

"Last year the thinking team chose Rodón," Boras said at the GM Meetings last month. "And this year Rodón has sculpted yet another masterpiece, and I think in the marketplace, his definition of museum-level art is now clearly understood by the teams and he's looked at as a true number one pitcher at a very young age and frankly the only one of his kind in the marketplace."

That "thinking team" was the Giants, but they're in a much different situation this time around. Shoulder concerns limited Rodón's market a year ago, but the big-market teams are all interested this offseason. Rodón reportedly has drawn interest from the Yankees, Rangers and Dodgers, among others, and he had a Zoom call with the Mets on Tuesday.

Zaidi has said multiple times this offseason that there's mutual interest in a reunion, but the Giants would have to go well out of their comfort zone to even be in the running, and they do not expect Rodón to return. There might not be organizational rules, but it's not hard to figure out why the Giants have a strong preference when it comes to starting pitcher contracts. That list of nine-figure pitchers is filled with regrets.

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