Starting pitcher Jake Odorizzi surprised people last week by accepting a one-year, $17.8 million qualifying offer from the Twins instead of testing free agency. But given the nature of baseball’s economic structure, was it really that unexpected?
First take: Michael Rand
We can view this as Odorizzi betting on himself, which he is, to a degree. And we can view this as a win-win for Odorizzi and the Twins, since he’s getting a big raise and they are guaranteed to keep the top of their rotation intact.
More than anything, though, I think it’s an indictment of baseball’s economic system. If not for the draft-pick penalty attached to signing a player who was given a qualifying offer, Odorizzi almost certainly would have opted for free agency.
But it’s still a bad system.
Phil Miller: You might say it’s a bad system. Jake Odorizzi might say it’s a bad system. But I doubt that Rob Manfred or Jim Pohlad or any of baseball’s other billionaire owners would say it’s a bad system.
It’s pretty simple: What is the goal of a structure that exacts a penalty from teams for lavishing money on players? It’s to suppress the amount of money they receive. Baseball has been unable to force a salary cap system on its sport — that’s what the 1994-95 strike was about — but the owners have managed to add a brake to the prices of the best players by penalizing teams for signing them.
It’s the not-quite-elite players like Odorizzi who are most affected, though, not the top-of-the-market types. And the system feels more punitive than it used to because teams value draft picks more than they used to, and they’re less willing than before to spend big on older players.
Still, I was shocked that Odorizzi took the offer, for this reason: Even with the draft-pick penalty attached, he figured to receive offers in the three-year range.
Rand: I actually think this is smart business by Odorizzi. If he had taken a three-year, $45 million deal now (hypothetically), what would his next contract have been? I’m guessing it wouldn’t have been for $17.8 million a year, which he’ll make this year.
But I think he has a good chance to get at least that much on a three-year deal as a free agent next offseason — turning this into, for practical purposes, a good gamble on four years for $60 million-plus over the next four seasons.
This is his best chance to beat the system designed to reward the billionaires.
Miller: That’s true, and banking the second-highest salary in Twins history, even for only one year, is a pretty nice safety net should the unthinkable happen. And Odorizzi already has earned more than $21 million in his career, so we’re already talking about unimaginable wealth for 99.99% of us.
But baseball is full of randomness, more than most sports, and inning-ending ground balls that are caught one year might get through the next. Not to mention, pitchers get injured. Odorizzi has never suffered a serious arm injury, so his durability is presumed — but not guaranteed. Given that, most players like to lock in as much money as they can in the moment, so Odorizzi’s choice is an unusual one.
It’s a reflection, I believe, of the confidence he developed last offseason. Odorizzi came to camp after an intensive offseason of studying and refining his mechanics, and it obviously made a big difference. That confidence has made him a better pitcher, and now a gambler willing to bet $30 million or so on himself.