Even before the Minnesota Twins lost ace Ervin Santana for the first month-plus of the coming season, the team wanted to add a starting pitcher to its rotation. Now they've found their man, landing pitcher Jake Odorizzi from the Tampa Bay Rays in exchange for prospect Jermaine Palacios. Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times first reported the trade on Saturday night, Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports first reported the full deal.
Odorizzi, who won his arbitration case earlier this week and will make $6.3 million in 2018, heads to Minnesota to serve as critical depth in the middle of its rotation. He is arbitration eligible for the last time next offseason, then would become a free agent in 2020.
The right-handed pitcher struggled with injuries and inconsistency in 2017 with the Rays. Across 143 1/3 innings pitched, Odorizzi finished with a 4.14 ERA, 5.43 FIP and a 10.1 percent walk rate across 28 starts. He missed time with a strained left hamstring in April and spent time on the disabled list due to a lower back strain in the last week of July.
It represented a steep decline from his past two seasons when the young hurler combined for a 3.53 ERA, 3.98 FIP and 6.8 walk percentage across 357 innings pitched. During the two-season stretch, Odorizzi registered a 59.5 percent first-pitch strike rate. He also allowed a 30.5 percent hard-hit rate and a 1.18 HR/9, consistently keeping the walks down and avoiding significant trouble on the mound. But those numbers all took a dive last season with a 54 percent first-pitch strike rate, a 36.8 percent hard-hit rate and a 1.88 HR/9.
Walks proved to be a problem for Odorizzi, but home runs were the biggest culprit of his ugly 2017 season. The 27-year-old's home run/fly ball rate rose from nine percent in 2015 to 12 percent in '16 and 15.7 percent last season. The growing issue is likely connected to his fastball, which FanGraphs' Travis Sawchik detailed here. The piece highlights Odorizzi's rising fastball that sits up higher in the strike zone compared to the majority of pitchers across baseball.
As the article suggests, with a new pitching coach and team could bring a change in his approach at the mound and a decision to better locate his fastball.
From a fantasy perspective, the move to Minnesota is the best landing spot in the American League. While Target Field is slightly more hitter-friendly than Tropicana Field, the move from the A.L. East to the A.L. Central is very beneficial.
Odorizzi moves away from a division with Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez and Giancarlo Stanton in Yankee Stadium, Mookie Betts, Andrew Benintendi and Rafael Devers in Boston and frequent trips to Camden Yards and the Rogers Centre.
While Cleveland's lineup and park will present some problems and the Chicago White Sox lineup is improving, the Detroit Tigers and Kansas City Royals will be two of the worst teams in baseball this season. Odorizzi also won't lose out on having a defensive difference maker in center field with Byron Buxton manning center in Minnesota.
If the Twins can correct some of Odorizzi's past issues to reduce the home runs, they'll land a top-45 starting pitcher who will slide right into the middle of their rotation and serve them well as they compete for a playoff spot.