SAN DIEGO – On Friday night, with fans continuing to groan about a slow offseason, the Texas Rangers sent the tweet heard ‘round the baseball world.
They announced they had signed Jacob deGrom, perhaps the best pitcher on the planet when healthy, to a five-year deal. The news – the biggest boom of the offseason thus far – still has everyone talking. In particular, Braves fans were interested in it.
They weren’t alone.
“Very excited to see him leave the NL East,” Braves president of baseball operations Alex Anthopoulos said.
DeGrom, a four-time All-Star with a fastball that hits triple digits with regularity, owns two National League Cy Young Awards. When he’s healthy – which is no guarantee – it’s difficult to say anyone else is better.
Oh, and he spurned the Braves’ fiercest NL East rivals. Yes, that is right, Braves fans, you can read it again: The Mets lost their ace, leaving a huge hole in their rotation (for now).
What does deGrom signing with Texas mean for the Braves?
You can take that to a few different avenues. The Braves won’t see deGrom as often, and we might be able to learn something about the starting pitching market.
A person with knowledge of the situation confirmed that the Braves looked into potentially signing deGrom. ESPN’s Buster Olney first reported Atlanta’s interest in the right-hander.
But the Rangers reportedly gave deGrom a five-year, $185 million deal. The pitcher who made only 26 regular-season starts over the last two seasons due to injuries still earned that deal.
This is nothing against deGrom, who is heroic when at his best. The Rangers proved their commitment to winning by committing to spending on a free agent like deGrom, one winter after signing Corey Seager and Marcus Semien.
It’s also easy to see why the Braves and other potential suitors for deGrom wouldn’t offer him the contract Texas eventually did. It’s five years – at a hefty average annual value – for a 34-year-old pitcher with a recent string of injuries. The Braves might have detracted from their future flexibility by doing a deal like this.
But their interest in deGrom raises this question: If they were willing to swim in those waters, could they sign another top-end pitcher?
For example, Justin Verlander, who turns 40 in February, would probably command fewer years on his deal. Only the Braves know if they would offer him a contract in which he makes $35-40 million per season, as some project.
Anthopoulos said the Braves have explored the starting pitching market – more so in free agency than via a trade. “But we’ve had real, internal discussions about that,” Anthopoulos added about the Braves potentially adding starting pitching.
It seems like the Braves feel good about their rotation, while still remaining aware that bringing in another quality arm would strengthen the group that much more. As it stands, Max Fried, Spencer Strider, Kyle Wright and Charlie Morton are locks. Mike Soroka, Ian Anderson, Kyle Muller, Bryce Elder and Kolby Allard will be among those competing for the fifth spot, and Atlanta likes how these guys have options, which will give the club flexibility throughout a long season.
“I think you worry about everything, and I worry about rotation depth all the time,” Anthopoulos said. “Short term, long term. Thinking about all time. I know how critically important it is.”
Last season, 11 Braves made starts (if you don’t count Jackson Stephens starting the meaningless Game 162 after the Braves clinched a fifth straight division title). Injuries occur. Players underperform. The twists and turns of a season are unpredictable, which leads to one of the most common adages in this sport.
You can never have too much pitching.
“We’re going to need a big group regardless,” Anthopoulos said.
But free-agent pitching is expensive, as evidenced by deGrom’s contract. But the lower-tier names are making good money, too. Zach Eflin signed with the Rays for a reported $40 million over three years. The Angels reportedly gave Tyler Anderson three years and $39 million.
The Braves, of course, aren’t exactly mourning deGrom’s exit out of the NL East. DeGrom has started 28 games against them, the most he has faced any team in his career. DeGrom has a 2.17 ERA and 233 strikeouts over 178-2/3 innings over the years.
The Mets must now fill a large hole in their rotation. The pressure is on for New York as it tries to catch up to the Braves, who will compete for their sixth consecutive NL East crown next year.
It’s easy to see why the Braves – or any team – would want deGrom.
You can also understand why Atlanta, or anyone else, would not commit to that type of deal, even for an incredible talent like deGrom.
Free-agent starting pitching can be expensive. Luckily, the Braves would probably be fine if they didn’t sign or trade for another starter before spring training – even if they’re trying to explore all avenues to improve their club.
“We do feel like it’s an area of strength,” Anthopoulos said of the rotation situation.
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