Texas Lands the Highest-Upside Pitcher in Baseball

© Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

If you were hoping to see a long, drawn-out bidding war for the services of former Mets ace Jacob deGrom, you’re in for disappointment, as the Texas Rangers inked the right-hander to a five-year, $185 million contract Friday evening. The deal also includes a conditional option for a sixth year, which would bring up the total value of the deal to $222 million, and a full no-trade clause.

Are the Rangers ready to scare the Houston Astros? I frequently have differences of opinions with ZiPS, but I think the 80-82 projection the system gave the Rangers just before Thanksgiving presented a reasonable expectation of where they stood in the division. The Mariners acquired Kolten Wong and the Astros picked up José Abreu and re-signed Rafael Montero, but I don’t think it’s a stretch to think the Rangers have closed the distance from both by a couple of wins, with the potential for several more. That said, the Rangers are a flawed team with a few superstars, and they have a lot of holes that will need both more time and money to fill.

While I’m not generally a fan of rebuilding teams being super-aggressive in free agency, I make a big exception for superstars. I don’t think clubs in the Rangers’ position should beef up their roster with tertiary free agents, but when you’re talking about a special player, one who will likely always be useful, it’s a different matter entirely. It’s why I really loved the Padres signing Manny Machado and loathed their inking of Eric Hosmer back when those deals were closed. deGrom is a special pitcher, one of the very few who goes into every season as a favorite to be the best hurler in baseball. You have to grab players like that when the opportunity to make deals with them arises. So how does deGrom project over the course of the deal?

ZiPS Projections – Jacob deGrom
2023 9 3 2.40 19 19 112.7 77 30 11 21 157 178 3.2
2024 8 4 2.56 19 19 112.7 79 32 11 21 152 167 3.0
2025 8 4 2.69 19 19 113.7 82 34 11 21 148 159 2.9
2026 8 4 2.85 19 19 110.7 83 35 11 21 139 150 2.7
2027 8 4 2.98 19 19 108.7 84 36 11 21 132 143 2.5

This is one of those cases where I recommend you focus not on the total dollar amount of the projection, but rather the qualitative value. deGrom is a pitcher with specific injury concerns, and the Rangers are choosing to absorb those; his situation is tricky enough that the generalized way ZiPS captures injuries probably isn’t applicable here. What does matter is that ZiPS projects deGrom as the ERA+ leader for starting pitchers (min. 75 innings) each year of the next five, even as he pushes toward 40. If he averages 120 innings a year, I think the Rangers will be quite happy with this contract.

If ZiPS is right and the Rangers are an 80-82 team right now, as long as they don’t fall behind the Astros and Mariners over the rest of the offseason, a reasonably healthy deGrom season leaves them somewhere in the 84-85 win range. In a league with three Wild Card teams, those wins are extremely valuable, and I doubt the Rangers are done.

We’ll have more on deGrom and this deal on the site soon.

Dan Szymborski is a senior writer for FanGraphs and the developer of the ZiPS projection system. He was a writer for ESPN.com from 2010-2018, a regular guest on a number of radio shows and podcasts, and a voting BBWAA member. He also maintains a terrible Twitter account at @DSzymborski.

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1 year ago

Excellent piece as usual, Dan