In Chicago, at least, all spring phenom service-time dilemmas are not created equal.
The Cubs have faced scrutiny for what would be an undeserved demotion for slugger Kris Bryant. I trust you’ve heard about that.
The White Sox are in a very different position with left-handed starter Carlos Rodon, the No. 3 overall pick in last year’s draft. Rodon has pitched brilliantly this spring — 19 strikeouts in 12-1/3 innings — and the White Sox are running out of reasons to keep him off the Opening Day roster.
Manager Robin Ventura’s need for a good starter is particularly acute, with ace Chris Sale injured and veterans John Danks and Brad Penny struggling. Rodon, 22, has been one of the team’s best two starters in Cactus League play, even if he has yet to pitch in the majors. He dominated a Kansas City Royals lineup full of regulars Wednesday night, striking out nine of the 16 batters he faced over four scoreless innings.
Moreover, to start Rodon’s service clock isn’t the same commitment as calling up a frontline position player like Bryant. Rodon could start the season in the rotation but still spend the requisite two weeks in the minors to buy the “extra” year of control; the All-Star break is a popular time to option a young starter to Triple-A as a way to limit his innings.
It’s become common practice in the industry, especially in these workload-worried times: send the prized pitcher down just before his start otherwise would fall on an off day, plug in a spot starter for the next turn, use the All-Star break, delay his second-half debut as late as possible . . . Before you know it, July’s almost over.
In other cases, a starter struggles for just the wrong amount of time. Consider Rick Porcello, who made the Tigers’ Opening Day roster at age 20 in 2009, when he hadn’t thrown an inning above Class A. He was sent to Triple-A after enduring a poor stretch the following year — leaving him with 170 days of major-service in 2010, just two days shy of a full year.
If he’d been called back to Detroit two days sooner, Porcello would have been a free agent this past winter — before his age-26 season, which would have been an extremely rare occurrence.
Rodon shouldn’t start dreaming about free agency yet. The White Sox need not fret about it, either. Plenty of time remains for the team (or Rodon) to create circumstances when time in the minor leagues would be reasonable. Right now, Rodon is one of the best arms on a team that spent an entire offseason building a roster to contend. He belongs in the major leagues now.