The Texas Rangers got their two big free agent hitters last offseason, by signing middle infielders Corey Seager and Marcus Semien. Now they've got their staff ace in Jacob deGrom, who agreed to a five-year, $185 million contract with the team Friday night.
It's significant news for us in fantasy baseball, even if primarily because it means baseball's best pitcher when healthy has changed teams. From 2020-22, deGrom paced all of baseball in ERA (2.05) and WHIP (0.73) among pitchers who had at least as many as his 38 starts or 224⅓ innings pitched during that time, leading in ERA by nearly four-tenths of a run and WHIP by nearly one-quarter of a baserunner. DeGrom also had 17 games with double-digit strikeouts during that three-year span, tied for third-most in baseball behind only Gerrit Cole (21) and Corbin Burnes (20).
The problem, however, is that any contract deGrom received this winter wasn't going to improve the primary obstacle to him becoming No. 1 pitcher in fantasy: Health. Again, he made 38 starts over the past three seasons, missing 188-of-384 Mets games (49%). Cole and Burnes, meanwhile, made 75 and 70 starts, while four pitchers (Jose Berrios, Dylan Cease, German Marquez and Aaron Nola) made twice as many starts as deGrom did (76).
DeGrom dealt with a barrage of injuries over the past three seasons, including back, neck, hamstring, oblique, elbow, forearm and shoulder issues. If there's an encouraging statement to be made about his prospects of a healthy 2023, it's that he finished last season with 12 strong starts (including his one postseason turn), plus passed a physical with the Rangers that surely indicates he's healthy for now. Realistically speaking, maybe that means he can return to double last year's totals -- that'd mean 22 starts and 128⅔ innings -- or even two-thirds of the way to his last full season in 2019 -- meaning 25 starts and 157⅓ innings.
Either threshold, pitching at the high level that deGrom typically does, would be plenty to warrant picking him among the top 10 starting pitchers. I've moved him down to No. 8 for points leagues, which is still a top-20 overall pick, if only because I see the Rangers' supporting cast being a little weaker than that of the Mets, plus Texas' Globe Life Field, while a much more pitching-oriented environment than its predecessor across the street, is still slightly more hitting-friendly than New York's Citi Field.
However, it's not difficult to make the case for deGrom as fantasy's No. 1 pitcher, just as his injury history makes him a scary selection within the position's top 20.
Incidentally, deGrom's arrival in Texas creates additional interest around the team itself. With Bruce Bochy also returning from retirement to manage the Rangers, the team should be in the wild card mix. For fantasy managers, it's a much better thing for our planning purposes -- especially those of us in head-to-head play -- to have teams playing potentially meaningful September games.
DeGrom could also decrease the Rangers' odds of going with a six-man rotation, as they had from time to time in recent seasons, as they'll want to maximize his usage when available. That means a greater likelihood of an every-fifth-day schedule for fellow starters Jon Gray, Martin Perez, Jake Odorizzi and possibly Glenn Otto or Dane Dunning, and it does make each pitcher a slightly more attractive fantasy pick.
The Rangers' closer picture is also one worth more carefully watching during spring training, with the team likely to win more games, meaning potentially a handful more save chances. Jose Leclerc should be the favorite when camps open, but he could face competition from Jonathan Hernandez, Joe Barlow or an offseason acquisition.