At the GM Meetings in Las Vegas, Rangers general manager Chris Young recently spoke with the media, including Evan Grant of The Dallas Morning News, and said the club is going to explore all areas of the starting pitching market. Jon Heyman of the New York Post mentions some discussions between the Rangers and Jacob deGrom, while Jon Morosi of MLB Network also mentions deGrom, in addition to Carlos Rodon and Kodai Senga.
It’s hardly a surprise that the rotation will be a focus going forward, given that it was an obvious weakness in 2022. Texas starters posted a collective 4.63 ERA this year, placing them 25th in the majors in that regard. They got some decent work from Jon Gray and a career year from veteran Martin Perez, though Perez has now reached free agency and deprived the already-weak rotation of its strongest performer. There’s reportedly mutual interest in a reunion, with he and the club reportedly discussing multi-year pacts. But nothing has been finalized and he has now officially received a $19.65MM qualifying offer.
The club has already made one move to fortify the starting corps, acquiring Jake Odorizzi from Atlanta yesterday. Odorizzi hasn’t been great over the past three years, but he seems plenty capable of taking the ball and providing some decent innings. He had a 4.21 ERA in 2021 and a 4.40 mark in 2022 but got over 100 innings in each of those seasons and 143 in each year from 2014 to 2019.
If the Rangers and Perez can come to an agreement, he would form a solid three-headed veteran core with Gray and Odorizzi. The rotation would have a solid base but would be lacking a true ace. Perez posted a 2.89 ERA in 2022 but was at 4.38 or above in each of the previous eight seasons. Even if he has unlocked a pitch mix that leads to better results, maintaining a 6.5% HR/FB rate will be tough to do and some regression could still be in the cards. Gray dealt with some injuries this year but still made 24 starts and posted a 3.96 ERA with rate stats fairly close to his career marks. Dane Dunning could also be a factor at the back end of the rotation after he put up a 4.46 ERA over 29 starts this year. His health is a bit uncertain after his season was ended by arthroscopic hip surgery, but he can be an option if he’s healthy.
It seems the Rangers are willing to consider another bold strike to complement that group of serviceable pitchers. Last year, they showed they’re not afraid of such moves, giving Corey Seager $325MM over ten years and Marcus Semien $175MM over seven years. This year, it’s possible the big strike comes for an ace to lead the starting staff. That could come in the form a deal for Rodon, whom the club has already been connected to, with deGrom and Senga also being considered.
deGrom, 35 in June, certainly fits the bill of an ace, as he’s arguably the best pitcher alive when healthy. That health hasn’t always been present, especially lately, with deGrom missing over a year from July of 2021 to August of 2022. However, after his return, he showed that he can still be his dominant self, making 11 starts and throwing 64 1/3 innings. His 3.08 ERA was two full runs above what he did prior to his injury shutdown in 2021, but the peripherals were still very similar. His 42.7% strikeout rate and 3.3% walk rate were both still absurdly good and point to more elite results going forward. Given his health concerns and age, it’s possible he will be looking at short-term offers with his annual salaries. MLBTR’s Top 50 Free Agents list dropped yesterday with a prediction of $135MM over three years, which is $45MM per year.
That would certainly be one way for the club to go. Another would be a more traditional contract of greater length but less money per year. MLBTR projected a higher guarantee for Rodon at $140MM, though over a five-year term that would be significantly less on an annual basis, $28MM per year. Senga will likely require even less, predicted for $75 over five years, or $15MM per season. Of course, that would also come with its own kind of risk, given that Senga’s unproven against MLB hitters and not all NPB aces have found similar success after crossing the Pacific.
When talking about such figures, it’s worth taking a look at the club’s payroll situation. Roster Resource currently pegs the Rangers’ 2023 outlay at $122MM. Last year’s Opening Day figure was $142MM, per Cot’s Baseball Contracts, meaning they’re only about $20MM away. If Perez eventually accepts the QO, they’re suddenly even. However, Young has already spoken about how payroll is going to go up and they have been as high as $165MM in previous seasons. Ultimately, exactly how much they have to spend will play a factor in how they address the rotation. If they have, say, $45MM to work with, putting all those eggs into the deGrom basket would be a huge upgrade but wouldn’t leave anything left to address the outfield or bullpen. Regardless of the final number, it will be interesting to see how it plays out as the club looks to gain some serious ground in a competitive AL West.