Free Agent Faceoff: Jake Odorizzi vs. James Paxton
Image courtesy of © Peter Aiken-USA TODAY Sports (Odorizzi) and © Erik Williams-USA TODAY Sports (Paxton) -- Illustration by Adriana TaylorIf you haven’t already, be sure to check out the first two editions of “Free Agent Faceoff”:
Designated Hitter: Nelson Cruz vs. Marcell Ozuna
Utilityman: Kike Hernández vs. Tommy La Stella
For the third edition of “Free Agent Faceoff” we will be evaluating two starting pitchers with a high ceiling, but coming off of an injury-riddled 2020: Jake Odorizzi and James Paxton.
Contract Estimate: 3 years/ $39M
The Case For:
When healthy, Jake Odorizzi has pitched like a top level starter with the Minnesota Twins. The 2019 season was a breakthrough year for Odorizzi, when he reached his first career all-star game, tossed a 3.51 ERA and threw the best playoff start for any Twins starter in the 2019 ALDS. At his best, Odorizzi has been a #1 pitcher for the Twins and at the age of 30, might still have more untapped potential in that right arm.
Throughout his career, Odorizzi has been a durable pitcher, tossing at least 140 innings in 5 straight seasons from 2014-2019. 2020 was a difficult season for Odo in terms of health, but the injuries he sustained were much more fluky in nature than injuries that should be of concern heading into the future.
Odo has clearly taken a liking to the coaching staff in Minnesota and has embraced the analytics that unlocked a career best 10.1 K/9 in 2019. The familiarity that comes with Odorizzi makes bringing him back an easier decision and removes a lot of the uncertainty that comes with bringing in a free agent arm. With three years of team control, the Twins would be able to lock down a top starter to pair with Kenta Maeda and José Berríos for the foreseeable future, a position that has been in flux for the Twins over the past handful of seasons.
The Case Against:
2020 was nothing short of a lost season for Jake Odorizzi, who struggled with injury all year. In the end, Odorizzi pitched in just 4 games, tossing 13.2 innings to the tune of a 6.59 ERA. Committing 3 years to Jake Odorizzi with him not having fully shown himself in 2 years would certainly be a risk for the Minnesota Twins.
Although Odorizzi has been effective during his time with the Twins, his effectiveness has come in short stints. Over the course of 66 starts in Minnesota, Odorizzi has averaged just over 5 innings/start, rarely ever pitching into the 7th inning of games.
After the past 15 months for Jake Odorizzi in a Minnesota Twins uniform, it could just be best for the two sides to move on. From the Twins boxing in Odorizzi with the qualifying offer last winter, to the injury issues all season, to not utilizing Odorizzi out of the bullpen in the playoffs, the last year has played out more like a couple ready to separate rather than renew their vows.
Contract Estimate: 2 years/$30M
The Case For:
Since breaking into the league in 2013, James Paxton has consistently been one of the better starting pitchers in all of baseball. Over the course of his career, Paxton owns a 3.58 ERA and a K/9 of 9.9, numbers that would qualify him as a #1 or #2 pitcher on most MLB teams. Stuff-wise, Paxton is about as good as they come, posting statlines like his 16 strikeout game or no-hitter in 2018. Paxton owns a fastball velocity and whiff percentage that are both in the top-25% of baseball.
Though Paxton is 32-years-old, he has just 750 innings of mileage on his arm, signaling that there should still be plenty of juice left in him. Given the contract estimate and that the Twins would only need to commit two years to him, the Twins could get an ace-quality pitcher in his prime without dolling out exorbitant dollars or committing to him into the back end of his 30s.
The Case Against:
Unfortunately for James, Paxton has become more known for his injury history than for his pitching ability throughout his career. In each of his seven full seasons in the Majors, Paxton has spent time on the injured list including injuries to his middle finger, back, knee and most recently, his forearm. Paxton has only thrown 100 innings in a season 4 times, and 160 innings just once.
Another argument against signing Paxton is the fact that he is left handed. Just down highway 94, the Chicago White Sox have assembled a team of right handed hitters that absolutely crush left handed pitching. The White Sox lineup, headlined by righties Tim Anderson, José Abreu, Eloy Jiménez and Luis Robert, combined to post the second-highest OPS against southpaws in Major League Baseball history in 2020 with a mark of .887. With the Twins and White Sox sure to battle all season for the division title, throwing a left handed pitcher out there against the White Sox could spell trouble for the Twins. Two of the other rivals of the Minnesota Twins in their pursuit of an American League pennant, the Astros and Yankees, are 2nd and 3rd respectively in OPS against LHP since the start of 2019. As a left handed pitcher, acquiring James Paxton could prove trouble for the Twins when the games matter the most.
Twins Twitter’s Take:
Upon review of the cases of the two starting pitchers, Jake Odorizzi fits the bill as the better fit for this Minnesota Twins ball club. In addition to being two years younger, Odorizzi has the experience with the Twins clubhouse and coaching staff to where the fit between the two sides is undoubtedly a good one.
Being just 30 years old, Odorizzi could still have some untapped potential to take his game up yet another level, especially given the increased velocity that he showed during his short time on the mound for the Twins in 2020.
In signing Odorizzi, the Twins would finally gain some stability on the mound to pair with Maeda and Berríos and would be able to do so at an AAV lower than what it would take to bring in James Paxton.
James Paxton would certainly be a notable consolation prize should Odorizzi be ready to move on from the Twins given the reasons previously noted, but the risk that comes with his injury history is just too great for the Twins to seek him out as the man to solve their hole in the rotation.
Would you rather the Minnesota Twins go out and sign James Paxton or Jake Odorizzi this offseason? Leave a comment below and start the conversation!
Be on the lookout for the conclusion to the “Free Agent Faceoff” series later this week at Twins Daily!
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