Ahead of the official opening of the Baseball Winter Meeting in San Diego on Sunday, one of the offseason teams’ biggest prizes jumped in late Friday.
Jacob de Grom, who had spent his entire career with the New York Mets, signed a five-year, $185 million contract to play for the Texas Rangers. The pitcher had canceled his Mets contract, leaving $32.5 million on the table.
The signing shakes two divisions, weakens the Mets after a 101-win season in the National League East and strengthens the Rangers, who previously added manager Bruce Bochy, who won three World Series rings with San Francisco
It also breaks a deadlock of top free-agent starters, leaving only Justin Verlander and Carlos Rodón.
Both New York teams are after Verlander, who won his third Cy Young Award while leading the Houston Astros to the world championship last season. He has ties to both the Mets, where he worked with Max Scherzer in Detroit, and the Yankees, where he was a teammate of Gerrit Cole with the Houston Astros.
Verlander is also the target of the Dodgers, who are looking for another starter following Walker Buehler’s Tommy John surgery. Verlander has an off-season home in Los Angeles and a wife, model Kate Upton, who loves the Hollywood lifestyle.
Meanwhile, signing de Grom was a shot across the bow for general managers who have been sleepwalking in the four weeks since the World Series ended.
The 35-year-old right-hander signed a pact that includes a no-trade clause and a conditional option for the 2028 season, taking his potential value to $222 million, according to ESPN’s Jeff Passan.
Rangers also spent last winter strongly, signing Corey Seager, Marcus Semien and Jon Gray but still haven’t been able to return to the AL West – largely because of thin pitching.
De Grom’s signing addresses that weakness with a huge exclamation mark.
While with the Mets in 2018-19, he won back-to-back National League Cy Young Awards and also won two strikeout crowns and an ERA title. However, due to problems with his shoulder and elbow, he has only made 26 starts over the past two seasons.
Rangers believe he is healthy again, although he will celebrate his 35th birthday in June.
“We are thrilled that Jacob deGrom has chosen to become a Texas Ranger,” general manager Chris Young said in a press release. “Jacob has been a standout major league pitcher for several seasons. He gives us a dominant performer at the top of our rotation.
“One of our main goals this off-season was to strengthen our starting pitch and we’re adding one of the best.”
Texas’ top pitcher last season was left-hander Martin Pérez, who Rangers hope to pair with de Grom in a powerful right-left tandem.
The lifelong National Leaguer led the majors with a 1.70 earned run average in 2018 as he pitched 217 innings and a year later hit a still-solid 2.43 mark. In his only playoff game last year, he hit eight San Diego Padres in six innings during the NL Wild Card Series.
A former NL Rookie of the Year, de Grom has made the All-Star team four times. The 6’4″ strikeout artist hails from DeLand, FL, who has expressed a desire to play closer to home.
With Verlander and hitting outfielder Aaron Judge yet to sign, de Grom’s move is by far the biggest of the current offseason.
The sixth-biggest deal ever received by a free-agent pitcher is behind the deals signed by Cole ($324 million), Stephen Strasburg ($245 million), David Price ($217 million) , Scherzer ($210 million with Washington) and Zack Greinke ($206.5 million). His annual average is $37 million, trailing only Scherzer’s $43.3 million.
Rangers lose their top pick in the 2023 amateur draft plus $500,000 in international bonus funds. They currently have a salary obligation of $177 million, a club record.
But Rangers may not be done as they seek to end the team’s six-year absence from postseason play. The team is now about $40 million short of the lowest payroll tax of $233 million.
De Grom’s loss will add pressure on the Mets, who so far are keeping only Scherzer and Carlos Carrasco out of their 2022 rotation, and on several other clubs, particularly the Dodgers and Yankees, who were also hoping to sign De Grom.
The Mets get an extra pick after the fourth round of the amateur draft to compensate for their absence.