Untouchable ace Jacob deGrom has agreed to a deal with the Texas Rangers, the club announced Friday.
The contract is for five years and $185 million, with a conditional sixth-year option that would increase its value to $222 million, per ESPN's Jeff Passan. DeGrom reportedly received a full no-trade clause.
Having watched the average annual value record for starters skyrocket — Max Scherzer reset it last offseason with his $43.3 million per year Mets pact — the 34-year-old exercised the opt-out clause in the five-year, $137.5 million extension he signed prior to the 2019 season.
This deal fell short of Scherzer's annual salary at $37 million per year, but its length provides security for a pitcher who has faced a concerning string of injuries the past few years.
Despite those durability questions, deGrom was the highest-impact pitcher on the market. With very few pitchers in his realm, his profile compared to Scherzer’s last winter, entering his age-38 season, and Justin Verlander’s this winter, entering an age-40 season.
Rangers' free-agent shopping spree continues from last offseason
You might remember that the Rangers spent big last offseason.
Actually, that's an understatement. The Rangers spent more than any other team in MLB history last offseason, with a 10-year, $325 million deal for Corey Seager, seven years and $175 million for Marcus Semien, four years and $56 million for Jon Gray and a few more non-negligible contracts for the likes of Martín Pérez, Garrett Richards, Brad Miller and Kole Calhoun.
The Rangers were hoping the spree would vault them from the AL West cellar back into contention in 2022, but that did not happen. Instead, the team was only a little better, going from 60 wins in 2021 to 68 wins last season, and the organization ended up firing president of baseball operations Jon Daniels.
Daniels' replacement, general manager Chris Young, is apparently interested in using the same playbook.
DeGrom went from good to great to elite with Mets
DeGrom announced an intention to test the market even prior to the 2022 season, but that did very little to quiet speculation about his future in New York. Originally a floppy-haired, surprise star who claimed the NL Rookie of the Year Award in 2014, the former college shortstop who never stopped improving became a phenomenon at Citi Field.
From his debut through 2017, deGrom was a very good pitcher with a five-pitch arsenal whose fastball sat between 94 and 96 mph. He twice received down-ballot Cy Young consideration. In 2018, though, he morphed into an arguably unprecedented baseball Terminator, winning back-to-back Cy Young awards.
Now, he regularly touches 100 mph or higher with his fastball. And while he will occasionally offer a changeup or curveball to keep things interesting, he operates — for all intents and purposes — with two impossible pitches: that fastball and a 92 mph slider, relentlessly spotted down and away to righties and down and in to lefties.
The only problem? His pursuit of pitching nirvana has recently been interrupted by injuries, raising the question of whether the pitches are nearly as impossible for him to throw as they are for hitters to hit. Forearm and elbow discomfort ended deGrom's 2021 after 15 starts, and a stress reaction in his scapula delayed his 2022 comeback until August.
Since the start of 2018, deGrom leads all pitchers (min. 500 IP) in ERA (2.05), strikeout rate (35.5%) and strikeout-minus-walk rate (30.3%). He’s second in batting average allowed (.186) and HR/9 (0.71). In his shortened 2022 season, that home run rate was elevated and represented just about the only way anyone scored on him. Advanced metrics built to be predictive, such as Baseball Prospectus’ DRA, say deGrom's performance was in line with his 2018-21 window of dominance, even if his 3.08 ERA didn’t quite match up.
Although the Mets’ season ended in disappointment, deGrom twirled six innings to earn their lone victory over the San Diego Padres in the NL wild-card series. He’s 4-1 with a 2.90 ERA in five career postseason starts.
Does it make sense for the Rangers?
In contrast to conventional wisdom, sometimes a baseball team should succumb to the sunk-cost fallacy. Assuming it was spent wisely enough, an investment in payroll that doesn’t produce a postseason performance calls for doubling down, lest the window be wasted.
Last offseason, the Rangers spent more than half a billion dollars on Corey Seager, Marcus Semien and Jon Gray (and those contracts aren’t coming off the books anytime soon) only to finish 26 games below .500 and miss the postseason for the sixth straight year. Even before Opening Day, it was debatable whether they’d done enough to contend. And sure, Semien and Seager were slow to get started, but finishing 2022 with the fifth-worst starting rotation ERA in baseball offered a pretty clear mandate: The Rangers needed pitching.
Well, by acting early and aggressively to snag deGrom, they’ve added the most talented pitcher on the planet. If you’re a baseball team that wants to win — which is supposed to be the point for all of them, but Texas in particular has telegraphed that winning is not merely a goal but a mandate — employing Jacob deGrom makes obvious sense.
The less obvious caveat — which Mets fans can perhaps cling to in cold comfort — is that five years and $185 million is an awfully big commitment for a pitcher who made only 11 starts last season and hasn’t thrown 100 innings since 2019. Questions about deGrom's durability — and, indeed, the intrinsic durability of throwing over 100 mph regularly in your mid-30s — hang over him as he prepares to enter his age-35 season. And Texas figures to still be paying him $37 million a year when he’s 39.
For my money (which, it’s not), deGrom is worth the gamble, especially as a later-bloomer who didn’t pitch extensively until he was in pro ball. If he stays healthy, he has plenty of miles (per hour) left in his arm.
Does it make sense for deGrom?
He’ll have to settle for just the second-highest average annual value in baseball history — behind that of his now-former teammate Max Scherzer — but deGrom got more years and, thus, more total money than many expected. And now he can spend the holiday season comfortable in the knowledge of where he’s playing for the next half-decade.
The Rangers have made a number of changes the past few months as they look to move on from a disappointing season. Those involved elevating former pitcher Chris Young to head of baseball operations, bringing in three-time champion Bruce Bochy to manage and, most, recently adding Mike Maddux as pitching coach.
Maddux was the pitching coach in D.C. when Scherzer won consecutive Cy Young awards there, so perhaps deGrom heard good things about him when the two aces shared a dugout this past year.
And as much as New York fans and even the front office might have liked the idea of deGrom as a career Met, he talked about his intention to opt out of that contract as soon as spring training camps opened last March. He has had time to adjust to the possibility-turned-reality of moving on.