The MLB Hot Stove has only had a few ripples until this point, but we saw our first major splash on Friday night with the shocking news that Jacob deGrom has agreed to a five-year, $185 million contract with the Rangers. The deal includes an option for a sixth year which could bring the total value to $222 million. His new $37 million AAV (average annual value) is second all-time behind his 2022 teammate Max Scherzer and his $43.33 AAV.
Given the injury risk, most baseball pundits saw deGrom having to settle for a shorter deal, somewhere in the area of three years. In his annual Top 111 Free Agents piece, our own Matthew Pouliot had deGrom landing a four-year deal worth $152 million. His reasoning was that deGrom would likely have plenty of three-year offers, but whoever offered four years would get a deal done. Well, apparently the Rangers blew everyone out of the water to get their man.
The two-time National League Cy Young Award winner might very well have known that he wasn't going to do better elsewhere. According to Joel Sherman of the New York Post, the Mets' offer to deGrom was somewhere the area of three years and $120 million. The two sides were in contact on Thursday, but there was no communication on Friday until shortly before the deal with the Rangers was announced. We can speculate on why the situation played out as it did, but odds are his camp knew that he had a great deal.
As for the Rangers and their fans, they should be over the moon about deGrom arrival to Arlington. The club spent a boatload of money last offseason with the additions of Corey Seager, Marcus Semien, and Jon Gray, but that didn't stop them from losing 94 games and finishing in fourth-place in the AL West. Despite a surprise showing from Martín Pérez, the need for starting pitching was clear coming into this offseason. Rangers' starters ranked 25th in the majors this past season with a 4.63 ERA. Now with the addition of deGrom, who is capable of being the best pitcher in the world on any given night, the rotation suddenly looks more respectable. He'll join a group which also includes Perez, Gray, recent trade acquisition Jake Odorizzi, and Dane Dunning.
The injury risk with deGrom speaks for itself. The 34-year-old has thrown a grand total of 156 1/3 innings over the past two seasons. He was well on his way to one of the best pitching seasons of all-time in 2021 before a cascade of injuries brought him down. It started with a side injury in May followed by a brief issue with his shoulder, but the big one was an elbow injury which was at one point described as a partial tear of his ulnar collateral ligament. He didn't pitch again after July 7. DeGrom came into spring training this year with a clean bill of health, but it wasn't long before he suffered a stress reaction in his right scapula which prevented him from starting the season on time. In fact, he didn't make his season debut until August 2.
DeGrom was amazing upon his return this summer, but he reached 100 pitches in just one out of his 11 starts and appeared to run out of gas in September. His historic run of consecutive starts with three earned runs or fewer allowed came to an end in start against the Athletics on September 24 in which he allowed five runs over four innings. He was knocked around for three home runs by the Braves in his next start, a weekend in which the Mets lost their grip on first place in the National League East.
From a fantasy perspective, not much changes in terms of deGrom's outlook. Globe Life Park tilts pitcher-friendly and the designated hitter now resides in both leagues. MLB is also introducing the balanced schedule next season where all 30 teams will play each other for at least one series. Like it always does with deGrom, it will come down to health. If he can stay on the mound, he's capable of being the best pitcher on the planet. The thing is, there's more evidence to suggest he won't be able to do that. This baked-in risk will almost certainly put him behind the likes of Corbin Burnes, Gerrit Cole, and Sandy Alcantara on draft boards, and maybe a couple more.
Losing deGrom is a tough blow for the Mets and their fans. It's often hard to separate the head from the heart with a homegrown player and a pitcher with his Hall of Fame resume, but the Mets still have multiple paths to success in 2023 and beyond. Per Andy Martino of SNY, Justin Verlander is now “front and center” for the Mets, setting the stage for a potential reunion with his former Tigers teammate Max Scherzer. However, the club has also been in touch with Carlos Rodón, who is coming off a brilliant season with the Giants. Other possibilities include the likes of Japanese right-hander Kodai Senga, Jameson Taillon, Chris Bassitt, José Quintana, Taijuan Walker, and Andrew Heaney. The Mets need to secure two starting pitchers at minimum while also rebuilding their bullpen behind Edwin Díaz and figuring out their outfield situation with Brandon Nimmo in free agency. There's a lot of work to be done for a team which won 101 games in 2022, but owner Steve Cohen has resources to fill these needs, even if a big luxury tax penalty awaits.
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