Jake Odorizzi represents a different type of pitching prospect for the Tampa Bay Rays. In the past, we have seen the Rays develop some prospects with immense talent. In the last few years alone the Rays have graduated players such as David Price, Matt Moore, Jeremy Hellickson, and Wade Davis, all of whom came with the potential to be at or near the top of a rotation. The difference is that Odorizzi does not feature that potential, but rather seems to be a mid-rotation starter. Nevertheless, Odorizzi is a talented enough pitcher that the Rays should consider signing him to the type of team-friendly extension that we have seen in the past with Moore, Davis, and Evan Longoria. How would such an extension work for Odorizzi?
As with any pitcher, a long-term deal is risky, as pitchers are very susceptible to major injuries. However, the price of signing pitching on the open market is very expensive and it makes sense to take a bit of a risk on a pitcher early in his career to get him for well below market value in the future. The good news about Odorizzi is that he is a fairly reliable pitcher. He has never suffered an arm injury in his career, giving him the ability to be a durable starter in the big leagues; the kind that will give you 190+ innings pitched year after year. Add that in with an arsenal that continues to improve–Odorizzi improved his fastball command mightily in 2013–and he seems like a worthy pitcher to lock up. Now we have to get into the cost of doing that.
It is always nice to look at comparable pitchers to get a feel for a potential extension, but that is tough to do in Odorizzi’s case. Since 2008 only one pitcher has signed an extension with less than one year of service time–Matt Moore. Moore signed for a $14 million guarantee over five years, with three options valued at $7 million, $9 million, and $10 million. The potential maximum value of his contact is thus 8 years and $40 million. Moore, though, came with the upside of a number 1-2 starter, and had a much better minor league track record. It would make sense for Odorizzi to receive less–but with the contract for such little money, the difference may not be so large.
If you expand the service time parameters to players with around a year of service time, there are a few more players that compare to Odorizzi. Another former Ray, Wade Davis, signed an extension after his first year in the big leagues. Coming into the majors, Davis featured tantalizing upside, but in his first full season he did not quite live up to expectations by posting a 4.07 ERA and striking out just 6.1 batters per nine innings. Nevertheless, prior to his second full season in the major leagues, the Rays gave him an extension that guaranteed him $12.6 million over four years, as well as three options at $7 million, $8 million, and $10 million. That gave him a potential contract of 7 years at $37.6 million if all his options are exercised. Odorizzi might not have quite the potential that Davis had when coming into the majors. However, Davis’ subpar first season left some doubts if he could reach his number two potential, so this extension becomes a good comparable.
One more similar case to Odorizzi is that of Cory Luebke, who signed an extension with a little more than one year of big league time under his belt. Coming into the majors, Luebke had the upside of a number three starter, similar to Odorizzi, and also had similar career minor league numbers to Odorizzi (3.49 career minor league ERA to Odorizzi’s 3.47). However, he did beat expectations in his first year, managing a 3.29 ERA in 17 starts and 29 relief appearances, prompting optimism that he could be better than expected. After his first season, Luebke signed a deal that guaranteed him $12 million over four years with two options valued at $7.5 million and $10 million. This makes his total contract value 6 years and $29.5 million if the two options are exercised. Overall, Luebke is probably the best comparison to Odorizzi.
As the Rays have shown in the Moore and Davis cases, they like to extend players until after their fifth year of service time and add options for their last year of arbitration and first two years of free agency. So, this would give Odorizzi five years guaranteed on top of three options. For guaranteed money, $11 million seems fairly reasonable given the comparisons with Davis, Luebke, and Moore. This money would be split something like $700,000 in the first year, $800,000 in the second, $1 million in the third, $3.5 million in the fourth, and $5 million in the fifth. As far as options, a first year option valued at $6.5 million, a second year at $7.5 million, and a third year at $9 million seems reasonable. So this would bring Odorizzi’s final deal to 5 years at $11 million with a maximum value at 8 years for $34 million. Considering that the going rate for a number three starter on the open market is around $12-$14 million a year, this would become a major bargain for the Rays if Odorizzi can reach his potential.
Whether an extension actually happens comes down to if Jake Odorizzi is willing to accept such a deal. The deal would obviously favor the Rays if Odorizzi reaches his potential, but it also gives Odorizzi financial security. $11 million is a lot of money–would Odorizzi turn that down in hopes of a bigger payday in the future? As a lesser-touted prospect, that type of deal could be enticing. The Rays have plenty of time to look at an Odorizzi extension this year, and they could also consider signing Odorizzi after his first year like they did with Davis. If they can get Odorizzi locked up for cheap at some point, it could reap big benefits down the line.