The Rangers announced they’ve signed Jacob deGrom to a five-year deal. It’s a $185MM guarantee, reports Jeff Passan of ESPN (Twitter link). The deal includes a full no-trade clause and a conditional option for the 2028 campaign that could take its total value to $222MM, according to Passan.
“We are thrilled that Jacob deGrom has decided to become a Texas Rangergeneral manager Chris Young said in the press release. “Over a number of seasons, Jacob has been a standout Major League pitcher, and he gives us a dominant performer at the top of our rotation. One of our primary goals this off-season is to strengthen our starting pitching, and we are adding one of the best.”
It’s the biggest move of the offseason to date and the latest massive free agent strike out of Arlington. The Rangers committed more than a half-billion dollars to the trio of Corey Seager, Marcus Semin and John Gray lastwinter. That was designed to lay the foundation for a full-fledged return to contention in 2023. The Rangers didn’t see their desired steps forward from a win-loss perspective in 2022, largely because of a lackluster rotation behind Gray and Martin Perez. Texas has suggested they were prepared to attack the top of the market to fortify the biggest weak spot on the roster. They’ve done so with a shocking five-year deal for arguably the sport’s best pitcher.
deGrom is one of the most accomplished arms of his generation. While he fell to the ninth round of the 2010 draft and didn’t reach the majors until just shy of his 26th birthday in 2014, he immediately cemented himself as one of the game’s top pitchers. deGrom worked to a 2.69 ERA in his first 22 starts to secure the NL Rookie of the Year award and kick off a career as one of the league’s top hurlers.
The righty posted an ERA between 2.54 and 3.53 in each of the next three seasons, twice receiving down-ballot MVP support. Already a borderline ace, he took his game to new heights in 2018. deGrom twirled 217 innings with an MLB-best 1.70 ERA to secure his first Cy Young. The Mets inked him to a 120.5mm extension after that season. He followed up by repeating as the Senior Circuit’s best pitcher, claiming a second Cy Young with a 2.43 mark over 204 innings. He had another dominant season in the abbreviated 2020 campaign, and got off to one of the greatest first halves in history in ’21.
Through his first 15 starts that year, the four-time All-Star posted a microscopic 1.08 ERA while striking out an incredible 45.1% of opposing hitters. He was nagged by some minor health issues throughout the first few months, and that culminated in an injured list for forearm tightness right around the All-Star Break. While that wasn’t initially expected to lead to an extended absence, deGrom would wind up missing the remainder of the season. That September, New York president Sandy Alderson said deGrom had been dealing with a low-grade tear in his UCL, an eyebrow-raising assertion considering the right-hander had undergone Tommy John surgery before making his MLB debut. The pitcher refuted that, calling his ligament “perfectly fine.”
After a full offseason, deGrom was expected to return in 2022. Late in Spring Training, he felt some soreness during a between-starts throwing program. He was diagnosed with a stress reaction in his scapula and shut back down, and the injury wound up costing him the first four months of this past season. By the time he returned to the mound in early August, more than a full calendar year had gone by.
With that kind of layoff, one might’ve expected deGrom to show some signs of rust. Instead, he returned as his peak self, immediately dominating opponents yet again. The Stetson product averaged an absurd 98.9 MPH on his fastball and 92.6 MPH on the cutter/slider that serves as his go-to secondary offering. He struck out 42.7% of opponents against a minuscule 3.3% walk percentage. Opposing hitters swung and missed at 21.1% of his total pitches; no other starting pitcher with 50+ innings had a swinging strike rate above 17%. He struck out eight over six innings during his lone playoff start against San Diego.
A three-homer outing in Atlanta to end his season kicked deGrom’s ERA up to 3.08 in his abbreviated season, but there’s little doubt he’s still capable of performing at his peak level if healthy. No pitcher on the planet is as dominant as deGrom on a per-start basis.
High-upside as this signing can be for the Rangers, there’s certainly plenty of risk in this kind of commitment to a pitcher who lost significant chunks of the past two seasons with arm issues. He’s worked just 162 1/3 innings (including playoffs) since the start of 2021. While deGrom had no control of the prorated season in 2020, he’ll still be expected to shoulder a full rotation workload despite having tossed just 224 1/3 cumulative innings over the past three years.
deGrom turns 35 years old in June. There’s no indication he’s on the verge of any performance regression. Texas’ commitment runs through deGrom’s age-39 campaign, and there’s certainly the potential for the deal to go sideways if his form tails off later into his 30’s. Now-former teammate Max Scherzer and fellow top free agent Justin Verlander have shown it’s not of the question for a pitcher to remain at peak form as he approaches 40. Neither Scherzer nor Verlander had dealt with the kind of injuries in their mid-30’s that have plagued deGrom, though.
More to come.