Odorizzi on QO: 'This was the best avenue'

November 15th, 2019

MINNEAPOLIS -- bet on himself -- and made the Twins' offseason a little bit easier in the process.

The playoff-hopeful Twins have one fewer vacancy to address in their starting rotation after the All-Star right-hander accepted the one-year, $17.8 million qualifying offer that will bring him back to Minnesota for the 2020 season, the club announced following Thursday's 4 p.m. CT deadline.

Odorizzi and José Abreu of the White Sox were the only players to accept the qualifying offer, becoming just the seventh and eighth players to do so out of the 90 who have received the offer since the system was implemented in 2012. Odorizzi is the first -- and only -- player to have received a qualifying offer from the Twins during that time. Seven others rejected the qualifying offer on Thursday, while reliever Will Smith signed a three-year deal with the Braves.

"This was the toughest decision I've had in baseball, because there’s what-ifs on both sides," Odorizzi said Friday on a conference call. "There's just so much that goes into it in a short amount of time. So I decided this was the best avenue, and be prepared for the upcoming season. There's a peace of mind factor in it."

In the past, it might have been an easier decision for Odorizzi to reject the qualifying offer and test the market for a multi-year contract after posting such numbers. Odorizzi's 4.3 WAR in 2019, per FanGraphs, would have been the fifth highest among available free-agent starters behind splashy names like Gerrit Cole, Stephen Strasburg, Hyun-Jin Ryu and Zack Wheeler.

But the 29-year-old said that it was challenging to properly gauge the market for long-term deals in the 10 days he had to negotiate after he received the qualifying offer, and he also felt that his value was held back by the Draft pick penalty that would come into play under the qualifying offer system.

Odorizzi said that he garnered "a lot of interest" on the open market and exchanged dollar figures with some teams, but the uncertainty generated by the timeframe and the Draft considerations ultimately led to his return to Minnesota, where he is excited to continue to work with catcher and pitching coach Wes Johnson.

"I don't want it to be misconstrued that this is a fallback option for me, which it wasn't," Odorizzi said. "It was going to be a late option regardless with the timeframe. There were a lot of teams that were interested and that we got down the road with. But ultimately, the best decision for me was coming back and replicating what I did in a place that I know and a place that I'm comfortable, my family is comfortable.

"On a one-year deal, this was the place I wanted to be. It's why I took the deal and will re-do free agency next year."

Instead of competing on this season's market in a second tier behind Cole and Strasburg, Odorizzi is confident that he can be better positioned in next year's pitching market, when he hits free agency alongside pitchers like Trevor Bauer, Robbie Ray, James Paxton and Marcus Stroman.

"If I continue to do what I did last year, improve slightly, I see myself right at the top of that class," Odorizzi said.

Odorizzi will slot in beside as the only sure bets in the Twins' rotation for now as they look to build on Minnesota's first American League Central division title since 2010. Odorizzi was an important part of that run, arguably proving to be the Twins' most consistent starter as he pitched to a 3.51 ERA -- his lowest mark since '15 -- and a 3.36 FIP, the best of his career. His 27.1 percent strikeout rate was also a career high.

Odorizzi has been a model of consistency throughout his career, as he made at least 28 starts and posted no higher than a 4.49 ERA in any of his six full seasons in the Major Leagues.

His 2019 was a noted improvement from a less successful '18 season that left him openly disappointed and caused him to seek offseason help on his mechanics and pitch usage at the Florida Baseball Ranch. Through that work, Odorizzi added 1.8 mph, on average, to his four-seam fastball and generated a career-high 30.8 percent whiff rate with the pitch last season.

And just as notably -- Odorizzi -- who is considered a fly-ball pitcher, only allowed 0.91 homers per nine innings, the eighth-lowest mark in MLB among starters to throw at least 150 innings, despite pitching in the record-breaking power environment of the 2019 season.

"I've already started to go back to the Baseball Ranch, getting my throwing started, my program going, and I think there's room for improvement and growth of continuing to do the same process that I was doing, growing from year to year and trying to advance," Odorizzi said. 

Another year in line with this new performance would certainly help convince future suitors -- including, perhaps, the Twins -- that Odorizzi's success is sustainable enough to merit a strong multi-year deal, particularly because other teams would no longer need to forfeit a Draft selection to sign Odorizzi next offseason. 

As interested as Odorizzi would be in gauging his "true" value in next season's market, he's also made no secret of the fact that he enjoys being in Minnesota, and he said he would always welcome extension talks to keep him in Twins Territory over the long haul. 

"I’m always open to more years," Odorizzi said. "That's obviously a thing that I’m interested in. It’s just a matter of if [general manager] Thad [Levine] or [president of baseball operations] Derek [Falvey] are interested in it. My interest is there."