FORT MYERS, Fla. – With no luck finding a starting pitcher for this season in the free-agent market, the Twins dipped into their stockpile of talented minor league shortstops to acquire one via trade.
Jake Odorizzi, who has started 126 games for the Rays and Royals, will join the rotation this season, the Twins announced Saturday night. The Twins will send Class A shortstop Jermaine Palacios to Tampa Bay in exchange for the 27-year-old righthander.
It’s the Twins’ first major addition to their starting-pitching depth this winter, and comes after four unsuccessful months of attempting to lure an established free agent starter. In Odorizzi, they have acquired a veteran who has won between nine and 11 games in each of the past four seasons with the Rays, and has compiled a career ERA of 3.83.
He also pitched at least 168 innings in three of those four seasons, but he fell to 143 last year after spending time on the disabled list because of a strained lower back. He will be under team control for 2019 as well before becoming eligible for free agency.
Odorizzi, in camp with the Rays in nearby Port Charlotte, will report to his new team Monday, the first day of full-squad workouts.
The trade comes five days after Twins General Manager Thad Levine spoke pessimistically about the chances of completing a trade, saying, “The only thing slower so far than the free-agent market has been the trade market … The prospect of weakening one part of your team to strengthen another is not appealing.”
But by trading Palacios, the Twins didn’t touch their major league roster, and dealt from a position of strength. With Nick Gordon, Wander Javier and Royce Lewis also rising toward the major leagues, Palacios is arguably the fourth-best shortstop prospect in the Twins’ system. The 21-year-old Venezuelan, who signed in 2014, batted .298 with 13 homers and 20 stolen bases (in 35 attempts) while splitting time between the Twins’ Class A teams in Cedar Rapids and Fort Myers.
Odorizzi beefs up a starting rotation that will be missing All-Star righthander Ervin Santana for at least the first few weeks of the season, after he underwent finger surgery last month. Jose Berrios, Kyle Gibson and Adalberto Mejia are also favorites to win jobs in the rotation, but there remains much uncertainty about the pitchers behind them.
Odorizzi, 10-8 with a 4.14 ERA for Tampa Bay last season, last week won a salary of $6.3 million for 2018 from a three-member panel of arbitrators, who rejected the Rays’ preference for a $6.05 salary. The addition of Odorizzi, plus Anibal Sanchez on a nonguaranteed contract Friday, brings the Twins’ payroll to roughly $107.6 million this season.
Odorizzi, who grew up just outside St. Louis in New Douglas, Ill., was a 32nd-round pick of the Brewers in 2008. He is known for his large pitch selection, which includes a fastball that touches 93 miles per hour, plus a curve, changeup, slider and split-fingered fastball.
The Twins made room on their 40-man roster for him by placing Michael Pineda on the 60-day disabled list. Pineda signed as a free agent this offseason, but he had Tommy John elbow ligament replacement surgery in July.