The Texas Rangers made the first stunning move of MLB's offseason Friday night. . The $37 million average annual value is the second highest ever behind Max Scherzer's contract with the Mets, which pays him $43.3 million annually.
"We are thrilled that Jacob deGrom has decided to become a Texas Ranger," GM Chris Young said in a statement. "Over a number of seasons, Jacob has been a standout Major League pitcher, and he gives us a dominant performer at the top of our rotation. One of our primary goals this off-season is to strengthen our starting pitching, and we are adding one of the best. I also want to recognize our ownership group, led by Ray Davis, for continuing to provide the resources to build a winning culture here in Arlington. On behalf of the entire organization, I welcome Jacob, his wife Stacey, and the entire deGrom family to the Rangers."
The Rangers lost 94 games in 2022 but there are reasons to believe they were better than their record suggests. Both their run differential (minus-36) and BaseRuns record (.457) indicate Texas was closer to a true talent .500 team, and their 15-35 record in one-run games was easily the worst in baseball. Had a few more of those coin flip one-run games gone their way, their record would have been much more respectable.
That all said, the Rangers still have a long way to go to close the gap between where they sit now and winning the franchise's first World Series title. DeGrom is an excellent addition who helps close that gap significantly. There's still more work to be done, however. Here's what the Rangers need to do now that they've signed a new ace.
1. Add another starter
Yep, another one. Even after signing deGrom, even after retaining Martín Pérez with the qualifying offer, and even after trading for Jake Odorizzi. Rangers starters ranked 23rd with minus-1.5 WAR in 2022 and that was with Pérez having an All-Star season. It was the best season of his career. Their rotation depth chart now looks something like this:
Odorizzi has averaged 4.6 innings per start the last two seasons and probably fits best as a one-time-through-the-order multi-inning reliever at this point in his career. Dunning has been a tick below league average the last two seasons and Otto hasn't impressed in his MLB action the last two seasons. And let's be real here, deGrom's injury history is scary. That top three is quite strong. Things get dicey after that.
Another quality starter to push Odorizzi into the bullpen or Dunning to Triple-A would be a wise move (Dunning would still get plenty of starts as the No. 6 option). The Rangers don't have to spend big on Justin Verlander or Carlos Rodón, though if they're willing to do it, great. Otherwise a second-tier free agent like Nathan Eovaldi or Jameson Taillon would go a long way to shoring up a rotation that was a clear weakness and still has room for improvement.
2. Find a left fielder
The Rangers started 13 -- 13! -- different players in left field in 2022, including six at least 16 times each, and they collectively hit .186/.253/.256 in 604 plate appearances. Allow me to repeat: .186/.253/.256 in 604 plate appearances. They had five doubles and 11 home runs in those 604 plate appearances. Five doubles. Five. 😬
For reference, the average left fielder hit .250/.322/.403 in 2022. There is a minimum acceptable standard on offense and Rangers' left fielders did not come remotely close to meeting it in 2022. If the season started today, the Rangers would likely start Josh Smith in left field, and Smith is a natural shortstop who doesn't have an obvious lineup spot because the infield is completely set.
Needless to say, the Rangers badly need a left fielder this offseason. If they're still willing to throw huge money around, I say go sign Aaron Judge. The upgrade from those 2022 left fielders to Judge is absolutely massive. Since it's unlikely the Rangers hand out another big-money deal (to Judge or Brandon Nimmo), they're looking at second- and third-tier free agent options, and trade candidates.
Joey Gallo has his best years in Texas and could return on a one-year prove yourself contract. Andrew Benintendi and Japanese outfielder Masatada Yoshida could be targets, or maybe someone cheaper like David Peralta. Me? I say go for Pirates center fielder Bryan Reynolds. It would hurt to get him, but it would be worth it. Reynolds is excellent. Think of the lineup possibilities:
- 2B Marcus Semien, RHB
- SS Corey Seager, LHB
- LF Bryan Reynolds, SHB
- 1B Nate Lowe, LHB
- RF Adolis García, RHB
- 3B Josh Jung, RHB
That's a truly excellent top four, and while García is liable to post a sub-.300 on-base percentage, he's a candidate to pop 30 home runs. That'll play in the No. 5 lineup spot. Like I said, getting Reynolds would hurt (would Texas put top prospect Jack Leiter on the table?), but he's worth it. He's excellent, affordable, and under team control through 2025. That's a guy worth getting.
Either way, Reynolds or someone else, the Rangers have to do something about left field. The good news is the bar has been set so impossibly low that even a relatively modest signing like Gallo or Peralta would represent a fairly significant upgrade. The better the player the Rangers bring in, the bigger the upgrade, and the more likely it is they qualify for the expanded postseason in 2023.
3. Bring in a DH
The good news is Rangers' DHs were not as bad as Rangers' left fielders in 2022. Their DHs hit .227/.304/.381 in 659 plate appearances, below the .236/.313/.397 positional average. As things stand, Texas is in line to platoon lefty Brad Miller with righties Mitch Garver and Mark Mathias at DH in 2023. They can do better than that, right?
DH types are always plentiful in free agency and you needn't spend big to find a quality DH. Michael Brantley's professional bat would fit nicely and his recent shoulder surgery will keep the price down. I'm not sure Justin Turner would leave the Dodgers but it's worth asking. Michael Conforto as a left field/DH hybrid on a prove yourself contract makes sense. J.D. Martinez? Matt Carpenter?
Teams these days like to use a rotating DH rather than marry one player to the position, so bringing in a new DH who can play the field on occasion is the wise move. Again, DH types are always available. It's just a matter of finding the right one. I'm sure Texas wants to see what Garver can do with good health in 2023. I say get as many good players as possible. They'll sort themselves out.
I don't think the Rangers would have given deGrom, who turns 35 next summer, that contract without planning to improve the team further. They were better than their record in 2022 and deGrom helps a lot, but there are still obvious holes in the rotation and in the lineup (particularly left field) that must be addressed to have a shot at contention in 2023. Texas isn't done. There's more coming.