Jacob deGrom, the two-time Cy Young Award winner and one of baseball's most dominant pitchers even as injuries limited his availability, cashed in on his pedigree by agreeing to a stunning five-year, $185 million contract with the Texas Rangers on Friday.
The right-hander's signing, announced by the club, continues a stunning two-year run in which the floundering Rangers have laid out $741 million for free agents, including $500 million for middle infielders Corey Seager and Marcus Semien almost exactly one year ago.
Texas finished 68-94 despite that lavish outlay, fired manager Chris Woodward and hired three-time World Series-winning manager Bruce Bochy in hopes of producing the club's first winning season since 2016.
Those chances were considerably enhanced Friday - as was deGrom's bank account.
DeGrom, who opted out of the final year of a five-year, $137.5 million extension he signed with the Mets in 2019, took advantage of both his rarefied status as a shutdown pitcher as well as a limited market for starters. He'll turn 35 next season, and tossed just 64 innings in 2022 as a scapula injury delayed his first start until August.
Nonetheless, deGrom will be guaranteed $37 million per season, second only to former teammate Max Scherzer's $43.3 million per annum on a three-year deal with the Mets. DeGrom also tops the $36 million that Yankees right-hander Gerrit Cole earns on a nine-year, $324 million contract signed after the 2019 season.
It all justifies deGrom confidently stating in spring training that he'd opt out of the final year on his contract with the Mets and he stuck to that, thanks largely to a track record of striking out 11 batters per nine innings over his career, and an untouchable stretch from 2018-19 that netted him consecutive National League Cy Young Awards.
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Elbow inflammation limited him to 15 starts and 92 innings in 2021, and he did not pitch again after July 7. The unrelated scapula injury pushed his time between regular season starts to nearly 13 months.
But he is as dominant as ever: deGrom struck out a career-best 14.3 batters per nine innings in both 2021 and '22, and posted a 0.63 WHIP over those 26 starts, although he gave up a career-high 1.5 home runs per nine innings in 11 outings last year.
It turned out to be the last of deGrom's nine seasons with the Mets, a stint that began when he won NL Rookie of the Year honors in 2014, included a surprise trip to the 2015 World Series and ended with his Game 2 victory over San Diego in the NL wild card series.
The Rangers, clearly, were undaunted by any physical concerns, guaranteeing deGrom nearly $50 million more than he received in his 2019 extension from the Mets, when he was four years younger and coming off consecutive Cy Youngs.
The signing is a stunning preemptive strike ahead of baseball's winter meetings, which begin Sunday in San Diego. The Rangers will introduce deGrom to Texas in a press conference following the meetings next week.
DeGrom will front a rotation that includes returning lefty Martin Perez, who accepted the $19.65 million qualifying offer, and Jon Gray, whose four-year, $56 million deal came on the heels of the Seager-Semien pacts a year ago.
Now, deGrom enters the mercenary stage of his career, not unlike former teammate Scherzer - who signed a three-year, $130 million contract to join him with the Mets this year. They, along with fellow free agent Justin Verlander, have ushered in a new era of the boutique pitcher - a generational talent plugged into a win-now rotation while earning massive annual salaries on shorter-term deals.
Verlander, also a free agent, may not get the five-year guarantee like deGrom. But with deGrom shockingly off the board, Verlander, the reigning AL Cy Young winner, will suddenly have an overheated market for his service that includes the Dodgers, Astros and most likely the New York Yankees.
Oh, and also the Mets, who now must replace deGrom, Chris Bassitt and Taijuan Walker in their rotation.
"I wish him well," Mets owner Steve Cohen told SNY. "Now, this team has to move on to the next thing."
That thing likely got a lot more expensive after deGrom's stunning, and very lucrative defection.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Jacob deGrom, Texas Rangers agree to $185 million free agent deal