Jake Odorizzi made a big bet on himself Thursday. The Twins already feel like winners.
Odorizzi accepted a one-year contract worth $17.8 million to remain in Minnesota in 2020, the team announced Thursday, abruptly ending his first foray into free agency. The move keeps the Twins’ top two starting pitchers in place for next season as the team searches for ways to fill out its pitching rotation this winter.
“It’s like signing one of the top pitchers on the market,” said Derek Falvey, Twins president of baseball. “As we build off the season we just had, really, you want your No. 1 and 2 starters back from last year, and adding to that group at the upper end would continue to be our hope and goal.”
The $17.8 million salary represents an 83 percent raise over the $9.5 million that Odorizzi earned last year and makes him the second-highest-paid player in Twins history, behind Joe Mauer and his $23 million annual pay. Yet it’s also just a fraction of the millions that Odorizzi figured to guarantee himself in a multi-year contract as a free agent — some MLB analysts had forecast offers as high as $50-60 million for the 29-year-old righthander — had he turned down the qualifying offer and entertained contracts from other suitors.
But under baseball’s collective bargaining agreement, doing so would have come with a catch: Any team signing him would forfeit one or more draft picks next June, potentially as high as the second round. (The Twins would also have received a draft pick as compensation for losing him.) That extra price tends to scare off some teams and lower the offers from others, and last winter even convinced pitchers Dallas Keuchel and Craig Kimbrel to sit out until after the draft, when the compensation was no longer required.
Odorizzi had 10 days to gauge teams’ willingness to offer him long-term deals, and ultimately he chose to wait until next winter, when draft-pick compensation can no longer apply to him. In addition, the free-agent market won’t include as many high-end starters looking for big contracts, as such pitchers as Gerrit Cole, Stephen Strasburg and Hyun-Jin Ryu are this year; the competition could be pitchers like Marcus Stroman and James Paxton.
Unless he reaches a long-term deal with the Twins before then, however, it means gambling that he’ll stay healthy and effective. Odorizzi is coming off his first All-Star season, having posted a 15-7 record, 3.51 ERA and a career-high 178 strikeouts in 159 innings. He also lowered his home-run rate to a career-best 0.9 per nine innings and his wins above replacement (WAR) to 3.6, another big improvement over 2018, when he was acquired in a trade with Tampa Bay.
“We’re excited to have Jake back,” Falvey said. “We’re confident he’ll continue to be one of our most consistent starters.”
His signing — Odorizzi and Chicago first baseman Jose Abreu became the seventh and eighth players ever to accept a qualifying offer — also makes Falvey’s task considerably easier this winter. With Odorizzi and fellow All-Star Jose Berrios at the top of the rotation, and at least one out of a group of rookies Lewis Thorpe, Randy Dobnak and Devin Smeltzer expected to win a spot in spring training, the Twins need to acquire two major league-caliber starting pitchers via trade or free agency, not three.
Falvey, his own contract extension settled this week, returned to Minneapolis on Thursday after spending four days in Scottsdale, Ariz., getting ready for that task at the MLB general managers’ meetings.
“I would say we accomplished a lot of the groundwork. We met with agents for a whole host of players, including some of our own,” Falvey said. “We got an understanding of where things fit, got some ideas of [other teams’ trade] interest, and [explored] which players might have an interest in us.”