AP Photo/Adam Hunger
Jacob deGrom is now a Texas Ranger, and his bank account and team visibility are better for it.
Whether the Rangers will win as much as they want at deGrom is another question entirely. And in a related story, the question now is what will the Mets do with the deGrom-sized hole in their starting rotation.
Let’s assume the Mets didn’t let deGrom go without a fight. Or rather, a solid offer. Joel Sherman of New York Post It was reportedly in the three-year, $120 million range. Had the 34-year-old accepted, the $40 million average annual value of his deal would have trailed only behind multiple Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer.
But now, can you blame deGrom for accepting Rangers’ $185 million five-year offer?
Texas Rangers @ranger
The best pitcher in baseball is ours. pic.twitter.com/ZydQmZSqoW
no No you can’t. In addition, to be more than what the Mets – who allegedly I never had to make a definitive offer — offered deGrom, a lot more than even the most generous contract forecasters gave it credit for.
deGrom is the big winner here
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It’s fitting that deGrom ends his first foray into freelance by shattering expectations. history of his career, so to speak.
Far from being an unmissable prospect, deGrom was just a ninth-round pick at Stetson University in 2010. His pro career got off to an awkward start when he underwent Tommy John surgery shortly thereafter, and at no point between then and there was he considered a top 100 talent when he made his major league debut in May 2014.
Of course we all know what happened next.
National League Rookie of the Year in 2014. All-Star and postseason sensation in 2015. Then continued excellence in 2016 and 2017, followed by a conversion to “deGOAT” beginning with the first of the consecutive seasons ending with Cy Young Awards in 2018 and 2019.
Between 2018 and 2021, deGrom achieved a 1.94 ERA with 655 more strikeouts than walks. This was largely a drill in which he threw hard, harder, harder, and harder, culminating in him averaging 99.3 mph on his square slider and 91.4 mph on his slider in 1921.
Nonetheless, there’s good reason why there was an audible gasp from around the baseball world when Rangers announced their deal with deGrom.
The short version: The guy was out for over a year between July 7, 2021 and August 2, 2022, first with forearm and elbow problems, then with persistent shoulder injuries. He has only made 12 starts since that fateful date in July.
There was never any doubt that deGrom made the right choice when he resigned from his contract with the Mets, but his age and the chilling shadow those injuries cast invariably dampened expectations of what he’s going to see on the open market would find. No one (including us) saw him get anything longer than three years, let alone a warranty at the top end of the $100 million range.
And yet here we are. Or rather, there he is. The same Jacob deGrom, only now with more money than he could spend in several lifetimes. That deserves a bit of the old cap and an unironic “good for him”.
The Rangers still get an ‘A’ for effort
AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez
As deGrom’s contract landed so far beyond expectations, it’s safe to assume his agents at VC Sports Group made a tough deal with an organization that really was desperate enough to start pitching.
General Manager Chris Young, who took over as head of the team’s front office after Jon Daniels was fired in August, actually said This was the case in November. And rightly so, considering Rangers starters finished 25th in rWAR last season.
Cold Take: Signing deGrom will help move that needle in the right direction.
Semi-sharp attitude: Not enough to make Rangers a good team.
The Rangers were more than a player away from better things as they lost 94 games this year, and FanGraphs WAR predictions for 2023 still only list them as the fourth-best team in the American League West.
Even with six spots up for grabs now, Rangers are less than a shoo-in for this year’s playoffs. That could change depending on what else they do with their winter, but that depends on how far they’re willing to stretch their payroll. With $170 million, it is expected to set a new franchise record as early as 2023.
Furthermore, Young’s reasoning for suggesting that deGrom can be the deciding factor the club needs is at least semi-suspicious:
“Obviously we acknowledge that there have been some injuries in recent years. But we’re also comfortable with how Jacob ended the season, how the ball came out of his arm right at the end of the season. We feel we have a great medical team. We have great confidence in their ability to keep our players on the pitch.”
The fact check that Rangers have a great medical team is true. According to Spotrac, the 623 days their pitchers were on the injured list in 2022 was the fourth fewest in MLB.
Still, a great medical team is not the same as a stable of miracle workers. And while deGrom could potentially help his own durability cause by slacking off on the Velo, he’s of an age where that could happen whether he wants it or not.
This was even the case this season as his fastball speed was old at the start and then started to drop:
Chart via Google Sheets
While deGrom found gas again in his only start in the playoffs, that was a seven-day break. It’s a luxury he won’t have often in the future.
Of course, deGrom doesn’t necessarily have to make every last penny of his $185 million in 2023 alone. But sooner would certainly be better as both his dominance and durability are likely to become even bigger question marks as he nears his season aged 39 and the end of the guaranteed portion of his contract in 2027.
If Rangers don’t win because of deGrom in the short term, winning despite him doesn’t get any easier in the long run. The amount of money they have invested in him, Corey Seager ($32.5 million AAV) and Marcus Semien ($25 million AAV) will require Rangers to invest in virtually every player for years to come score they develop.
The current strength of their farming system makes this theoretically doable, but there’s a reason “prospects will break your heart” is a saying in reality. And since Rangers’ recent history isn’t exactly littered with homegrown success stories, it’s hard to decide when in doubt.
All of this is to say that the Rangers don’t get a “good for them” to go along with deGrom’s “good for him.” What they earn is more like a “good luck.”
Pressure’s on you now, Mets
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It’s only been a few weeks since Mike Puma from the New York Post reported that the “organizational belief” within the Mets was that deGrom would stay.
Well you know what they say. Money talks and organizational beliefs go.
The good thing about this situation for the Mets is that deGrom’s decision didn’t come at a moment when the team had few options for retreat. Justin Verlander, himself a three-time Cy Young Award winner, and Carlos Rodón, who may have been MLB’s most dominant pitcher on a rate basis for the past two years, are still available.
The Mets are determined to add one of them, according to SNY’s Andy Martino, who goes on to add that Verlander is “central” in the team’s plans.
Neither Verlander nor Rodón were ever cheap, and it’s safe to assume their prices only rose after deGrom’s deal with Texas. Dealing with the Mets could be a means of boosting those tags even further, since the team’s need for a deGrom-like ace is now hypothetically much easier to capitalize on.
So it’s a good thing Mets owner Steve Cohen’s pockets are deep. At least deeper than any other MLB owner, which makes it all the more disappointing when they suddenly become superficial in pursuit of Verlander or Rodón.
If neither of them turns out to be coming to Queens, the sting of deGrom’s departure will become a wound the Mets will have a hard time covering up in 2023 and beyond.
Statistics courtesy of Baseball Reference, FanGraphs, and Baseball Savant.