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MLB Rumors: Jake Odorizzi, Minnesota Twins free agent starting pitcher, is foregoing the opportunity to test the market and is accepting the qualifying offer, per Ken Rosenthal. Odorizzi will receive $17.8 million guaranteed for 2020, and will then be eligible to re-enter the market next year with no draft pick compensation limiting his market.

Odorizzi had a career best 3.6 bWAR last year, and, turning 30 in March, he will be relatively young when he hits the market again after 2020. He was someone who could have found themselves in a difficult spot this offseason, given there are a number of free agent starting pitchers on the market, and given he had two below-average years in 2017 and 2018.

News came out that the Twins were talking with Zack Wheeler and his camp the other day:

Among folks the #MNTwins have had conversations with in the last 24 hours at the GM Meetings in Scottsdale: the Zack Wheeler camp. Took a few days to register interest, but it’s now there. He’s a very logical free agent fit here.

— Darren Wolfson (@DWolfsonKSTP) November 12, 2019
Zack Wheeler is going to get paid this winter, as he is one of the best starting pitchers on the open market. He has had two really solid seasons in a row, and now is deservedly in line for around $20 million per year for the next four to five years. I hate to ruin your day, but the Twins will not sign Gerrit Cole or Stephen Strasburg. With that said, Zack Wheeler is my top free agent target (excluding those two) because he is already an All Star caliber player with even more upside.

He has been an above average pitcher over the last two seasons and he stepped up to earn the inevitable contract last season:

3.96 ERA (4.54 MLB AVG)
3.48 FIP (4.51 MLB AVG)
8.98 K/9 (8.58 MLB AVG)
2.30 BB/9 (2.96 MLB AVG)
31.4 hard hit% (38.4 MLB AVG)
4.7 WAR (15th among MLB pitchers)
He is definitely an above average pitcher and he might be a bit underrated based on his effectiveness last season. I believe he can be even better.

According to BaseballSavant, the most similar pitcher to Zack Wheeler based on velocity and movement last season was free agent Gerrit Cole. In 2018, the most similar pitcher to Wheeler was Cy Young winner Jacob deGrom.

Wheeler matches up well with those two because of how good his fastball can be. He throws it at about 97 MPH and can top out at 100, and he compliments it well with a rare 91 MPH slider. Both were very good, but he just can’t seem to increase his strikeout percentage—which seems to be the key to becoming the best version of himself.

One of Wheeler’s problems seems to be locating the fastball with two strikes. The movement and velocity are extremely similar, but Cole has learned how to get the swing and miss. These two graphics illustrate each pitcher’s fastball with two strikes. Wheeler (left) leaves the pitches right over the middle, while Cole (right) tends to hit the top of the zone or above with the fastball to generate more strikeouts.

Zack Wheeler is definitely not Gerrit Cole and he probably never will be, but he has a lot of upside. Wheeler will be entering his 6th season next year, and when Cole was at this point in his career he had roughly the same stats. Wheeler actually has a higher career K/9 than Cole had entering his 6th season. All it took for him to take that next step in his career was the Astros picking him up and fixing him. At the time, the Astros were known as one of baseball’s most advanced teams in player development.

The Twins have now entered the conversation as one of baseballs most advanced teams in terms of getting the most out of their players. Zack Wheeler has been on the mess they call the New York Mets his whole career. If a team is going to sign him and turn him into an ace, I hope it is the Twins. A rotation led by Wheeler, Berrios, and hopefully Odorizzi would be very good.

Where does Wheeler rank in your free agent list? Is he someone you hope to see the Twins go after? Leave a comment and discuss below.

By accepting this deal, Odorizzi locks in a salary for 2020 at almost double what he made in 2019, and if he repeats his 2019 success, he will likely cash in with a much bigger contract after 2020 than he would get in 2019.

UPDATE— Chicago White Sox 1B/DH Jose Abreu is also accepting the qualifying offer, per reports. It appears every other free agent is rejecting it.

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