Wednesday’s reported agreement between Kyle Gibson and the Rangers to a three-year, $30MM deal will likely not go down as the most impactful free agent deal signed by a starting pitcher this offseason. Due to an assortment of early-career injuries, Gibson reached free agency relatively late, at 32 years of age, with the additional misfortune of doing so in the shadow of names like Gerrit Cole, Stephen Strasburg, and Zack Wheeler. While Gibson might not represent the flashiest name to find a new uniform this winter, his Texas signing represented part of an apparently ongoing talent acquisition strategy in Arlington.
As noted by our own Jeff Todd and Steve Adams, Gibson’s deal fit the mold of the organization’s recent signings of pitchers like Mike Minor and Lance Lynn. Those deals have worked out swimmingly for president of baseball operations Jon Daniels, with Minor and Lynn fronting a 2019 staff that helped lead Texas to a surprisingly solid 78-84 finish in 2019. Minor’s own spotty track record of health allowed Daniels to secure his services for a three-year, $28MM commitment prior to 2018; Lynn, fresh off of a disappointing 2018 following several years of solid performance, inked a three-year, $30MM accord with Texas prior to last season. In 2019, those economical signings provided Texas with a combined 418.2 innings of 3.63 ERA pitching.
Not one of these pitchers could be called a true reclamation project. Like Lynn and Minor, Gibson comes to the Dallas area with a few warts on his health report, some inconsistencies in performance, and a few flaws in his statistical profile; he also arrives with a fairly solid body of cumulative work and a few reasons to believe his best pitching may be yet ahead of him. While his early career Tommy John procedure goes a long way toward explaining his late entry to the free agency portal, Gibson’s made 25 or more starts in every season since 2014. Not every campaign has been brilliant, with an ERA exceeding 5.00 between 2016 and 2017, but the big righty was a sub-4.00 ERA starter in 2015 and 2018, while this past season saw him record career bests in K/9 and K/BB ratios (due, perhaps, to some measurable improvements in his repertoire). The Mizzou product won’t be confused with an ace, but he’s accumulated 5.2 fWAR over the past two seasons and could be called the archetype of a “back-of-the-rotation” arm. Meanwhile, Texas will roll out Gibson, Minor, and Lynn for a combined annual commitment of roughly $31MM next season–perhaps less than it will cost an acquiring team for one yearly serving of Cole.
Detractors of the deal, however, will point to a serving of Cole as having been an entirely realistic holiday season wish. After showing a willingness to sport a $160MM-plus Opening Day payroll in 2017, Texas ownership has since pared down OD payrolls bit-by-bit; 2020’s opening payroll, per Cot’s Baseball Contracts, is projected to fall at roughly $110MM as presently constructed. The Rangers, as you may have heard, are moving into a new ballpark in 2020, raising fanbase expectations in regard to on-field product. And as for that new stadium? Daniels will have to hope that Gibson can keep the ball within its confines, as the hurler’s 20.4% HR/FB rate from last season does not bode well for a pitcher performing in the dry Texas heat. If Gibson performs the way Minor and Lynn have as Rangers, this deal will look like another reasonable move in a market where reason can oftentimes lose out; if his struggles with the long ball lead to another up-and-down season, fans will likely wonder why the club didn’t aim higher in its search for starting pitching.
In your opinion, is the Gibson signing a shrewd continuation of a tried-and-true Texas trend or an underwhelming half-measure in light of 2020 expectations? (Poll link for app users)