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Jacob deGrom is an elite, expensive option for Rangers rotation

The Texas Rangers are said to be playing at the top of the market for free agent pitching and there’s no one higher on that mountain than Jacob deGrom.
Credit: AP
New York Mets starting pitcher Jacob deGrom (48) reacts as he leaves the field after the fifth inning of the first baseball game of a doubleheader against the Milwaukee Brewers, Wednesday, July 7, 2021, in New York. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

DALLAS — The Rangers fan base was buzzing this week as Jon Heyman reported from the Vegas GM meetings that top tier pitcher Jacob deGrom had expressed interest in signing with the team. Read that again. DeGrom, perhaps the best pitcher on the planet when he’s on a mound, has expressed his interest in Texas.

It’s not a surprise that the Rangers, having opened the checkbook last winter to enhance the offense, and looking to do so again this year with pitching, would have interest in the 34-year old righty. But it hasn’t been often that a free agent pitcher of deGrom’s ilk has brought up their initial interest in coming to Texas before negotiations begin.

Of course, landing deGrom – a two-time Cy Young winner – isn’t as easy as both sides just liking each other and signing on the dotted line.

For deGrom to consider Texas, he needs to be cognizant at the later stages of his career. Could the Rangers contend this year or next? It depends on the additional moves that they make this winter.

From the way Texas is talking, it sounds like they are intending to challenge Houston and Seattle for the top spots in the AL West as soon as the upcoming season. With Clayton Kershaw looking more and more likely to return to the Dodgers, having deGrom as a “backup plan” doesn’t sound terrible.

The career Met presents a puzzle for the Rangers as well as he’s coming off of a season in which he spent more than half of the year on the injured list. DeGrom didn’t make his season debut until August, after experiencing shoulder tightness in Spring Training. Since he also finished the 2021 season on the injured list with forearm tightness and an elbow sprain, that made it a full 13-months since he had pitched.

DeGrom has also had injuries in 2020, 2019 and 2018. To his credit and advantage, though, when he was on the mound, he was outstanding, posting sub-1.00 WHIP and over 100 strikeouts in each of the last three seasons, despite having pitched in fewer than 100 innings in those years.

DeGrom didn’t allow more than three runs in a game except for ONE this season, only did that ONCE the year before that, and only ONCE the year before that. That’s a pretty good track record, even if the health for a full season hasn’t been there in some time.

And that’s the rub. Because he’s so dominant when he pitches, despite the lengthy injury history, it could mean that deGrom can ask whatever he wants for an annual salary and probably get it.

With that in mind, the righty made $33.5 million last season and is reportedly looking for a $40 million salary next season. Since deGrom made it known that Texas is an attractive destination, is he willing to go for, say a two-year, $50-60 million deal? Or is he going to ask for a full $40 million for each of the next three seasons? There almost certainly won’t be any discounts.

Meanwhile, the Rangers have to take into consideration that deGrom will turn down the Mets’ $19.65 million qualifying offer. That means that if Texas does sign deGrom, they would have to forfeit their second-highest draft pick, along with $500,000 in international bonus money.

The first part of that – losing the draft pick – might not be as big a deal this year. The Rangers have a top-10 farm system going into next year and might consider one pick an acceptable loss for a free agent the caliber of Jacob deGrom. The second part could be a bigger deal – Texas has always been a big player in the international market. But again, if the goal is to win now and deGrom fits into that equation, then it seems appropriate to pull the trigger.

When considering making a big play for deGrom, Texas also has to factor in another target – Carlos Rodon. Rodon, who was given the qualifying offer by the San Francisco Giants, has posted similarly ace-like numbers over the last two seasons and would only be going into his age-31 season. While it would be great to have both Rodon and deGrom, the combined price tag, along with the combined forfeiture of draft picks and international money might be more than Texas is willing to part with, even under a regime that is willing to spend.

Texas may choose to go after Rodon instead, opting to try and extend their window of contention for longer with a four or five-year deal for the former White Sox and Giants lefty.

It’s a fascinating question for the Rangers. Should they commit big money in the short term to Jacob deGrom and have a pitcher who is unlike any other that has topped their rotation in decades when he’s fit to pitch? Or are their resources better allocated elsewhere to further sustain a rebuild that they are hopeful is nearing its grand opening?

Do you think the Rangers will go all out for Jacob deGrom? Share your predictions with Matt on Twitter @FisherWritesMLB.

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