Congratulations, Texas Rangers fans! You’ve just secured one of the greatest pitchers of our generation for the next five years.
Regardless of the righty’s injury history, this is an enormous get that is sure to pay dividends as long as Jacob deGrom stays relatively healthy. In order to compete with the reigning World Series Champions — especially after the Houston Astros signed 2020 AL MVP José Abreu — it was clear that the Rangers were going to have to make bold moves and this…is pretty damn bold.
This signing is a statement by Rangers’ GM Chris Young. It’s a statement that he plans on competing for a World Series for a few years before the end of his contract. But is deGrom enough to turn this franchise around? Texas was 22nd in quality start percentage (31 percent) last year, 25th in starter ERA, 21st in strikeout rate, and 29th in walk rate. The addition of deGrom doesn’t suddenly turn this Rangers’ staff into an elite set of arms. Thankfully, the Rangers added Jake Odorizzi via trade in November, and top prospects Jack Leiter, Kumar Rocker, and Owen White should all be on their way to the big leagues rather soon.
If I’m being honest though, I don’t know how much of an improvement this staff will be. Sure, I expect Dane Dunning to take a step forward, but not that massive. He could be a decent end-of-the-rotation arm, and given Odorizzi’s injury history and struggles since 2019, he’ll probably fill that same role. Even if we assume that Dunning and Odorizzi lose their rotation spots to the former Vandy teammates Leiter — son of Al — and Rocker halfway through the season, would they be enough? Well, let’s say the Rangers’ top-three arms — deGrom, Martín Pérez, and Jon Gray — have a combined ERA of about 3.50 (which is a pretty lofty expectation) across 450 total innings next season (again, pretty lofty). Assuming Leiter and Rocker each throw 100 innings in 2023, they’d need a combined ERA of 4.82 in order to be just an above-average rotation based on last year’s ERA numbers. If they want to be a top-10 rotation (better than a 3.73 team ERA), the final two arms in the Rangers’ rotation would need a combined ERA of 4.23.
Since 2010, there have been 346 rookie starting pitchers to throw at least 50 innings during their rookie seasons. Of that, 242 of them had an ERA of 4.82 or better. And 177 had an ERA of 4.23 or better. Basically, if deGrom, Gray, and Pérez can be an elite trio atop the rotation, and the final two guys (assuming rookies overtake Dunning and Odorizzi) can be average to slightly subpar, they should be a very good rotation, but that’s a lot of if’s and that’s discounting Dunning and Odorizzi’s contributions.
Basically, a lot of things have to go right. Starters can’t get hurt and the bullpen — which ranked 12th in ERA last year, posting their lowest mark (3.72) in that category since 2013 — would have to repeat that success in order for the Rangers to compete on the mound. Putting Bruce Bochy in the dugout certainly makes that an easier task, but it’s still a tall order to demand everything fall into place. Then, there’s the offense, but if I’m being real, I don’t think the Rangers’ offense is going to be an issue at all.
With the addition of deGrom, the Rangers have definitely put themselves in contention for the second-best team in the AL West, although the Seattle Mariners still hold an edge in that department, having proven they’re capable of reaching the postseason already. In a crowded American League though, and with the M’s being a phenomenally young team, second or third-best in a division may not be enough to make waves in the postseason (unless you’re the 2022 Phillies). The Rangers are still one or two impact players away from being a title contender. Perhaps those players are already in the Rangers’ farm system, ready to come up when needed, or perhaps they’re on the free-agent market this year. All I’m saying is that I’d like to see one more big name head to Texas before I’m ready to crown them a pennant contender. deGrom is undoubtedly a step in the right direction though.