While waiting for the right opportunity to come along, veteran right-hander Jake Odorizzi was holding a sort of Spring Training of his own at his home in Tampa, Fla., the past few weeks. He was throwing about 35-40 pitches twice a week in the bullpen to stay in shape and keep up the intensity under the Florida sun until the phone rang.
Odorizzi, an All-Star two years ago with the Twins, had been in talks with the Astros for several weeks and reached a two-year deal with an option with them over the weekend. Houston made the deal official Monday night, and Odorizzi reported to camp in West Palm Beach, Fla., on Tuesday. He went through the coronavirus intake protocol and expects to hit the field with his new club Wednesday.
"It's the next chapter for us," Odorizzi told reporters in a Zoom press conference. "It's a very special moment. On paper, now it's two [years] plus one, but if things go well, I'd potentially like to push it longer than that. … I'm excited to be here."
Astros general manager James Click, who got to know Odorizzi when both were with the Rays, said signing of Odorizzi had nothing to do with the fractured left ring finger suffered by left-handed starter Framber Valdez a week ago. Houston could be without Valdez for an extended period, but adding Odorizzi gives the club a proven veteran arm to join the rotation for the long term.
"These were conversations we've been having for at least several weeks, well into the offseason," Click said. "We had considered several potential avenues, and I think the reasons have been discussed. We know that it's going to be difficult going from 60 games to 162 games and depth is going to be a priority for us. And adding an additional proven All-Star starting pitcher is not just depth, but it's additional talent."
Odorizzi, 30, is coming off a season in which he pitched only 13 2/3 innings with the Twins following three stints on the injured list with an intercostal strain, a chest contusion and a blister on his right middle finger. In 2019, he went 15-7 with a 3.51 ERA (129 ERA+) and 178 strikeouts in 159 innings. He'll slot into the Astros' rotation with Zack Greinke, Lance McCullers Jr., Jose Urquidy and Cristian Javier.
"I think there's a chance I could be ready when the season starts," said Odorizzi, who was already fielding calls from Astros pitching coach Brent Strom on Tuesday as he did a goodbye Zoom presser with the Twins media contingent.
While he's looking forward to work with Strom, Odorizzi has already put in extra work to improve himself mid-career. His four-seam fastball, which is the pitch he uses the most, has increased in velocity the past two years. It averaged 91.1 mph in 2018 and 93 mph last year, which Odorizzi credits to an offseason training program in which he stresses mobility and working on separating his lower and upper halves of his body.
"I think everything is coming together at the right time and I think my best years are ahead of me because of that," Odorizzi said. "I'm very fortunate I took a jump and tried something new when it comes an offseason program, and it's benefitted me greatly. Any time you can add velocity as you get older, I think that's very rare in the game and I'm expecting to maintain that … and trying to add some more as a couple of years go by."
Odorizzi, who's reunited with catcher Jason Castro from their days together in Minnesota, said he's completely healthy and chalks up last year's injury problems to the stop-and-start nature of a season interrupted by the coronavirus pandemic.
"It's nothing that lingered," Odorizzi said. "I feel great. The offseason was normal. I wouldn't change anything. Just a crappy year and I'm really excited for the next opportunity."
Odorizzi is guaranteed $20.25 million over two years with the Astros, but he can earn almost $24 million with 30 appearances combined in 2021-22, per sources. He can earn up to $30 million over two years with very attainable performance bonuses. The club did not announce the financial terms of the deal.
Click said the Astros sill have some payroll flexibility, though, if they need to make a deal in-season to improve the club.
"And those kinds of things are something we're going to keep a constant eye on," Click said.