DALLAS — The Rangers made their presence felt at the MLB Winter Meetings in San Diego by signing another starting pitcher. No, it wasn’t Carlos Rodon joining Jacob deGrom at the top of the rotation, but Texas did come to terms with another left-handed pitcher with swing-and-miss stuff.
As was announced mid-afternoon on Tuesday, the Rangers had reached an agreement with former Los Angeles Dodgers hurler Andrew Heaney on a two-year deal worth $25 million, with an opt out after the 2023 season. Incentives and potential bonuses could make the deal worth $37 million over the next two seasons.
Heaney, 32 in June, joins an increasingly crowded rotation for the Rangers, which now includes the recently signed ace deGrom, incumbents Martin Perez and Jon Gray, and early-offseason trade acquisition Jake Odorizzi.
Similar to deGrom, Heaney was very good when he was on the mound in 2022. However, the lefty missed time with shoulder issues at two separate points during the summer, appearing in 16 games with the Dodgers while tossing 72 ⅔ innings. Heaney also had shoulder and elbow problems as recently as 2019 while with the Angels and underwent a Tommy John operation back in July of 2016.
Nevertheless, when he could take the bump, Heaney posted stellar numbers for Los Angeles. With a career-best ERA of 3.10, WHIP of 1.087, K/9 of 13.6, K/BB of 5.79, and H/9 of 7.4, Heaney set new benchmarks for his nine years in the big leagues.
These numbers can partially be attributed to a change in Heaney’s repertoire, going from curveball to slider and staying with a fastball/slider mix for 95% of his offerings. Another key was the Dodgers limiting Heaney’s exposure to lineups with an average of around 4 ⅓ innings per start. Heaney reached 80 pitches or more in just seven of his 16 outings and topped out at 91 pitches.
That might not sound efficient for a player getting paid as a starting pitcher but that’s baseball in the 2020s as teams look for max effort over shorter bursts with the hope that depth can carry them through 162 games. That formula worked well for Heaney when he was healthy with the Dodgers and the Rangers will likely look to duplicate the recipe in 2023.
With Los Angeles helping Heaney discover what works well for him, the Oklahoma City, Oklahoma native now slots nicely into a much-improved rotation. Given the injury history of several of those starters, however, you can imagine that general manager Chris Young will continue to keep an eye out for more starting pitching.
Rodon is still out there, and while Texas could quickly start pushing the limits of the 2023 luxury tax threshold ($233 million) if they keep angling for top free agents, Rangers’ ownership might decide that 2023 needs to be the year to make the big jump in the standings and blow right by it.
The luxury tax does not preclude teams from signing anyone, it just serves more as a safeguard and deterrent for teams looking to exceed the top ranges of payroll. But Texas might not care about that as they make a bid to overthrow the Houston Astros in the American League West.
After all, you don’t go out and get Bruce Bochy, Mike Maddux and deGrom a calendar year after giving $500 million to Corey Seager and Marcus Semien without further fleshing out the roster. The idea is to capitalize, especially on the deGrom contract, earlier rather than to risk it going too long without results.
If nothing else, the Rangers can come home from the Winter Meetings this week with the knowledge that they have a starting rotation that far exceeds the 2022 edition. They have options now even if further top free agent starters are off the table.
There are many avenues to continue to improve – left field and bullpen help could actually be the next items on the shopping list. Don’t discount the possibility of Texas swinging a trade for a more conventional 200-inning rotation stalwart to bump Odorizzi to middle relief, as well.
With an arm that perhaps doesn’t have as many pitches per start in it as you would traditionally expect, but one that gets strikeouts at a rate near the top of the league, Heaney is another piece of the puzzle as the Rangers build out their rotation and flesh out its depth with an eye toward playing baseball well into October.
Do you think Andrew Heaney was a sufficient addition to pair with Jacob deGrom in the Rangers rotation? Share your thoughts with Matt on Twitter @FisherWritesMLB.