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New and improved: Rangers upgrade rotation with Jacob deGrom at the top

The Texas Rangers cast their net at the deep end of free agency again and landed big fish Jacob deGrom to lead their improving rotation.

ARLINGTON, Texas — Just as families were settling in for their first December weekend, as households were probably finishing their holiday decorations, the Texas Rangers gave the Metroplex sports fans an early present. 

Ten years after landing Yu Darvish as their last big ace, the Rangers’ PR team set the Internet ablaze by announcing the signing of free agent right-handed pitcher Jacob deGrom to a five-year, $185 million contract with an option for a sixth year that could bump the total to $222 million.

Excitement is going to run rampant through the DFW baseball community for the remainder of the winter, and rightfully so – after a franchise history of near misses, cost-conscious options, and “we tried,” the Rangers finally fronted the money to sign one of the premier free agent pitchers on the market. 

It’s not just that the Rangers landed a frontline starter simply by opening the pocket book, deGrom was the top target, the preferred choice, the number one arm that they needed. Even better than that, the feeling was mutual, as deGrom’s camp made it known toward the start of the winter that Arlington was a preferred destination. 

Turning 35-years-old in June, deGrom now joins Corey Seager (10-year, $325 million) and Marcus Semien (7-year, $175 million) as the third massive contract that Texas has doled out over the last two offseasons.

These expenditures signify the seriousness of Chris Young’s new regime to take back the American League West. Texas’ minor league system turned a corner in 2022 and some of the top prospects will have their chance to earn jobs in the days ahead. A mix of elite veterans and young blood has the makings of a balanced core for the future. 

For the present, there is deGrom. He undoubtedly becomes the ace of this staff, joining the team under the fresh tutelage of manager Bruce Bochy and pitching coach Mike Maddux. There is still time to add additions to the rotation, but for now, the Rangers have already improved. 

  1. Jacob deGrom – 2014 Rookie of the Year, 2-time Cy Young Award Winner, 4-time All-Star. In 2022: 5-4, 3.08 ERA, 11 Starts, 64.1 innings, 0.746 WHIP, 14.3 K/9.

The former New York Mets’ veteran has been one of the most dominant pitchers in the National League since reaching the majors in 2014. A late-bloomer who didn’t debut until age 26, deGrom has pitched like a generational talent. While he certainly comes with a lot of injury concerns – his last full season came in 2019 – it is undeniable that, whenever he does hit the mound, he embodies the word “elite.” 

The 34-year old brings a four-pitch mix to the hill, featuring a high-90s fastball, a slider, changeup and curveball. He is, undoubtedly, a strikeout pitcher with a power arm to couple with a level of control and finesse that Texas hasn’t seen since Darvish finished second on the Cy Young ballot in 2013. 

If deGrom is able to pitch freely without injury, nobody will be talking about the years and dollars it took to sign him.

  1. Martin Perez – 2022 All-Star. In 2022: 12-8, 2.89 ERA, 32 Starts, 196.1 innings, 1.258 WHIP, 7.7 K/9

Whatever magic Texas’ 31-year old lefty found in 2022, the Rangers are banking on Perez to keep it going in 2023. Accepting the qualifying offer to return to Texas on a one-year deal could lead to something far more lucrative for Perez, who had a career-year in his return to Arlington. 

While he racked up a career high in strikeouts with 169, Perez’s strength is his ability to induce soft contact and get ground ball outs. Perez induced 20 ground ball double plays and kept his home runs in check, at fewer than one per nine innings.

  1. Jon Gray – In 2022: 7-7, 3.96 ERA, 24 Starts, 127.1 innings, 1.131 WHIP, 9.5 K/9

Gray, who joined the Rangers this past winter from Colorado, is still waiting for the breakout campaign after years of promise. Bothered by persistent injuries in 2022, the 30-year old right-hander rebounded after a very inconsistent first couple of months in Texas. 

Gray developed a blister during his first start of 2022 and then landed on the IL with a knee sprain. After getting his feet under him in Texas, Gray experienced his best stretch in quite some time over the summer (ERA of 2.65 over 11 starts in June and July) before landing on the IL again with an oblique strain. 

Like deGrom, Gray will need to maintain some degree of health to put to rest concerns about his availability.

  1. Jake Odorizzi – 1-time All-Star. In 2022, between Houston and Atlanta: 6-6, 4.40 ERA, 22 Starts, 106.1 innings, 1.554 WHIP, 7.8 K/9

Odorizzi came to Texas earlier in the offseason via a trade that shipped Kolby Allard back to Atlanta. The 32-year old veteran has seen his stock fall a bit since breakout years earlier in his career in Tampa Bay, although he was enjoying some success in Houston before a freak injury covering first base took him out in late May. 

Odorizzi had an inconsistent July in Houston before being traded to Atlanta where he struggled with contact and command issues before a poor showing in the NLDS. The potential is there, however, as he was a 15-game winner and All-Star with the Minnesota Twins as recently as 2019. 

With deGrom, Perez, and Gray ahead of him in the rotation, and some decent long-relief and back of the rotation depth behind him, Odorizzi will be given the opportunity to regain his footing and provide some much-needed innings.

  1. Dane Dunning – In 2022: 4-8, 4.46 ERA, 29 Starts, 153.1 innings, 1.435 WHIP, 8.0 K/9

The 27-year old was untethered from limited innings in his second season with Texas after coming over in the Lance Lynn trade with the Chicago White Sox. However, Dunning reached seven innings or more just once and generally hovered around the 5 to 6 inning mark for the entire year. 

Dunning would get hit hard early in his starts, but was able to dance around some heavy damage, staying below four earned runs in all but four starts following the All-Star Break. He was second on the club in number of starts and just missed the 30-start mark as he was sidelined at the end of the year with a hip injury that may have hindered him some during the 2022 season. 

With that in mind, the hope is that Dunning is ready for the start of 2023 with the opportunity to take a step forward at the bottom of the rotation, rather than from the middle.

Expect pitchers such as Glenn Otto (4.01 second half ERA in 14 starts) and Cole Ragans (2016 first round pick, 4.95 ERA in 9 starts) to make their case for a spot in the pecking order, as well. In addition, prospects such as Cole Winn, Jack Leiter, Owen White, and Kumar Rocker will be looked upon as the next wave should any of the veterans waver.

Don’t count the Rangers out of adding to this list of starters, either. In fact, it might be more surprising if they don’t continue to bolster the rotation this winter. With another signing or by acquiring an arm via trade, Texas can easily bump Odorizzi and Dunning down a slot. With some of the names already penciled into the rotation being injury risks, depth will be important.

But for now, depth is the last thing on the minds of the Rangers as they took aim at the top of the market and landed one of baseball’s best to try to help solve the franchise’s longest standing problem area. Jacob deGrom is a Texas Ranger and his presence transforms the rotation immensely. 

Do you think the Rangers will be competitive in 2023 with Jacob deGrom leading the way? Share your thoughts with Matt on Twitter @FisherWritesMLB

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