The Twins on Monday extended a qualifying offer to starting pitcher Jake Odorizzi for one-year, $17.8 million — a formality that merely signals the start of an interesting free agency negotiation and which Odorizzi is expected to reject.
In an interview last month, Odorizzi didn’t exactly tip his hand as to what his future holds — both complimenting the Twins while remaining noncommittal about 2020 and beyond.
“I really enjoyed my two years here and I think I’ve been pretty straightforward about that,” Odorizzi said after the playoffs ended. “I try to be as straightforward as possible with just about everything. That’s just the kind of person I am and if I’m back that would be great. I’ve really taken a liking to here. If not I wish nothing but the best for everybody. This is a great group top to bottom.”
Odorizzi enters free agency at an optimal time. He’s coming off his best season (15 wins, 3.51 ERA, first All Star selection, 3.6 wins above replacement), he’s going into a market heavy on top-end pitching talent (Gerrit Cole, Stephen Strasburg) but one that levels off pretty quickly, and the Twins are facing the prospect of heavy rotation turnover after a 101-win season.
That’s an awful lot of leverage for Odorizzi, both league-wide and particularly with the Twins.
The only counter-measure the Twins have at their disposal is that qualifying offer tendered Monday, which would grant them draft pick compensation should Odorizzi sign with another team. But a rule change before 2017 means that compensation isn’t quite as punitive as it has been in the past.
If a team wants Odorizzi badly enough and is willing to pay more than $50 million guaranteed money, it would cost them a pick after the end of the first round. For less than $50 million, that pick would come after the second round.
I would have thought around $50 million for three years was about the fair market for Odorizzi, but then I read Keith Law’s Insider piece on ESPN.com. Law, who has Odorizzi tabbed as the ninth-best MLB free agent this winter, writes: “He’ll turn 30 in March, has that history of taking the ball, and is such a good athlete that it’s easier to accept this Odorizzi as the new baseline. He should see four-year offers that push him past $80 million.”
If Law is right … gulp!
While Odorizzi is durable and isn’t just a one-season wonder (three of his last five years have been 3-plus WAR), that’s a significant mark-up from the $15.8 million combined the Twins paid Odorizzi over the last two seasons after a smart trade with the Rays.
Online betting markets show the Twins with better than even odds (5 to 6) of retaining Odorizzi, with the next team listed at 9 to 1 (Philadelphia). That’s hardly a sure thing, but it’s closer to one than I might have thought.
Even with a regression, Odorizzi is a solid middle of the rotation starter (No. 3 or 4), and his ceiling is around No. 2 starter.
But he seldom pitches deep into games (30 starts, just 159 innings last season, a little more than 5 per game). On a World Series contender, where would Odorizzi fall in a postseason rotation pecking order? At $17-18 million a year for three years (roughly a three-year, $53 million deal), retaining Odorizzi would be an easier decision. But at what point does the cost of doing business become a bad business decision?
And would there reach a point where the Twins would be better off trying to replicate their trade from two years ago for another cost-controlled pitcher with upside like Odorizzi while taking a bigger swing into the free agent market for someone like Strasburg or Zack Wheeler?
I’d be tempted if the price for Odorizzi reached $20 million a year at four years, even if the Twins would probably have enough money to sign another impact free agent after absorbing a rich Odorizzi deal.
It comes down to what the Twins think of Odorizzi long-term and how much the pitcher, who probably sees this as his one real chance to cash in on a long-term deal, wants to use his leverage.