While the 2021 season is slated to begin just a month from now, free-agent righty Jake Odorizzi is “thought” to be willing to wait further into spring training for the right offer rather than drop his asking price now, tweets MLB Network’s Jon Heyman. Odorizzi has reportedly been seeking a three-year deal that will pay him in the $13-15M range.
As Heyman notes, there’s some precedent for this type of approach working out for the pitcher. Kyle Lohse netted a three-year, $33M deal with the Brewers late in spring training 2013, and Alex Cobb landed a four-year deal worth $57M with the Orioles late in spring training 2018. Jake Arrieta also agreed to a three-year deal midway through spring training back in 2018, landing a $75M guarantee with the Phillies.
Of course, that Lohse deal is now eight years old, and Cobb’s contract was broadly considered to be a surprise. It’s tough to base expectations on that trio of solid deals, as we’ve seen at least as many pitchers have to alter their expectations and take a one-year pact in recent years: Ervin Santana with the Braves, Lance Lynn with the Twins and Dallas Keuchel’s midseason deal with the Braves are among the examples.
None of that is to say that Odorizzi’s quest for a multi-year deal is unreasonable. His reported asking price falls roughly in line with what we expected him to sign back at the beginning of the offseason, and he’s a more desirable free agent than either Lohse or Cobb was at the time of those late multi-year deals referenced by Heyman. Odorizzi stood out as one of the best free-agent starters on the 2020-21 market — arguably the second-best behind Trevor Bauer (particularly once Marcus Stroman and Kevin Gausman accepted qualifying offers).
It’s been a very tough winter for the non-Bauer tier of free-agent starters, however. Only three have landed multi-year pacts: a two-year, $18M deal for Mike Minor with the Royals; a three-year, $23M deal for Taijuan Walker with the Mets (announced as a two-year deal with a player option); and a two-year, $4.75M deal for KBO returnee Chris Flexen with the Mariners. Bauer, Charlie Morton, Corey Kluber and Drew Smyly are the only four starters to receive annual values exceeding $10M, and of that group, only Bauer did so on a multi-year deal.
MLB teams have been reluctant to spend for much of the winter. Some clubs that have spent money (Twins, Red Sox, Nationals) have been primarily willing to do so on one-year deals.
Circumstances could certainly change, and that could be what Odorizzi and his representatives are hoping for at this point. An untimely injury on a contending club’s pitching staff could create a need and jump=start his market, and it’s possible that as teams get better ideas about the number of fans they’ll be able to welcome to the park in 2021, owners could green-light some late expenditures that weren’t previously expected.
Odorizzi was limited to just 13 2/3 innings last season, which has surely hindered his market, although his camp can rightly point to the fact that none of those health issues were arm-related. He missed the first few weeks of the season with an intercostal (ribcage) strain and quickly went back on the IL when he was struck in the chest by a comeback liner upon his return. He later dealt with a blister that forced him back on the shelf.
Odorizzi is by no means an ace, but prior to last year’s slate of rather fluky injuries, he was a durable mid-rotation cog. He averaged better than 30 starts per season from 2014-19 and worked to a combined 3.88 ERA (4.08 FIP, 4.19 SIERA) with above-average strikeout and walk rates (23% and 8.2%, respectively) through more than 1,000 innings. In a vacuum, he’d be an improvement for nearly any starting staff in the game, but the disconnect between his asking price and the market’s offerings apparently continues to linger.