The Minnesota Twins needed pitching, and badly. A window of contention opened for them when they didn’t expect it, and now that they have the bullpen in relatively decent shape, the next thing to address was the starting rotation. They wanted Yu Darvish. They didn’t get him. Then they lost Ervin Santana until mid-May. They had to formulate a Plan B, and quickly.
One might assume that, given owner Jim Pohlad’s professed desire to keep the checkbook open, they might spend some money and get some combination of Jake Arrieta, Lance Lynn, or Alex Cobb. That didn’t happen, at least for the time being. Instead, president Derek Falvey and general manager Thad Levine shipped a single prospect, Jermaine Palacios, to the Tampa Bay Rays in order to nab Jake Odorizzi.
Odorizzi gives the Twins innings, and the team didn’t have to surrender anything of importance to get him. Is he any good, though? What is the point of acquiring him if that’s all the Twins will do to fix their rotation?
I don’t mean to slag off Odorizzi, mind you. He projects for 150-ish innings, which is huge, given that Santana will be unavailable for awhile and Phil Hughes almost certainly can’t be counted on. It wasn’t long ago that Odorizzi tossed a 2.85 Deserved Run Average in 169 1/3 innings back in 2015. That season remains an outlier in an otherwise league-average career, but even a league-average innings eater is crucial for a Twin team that stands to give Adalberto Mejia 25 starts.
As much as I and many others have pushed for contenders to sign Cobb or Lynn, the fact was that Odorizzi was probably just as good an option, and clearly at less expense. Odorizzi is entering his age-28 season with two years of team control left. Lynn, meanwhile, projects to produce at the same level as Odorizzi but with three extra years on his arm and a contract coming to him. Cobb will be a year younger than Lynn but projects to be worse than Lynn and Odorizzi, according to PECOTA. Given the choice of those three options, it’s easy to see why Odorizzi would be Falvey and Levine’s preferred choice.
Arrieta remains the wild card here. He projects to be the best of the four pitchers we’re discussing today, despite his on-field volatility in the last two seasons and his advanced age. A rotation of Berrios, Santana, Odorizzi, Kyle Gibson, and a mixture of Mejia and Phil Hughes is probably fine, but it’s still thin. Why not spend big to get Arrieta? The Brewers and Phillies are both kicking the tires on him. The Twins have just as much need for Arrieta’s services as anyone.
Odorizzi was average on strikeouts, walks, and contact quality last year. He was a perfectly normal pitcher. PECOTA thinks we’re going to see a significant drop-off in performance this season, but a league-average ceiling is acceptable for his age, price, commitment, and the upgrade it actually brings to the Twins’ rotation. He shouldn’t be the end of the conversation, though. Signing Lynn would also be an upgrade and prevent Mejia from seeing much of any time on the bump. Signing Arrieta would be signal that the Twins are serious about getting over the line soon.
If this is the team that the Twins go with in April, it will still be in the wild card mix. The Blue Jays, Angels, and maybe even the Mariners and Rays will all be chasing that second berth with them. Not much separates any of these squads. That may be okay. Luck, breakout performances, key injuries to opponents, and midseason additions can shake up the whole picture. That’s the thing about the second wild card berth. You can take it seriously and things won’t go your way. You can stand pat and things will go your way. It’s a bit of a crap shoot at this stage of the season.
Odorizzi moves the needle a bit, but not enough to make a definitive case for the Twins to join the American League’s elite. If they can afford it (they definitely can), why not make another addition to seal the deal?
Pohlad, Falvey, and Levine owe it to the fan base to at least try.