In less than a week, the Astros have lost starting left-hander Framber Valdez — potentially for the season — to a fracture on the index finger of his pitching hand and perennial would-be up-and-comer Forrest Whitley to an elbow injury that could require Tommy John surgery. So, the Astros did what they needed to do and signed free agent Jake Odorizzi reportedly to a two-year deal.
While the team is waiting for a second opinion on both players, the odds are both will miss most if not all of the 2021 season. While anything Whitley could give the team this season would have just been a bonus considering the near constant struggles for the 23-year-old prospect, Valdez was considered perhaps the second best arm in the rotation. And as cautious as the Astros have been about making significant signings in the offseason, they didn't have much choice.
Odorizzi, 30, represented the last of the "big name" pitchers on the free agent market. He struggled through injuries on his way to the worst season of his career in 2020 with the Twins, pitching only thirteen-and-two-thirds innings. The Astros are hoping he can bounce back to his 2019 self
when he had the best year of his career and made the All-Star team.
A hard throwing righty, Odorizzi has a low-to-mid-nineties four-seam fastball he likes to throw up in the zone. He pairs that with a breaking pitch that dives out of the zone. He has the ability to be a quality strikeout pitcher if he can stay healthy. If he does, he could eat 130 to 150 innings for the Astros this season and be a quality replacement for Valdez.
The deal also keeps him in Houston through next season with a player option beyond that. Given the likely losses of Zack Greinke and Justin Verlander in 2022, it doesn't hurt to have some insurance. And if Valdez can come back this season, it potentially gives them significant depth leading into the postseason.
As for Whitley, it is impossible to gauge his progress. Despite being only 23, he has missed significant time throughout his minor-league career and never been able to put together a meaningful full season. Tommy John surgery could mean another two years before he is able to even attempt another shot at making the major league club. That seems a long ways off.
For now, the Astros will regroup without him and Valdez and hope Odorizzi can stabilize a lineup that has been shaken only a couple weeks into spring training.