The Twins are extending a qualifying offer to pending free agent starting pitcher, Jake Odorizzi, a nod to his value in 2019 and the team’s need to collect pitchers in the bulk-buy section.
The QO amounts to a one-year contract offer worth $17.8 million for the 2020 season. Odorizzi would have 10 days to accept or reject the offer – and if he turns it down he’d become a free agent with draft-pick compensation tied to his signing.
That burden hasn’t been kind to free agents in recent winters, with Craig Kimbrel and Dallas Keuchel holding out until June to agree to contracts after they didn’t like what the market was offering over the winter. (Waiting until after the MLB amateur draft rid them of the draft-pick compensation price tag, and also cost them spring training and three months of employment.)
Twins CBO Derek Falvey said in early October that the Twins would “target impact pitching” this winter. And while Gerrit Cole and Stephen Strasburg lead the parade of available free-agent pitchers, the Twins likely have 4 starting spots to fill beyond José Berríos.
Odorizzi, for his part, has said that he’d like to return to Minnesota if everything else is in place. “I do, it’s just a matter of their desire and the reality of it [is that] the ugly term, “dollar figures” is what it’s all about,” Odorizzi told me last month. “I put in a lot of time to get to this point in my career … Sometimes you really enjoy a place and it doesn’t work out for whatever reason. But these last two years have probably been the most fun years I’ve had in the big leagues,” he said.
Odorizzi turns 30 years old right around the time of opening day 2020. His two years in Minnesota have been a worthy endeavor for a club that traded a shortstop prospect for his services. And most would agree that 2019 was his best season on the mound: 3.51 ERA in 159 innings (30 starts), along with a career-best 27.1% strikeout rate. His average fastball velocity jumped from 91.5 mph in 2018, to 93 mph this summer, according to Brooks Baseball.
Maybe none of those numbers jump off the page on their own. But combined they paint a picture of a starting pitcher who was very valuable to the Twins, and who showed the kind of consistency throughout the summer that teams pay for.
Here’s the list of A.L. starting pitchers with at least 150 innings in 2019, at least a 27% strikeout rate, and a better ERA than Odorizzi:
That’s the whole list.
On one hand, that’s a little bit of cherry-picking, to hunt for a caliber of pitcher right at Odorizzi’s level for the chosen categories. On the other hand, that’s the whole list. And Odorizzi did achieve those levels with the Twins in 2019.
Another note for this winter of 2020: The Twins will have some real estate to work with, which can be viewed as a good thing or a bad thing, depending on your disposition. If Odorizzi were to accept the one-year contract offer, it would help to fill out a rotation that right now looks like, as FanGraphs author Dan Szymborski termed it, “José Berríos and four Mad Libs blanks.”
The way I interpret this offer, the Twins are basically agreeing that they’d be willing to pay Odorizzi that salary to return to them for one more season. If he moves on, at least they would get a draft pick — and as importantly, draft bonus pool space — in return for the outbound free agent.
Would Odorizzi try to do better than that $17.8 million over one year? It’s rare for a player to reject the QO and then return on a multi-year deal with the club. Francisco Liriano with the Pirates (3 years and $39 million in 2015) and Marco Estrada with the Blue Jays (2 years and $26 million in 2016) were the only recent examples that I could come up with.
Without suggesting head-to-head comparisons to Odorizzi, here’s a look at a few offers signed by starting pitchers last winter:
Patrick Corbin, who was younger and had a more dominant year on his résumé, got 6 years, $140 million in Washington.
Nathan Eovaldi got 4 years, $68 million from Boston after his October heroics.
J.A. Happ, who is 6 years older, got 2 years, $34 million with the Yankees.
Charlie Morton, also in his mid-30’s, got 2 years and $30 million.
Lance Lynn, 32, got his $30 million over 3 years.
Hyun-Jin Ryu simply accepted the qualifying offer to stay with the Dodgers for another year and earn a $17.9 million salary.