Find the Next Gerrit Cole? Twins Have Shown the Knack
Image courtesy of Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY SportsThe paths of Cole and Odorizzi have actually been pretty closely intertwined. Both were first-round draft picks out of high school in 2008 – in fact, Odorizzi went just four picks after Cole. Only difference was, Odorizzi signed with the Brewers, while Cole rebuffed the Yankees and wisely opted for college, becoming the first overall pick three years later.
Odorizzi endured a hectic first few years as a pro, getting moved twice as a prospect in trades for established aces (Zack Greinke and James Shields) before landing in Tampa Bay, where he emerged as a 24-year-old rookie in 2014. During four full seasons with the Rays, Odorizzi was good, but short of great: 668 IP, 3.81 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 8.3 K/9, 3.0 BB/9. He flirted occasionally with rotation-fronting potential but was held back by a few critical flaws (proneness to home runs among them).
After he put forth a career-worst season in 2017, the Rays threw their hands up, trading him to Minnesota the following spring for a middling prospect.
One month and five days before Odorizzi went to the Twins, Cole had been dealt by the Pirates to Houston. The return was far more substantial, but in similar fashion, the Astros were buying low. Cole's numbers over five seasons in Pittsburgh were quite like those of Odorizzi in Tampa: 782 IP, 3.50 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 8.4 K/9, 2.3 BB/9.
Take out his fantastic 2015 campaign, and Cole's tenure in Pittsburgh was almost identical to Odorizzi's in Tampa, filled with glimpses of largely unrealized potential.
We all know where the story goes from there. Cole immediately turned a corner in Houston, blossoming almost instantly into an ace while unlocking new levels of velocity and performance. Odorizzi's emergence in Minnesota wasn't nearly so spectacular, but it shouldn't be overlooked, either.
The Twins took a player who required only shortstop Jermaine Palacios (owner of a sub-.600 OPS since switching organizations) to acquire, and turned Odorizzi into a major asset for a needy rotation. In 2019 he was a first-time All-Star while obliterating his career highs in velocity, strikeout rate, whiff percentage, and WAR. The decision to offer a QO was a no-brainer, and his acceptance is a big positive for next year's outlook (meanwhile, the Astros are figuring out how they'll replace their departing ace).
For all the hopeful talk about the Twins wooing Cole with an historic contract offer – the fanciful blueprints published here over the past week have been fun to read, – we all know that it's an unlikely path for this franchise. Derek Falvey and Thad Levine had their contracts proactively extended last week not because they can throw ungodly sums of money at the best free agent, but because they can savvily build and develop through a world-class operation (which is, consequently, now being raided by opponents).
In the Offseason Handbook, Tom Froemming has an excellent piece titled "Could the Twins Find the Next Gerrit Cole"? I wouldn't bet against it.
Odorizzi is no Cole. Obviously. But the Twins have proven they can execute the same formula. The question is whether they can now level-up, expending more resources to add a player capable of even greater impact.
As I look around the league, there is one clear candidate who stands out to me in this mold: Chris Archer, one of four outside-the-box trade targets I profiled here. He's got some of the same ingredients as Odorizzi and Cole did: standout stuff, glimmers of greatness, two years of control remaining (via team options). Oh, and coming off a career-worst season. Could the Twins pirate the Pirates like Houston did?
Who strikes you as a similar buy-low opportunity on the trade market with untapped upside? It's a likely spot for the Twins to set their gaze.
- brvama, mikelink45, DocBauer and 2 others like this