The Cubs have been repeatedly linked to the Tampa Bay Rays in trade rumors, which makes sense on a number of levels. The Rays have been flush with pitchers while the Cubs have chosen to build with bats. The Rays operate with frugality while the Cubs are more willing to spend. Then you’ve got the Joe Maddon connection that has since been bolstered by the hiring of pitching coach Jim Hickey, who spent the last 11 years in Tampa.
Chicago has already been connected to free agent Alex Cobb and the Cubs are frequently mentioned in trade scenarios for Chris Archer, who is sure to command a hefty price tag. But those Cobb and Archer rumors have been picked clean on Cubs Insider and elsewhere, so maybe it’s time to give another Tampa pitcher the old once-over.
Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times wrote that the Rays “are going to trade at least a couple of their bigger-name, higher-salaried players,” naming starter Jake Odorizzi as one of the most likely to move. Odorizzi was the subject of trade rumors last offseason, some of which involved the Cubs and *gulp* Javy Baez.
Drafted 32nd overall in 2008 by the Brewers, Odorizzi was moved to the Royals as part of the Zach Greinke deal in 2010. The Illinois native was then shipped to the Rays along with World Series closer Mike Montgomery as part of the James Shields/Wil Myers trade in 2012. Clearly he impressed more than a few scouts to be part of those two blockbuster trades.
After brief stints in the majors in 2012 and ’13, Odorizzi had his first full season with Tampa in 2014. He had particularly good years in 2015 (3.35 ERA, 3.61 FIP) and 2016 (3.69 ERA, 4.31 FIP), making him a rotation mainstay with the Rays.
There is a lot to like about the Tampa right-hander if you’re running a rival front office. He is entering his age-28 season, so he’s still young and is under team control through 2019. And despite what looks like a very reasonable salary, the Rays’ desire to limit payroll could result in a willingness to move him for an equally reasonable return.
But as Bleacher Nation’s Michael Cerami recently noted, it’s not all good for Odorizzi. He struggled in 2017 with a 4.14 ERA (5.36 FIP) and a career-low 2.08 K/BB ratio. Perhaps most troubling, he allowed a 47.3 percent fly ball rate in 2017, which led to a whopping 30 homers over only 143 innings. Those numbers are almost John Lackey-esque and would be a problem on days where the wind was blowing out at Wrigley Field. Or under pretty much any other weather conditions.
Odorizzi did finish strong in September, posting a 1.03 ERA is final five starts. He relies mainly on a low 90’s fastball and split-change he learned from Cobb. So the ability to pitch well at the major league level is obviously there for Rays hurler, it just tends to come in spurts.
While not a top-of-the-rotation arm, Odorizzi would fill the Cubs’ need for a No. 4 or 5 starter over the next couple seasons at a relatively nominal salary. There’s a lot of value in a decent starter who’s only projected to earn $6.5 million in 2018 and who’s still controlled for another year after that, but the real cost here would be the prospect/player return.
Theo Epstein should hang up the phone immediately if he even hears Rays GM Erik Neander utter “Jav…” Same goes for Ian Happ, Albert Almora Jr., or Kyle Schwarber, among others. While Odorizzi seems like he could be a decent option at the back end of the rotation in Chicago, the overall cost is going to need to be very low for this to really make sense for the Cubs.