The Rangers kicked off their search for rotation help Thursday evening, announcing the acquisition of the right-hander Jake Odorizzi from the Braves. Atlanta receives a lefty Colby Allard in a one-for-one swap that also sees the Braves pay down a notable portion of Odorizzi’s salary. Atlanta will reportedly cover $10MM of his $12.5MM figure, which was locked in when the veteran starter exercised a player option for next year.
Going into 2021, Odorizzi signed a two-year, $23.5MM guarantee with the Astros with a convoluted structure. He received a $6MM signing bonus and $6MM salary in 2021, followed by a $5MM salary in 2022. That was to be followed by a $6.5MM player option with a $3.25MM buyout. However, there were also performance escalators that could increase the value of both the option and the buyout. Over the initial two years of the deal, if Odorizzi got into 20, 25 and 30 games, he would add $2MM to the salary and $1MM to the buyout at each of those milestones. He easily hit all three, getting into 46 games, maxing out the option value at $12.5MM.
Odorizzi posted a 4.21 ERA with Houston in 2021 and then had a 3.75 mark at the deadline when he was traded to Atlanta for Will Smith. Unfortunately, the uniform switch didn’t help him, as he posted a 5.24 mark after the deal. He also had a 6.59 ERA in the shortened 2020 season, meaning he hasn’t seen strong results over the past three years. Although he had a 27.1% strikeout rate in 2019, he’s been hovering around 20% since then, a few ticks below the league average.
Atlanta was clearly not terribly excited about the idea of paying him $12.5MM, based on both of them tight payroll situation and Odorizzi’s results. He probably isn’t one of their five best starters anyway, as they have Max Fried, Kyle Wright, Charlie Mortonand Spencer Strider for the first four spots, with Bryce Elder, Ian Anderson, Kyle Muller and Jared Shuster candidates for the fifth. They’ll pick up only $2.5MM in salary relief, but the deal clears a path for some of their younger arms to compete for a back-of-the-rotation job.
The Rangers are in need of rotation upgrades after getting poor results in that department in 2022. Texas starters posted a collective 4.63 ERA this year, placing them 25th in the majors. They got some decent work from Jon Gray and a career year from a veteran Martín Perez, although Pérez has now reached free agency and deprived the already-weak rotation of its strongest performer. There is reportedly mutual interest in a reunion, although nothing has been finalized yet and the club is now likely to extend him and a $19.65MM qualifying offer.
With Pérez still in the wind, that leaves Texas with Gray and a host of question marks behind him. Dan Dunning was decent enough, posting a 4.46 ERA this year over 29 starts. However, his season was ended by hip surgery and it’s unclear what condition he’ll be in next year. Glenn Otto made 27 starts and posted an ERA of 4.64. The club also gave a handful of starts to Taylor Hearn, Cole Ragans and Spencer Howard, although they all posted an ERA of 4.95 or higher. Given all that uncertainty, it would be logical for them to consider any and all avenues to upgrade the staff, with general manager Chris Young saying basically that at the GM Meetings in Las Vegas this week, per Evan Grant of The Dallas Morning News. That will apparently include giving Odorizzi a shot to produce some better results.
In addition to clearing a bit of salary off the books, Atlanta will receive another arm in Allard. The 25-year-old was actually drafted by Atlanta in the first round back in 2015 but went to the Rangers in 2019 in exchange for Chris Martin. He’s pitched in each of the past five MLB seasons but has a career 6.07 ERA. He has decent control with a 7.8% walk rate in his career, although his 18.6% strikeout rate and 37.8% ground ball rate are both subpar. He had been part of the Ranger rotation from 2019-21 but got bumped to bullpen work in 2022. The move didn’t help him, as he put up a 7.29 ERA over 21 innings out of the ‘pen.
In the end, it seems both teams are giving up on pitchers that weren’t in their plans going forward. Texas is desperate for rotation stability and will see if Odorizzi can provide it, with Atlanta helping them pay the bill. It’s likely to be one of several moves to address the starting staff as they look to emerge from their years-long rebuild. For Atlanta, they are sending away some cash but will at least save a couple of bucks as they look to revamp and try to win a sixth straight NL East title.
Mark Feinsand of MLB.com was the first to report the Braves were paying $10MM of Odorizzi’s salary.