The Rangers got their ace. What's next?

December 3rd, 2022

This story was excerpted from Kennedi Landry's Rangers Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

ARLINGTON -- If this offseason had a movie title, it might be something like “The Curious Case of the Texas Rangers and the Pursuit of an Ace.” 

Texas got its ace on Friday, when the club agreed to a five-year, $185 million deal with right-hander Jacob deGrom ahead of this year’s Winter Meetings. Despite deGrom’s injury history, the Rangers believe he is the guy to lead the rotation into the next window of contention, for 2023 and beyond. 

“There's risk associated with every player, and specifically every pitcher,” said general manager Chris Young. “I think as we assess where we are, what our needs are, where we feel like we can go, and what Jacob deGrom does for our franchise as we try to accomplish our goals, we feel like the risk was worth it. We certainly have, again, a very thorough process in a number of fashions that ultimately led to this decision.”

Pitching has clearly been the key focus since the end of the 2022 season, when the Rangers parted ways with pitching coach Doug Mathis after his staff finished 22nd in MLB with a 4.22 ERA, and Young hasn’t shied away from acknowledging when and where improvements are needed.

“We’re focused on allocating the majority of our resources towards pitching this year,” Young said at the GM Meetings in Las Vegas last month. “That said, we're going to be open-minded in any way to improve our club. We want to improve our pitching in every way possible.”

The 34-year-old deGrom joins a rotation that includes 2022 American League All-Star Martín Pérez, last season’s Opening Day starter in Jon Gray and Jake Odorizzi, who was acquired via a trade with the Braves last month. But with young starters Dane Dunning, Glenn Otto and Cole Ragans rounding out the depth chart, Texas will need to continue making additions in order to improve.

It’s a serviceable rotation, but not quite elite or even up to competing with AL West rivals and the 2022 World Series-champion Astros.

“We think we addressed a significant need tonight,” Young said. “We will regroup over the weekend, go to San Diego [for the Winter Meetings] and continue to look for every possible way to improve our club, both for the short term and the long term. My energy and time and focus has been spent this week on this, so we will reassess over the weekend and kind of come back and explore the best ways to continue to improve our club.”

For newly hired pitching coach Mike Maddux, depth may be more important than a “true ace” in the current playoff environment. 

“It’s definitely helpful, that's for sure,” Maddux said. “But sometimes, that true ace might not be the guy you thought it would be. I think that your horses, your premier players -- everything's a horse race. They're going to get you close to that finish line, but the jockeys are going to be the ones to win. And I think those other players are the jockeys. You know, that kind of,  ‘Oh wow, man, that guy really stepped up.’ You just never know who's going to be that big guy.”

Even so, every team can benefit from having multiple high-end starters. Still available are a likely future Hall of Famer (Justin Verlander), an elite international free agent (Kodai Senga) and a bona fide ace (Carlos Rodón). The Rangers haven’t been linked to Verlander like they have the other two, but Texas will undoubtedly leave no stone unturned when it comes to exploring the market. 

“I have said this before, I don't think we can ever have enough starting pitching,” Young said.  “We will continue to look to improve every area of our club. We feel like there's a need. And then I think certainly every team needs more starting pitching.”

Last offseason, it seemed as if the Rangers’ winter would be a disappointment if they didn’t sign one of the big-name free-agent shortstops. Texas came away with two in Corey Seager and Marcus Semien. The same is true this offseason, but with pitching. While deGrom no doubt improves the rotation substantially, depth -- as Maddux said -- needs to be a priority as well. 

“There's no doubt the last couple years, we've run into this, where we haven't had the depth of starting pitching, we haven't had the quality of starting pitching that we need to be successful,” Young said at the GM Meetings in November. “I think in terms of where we are in the pitching depth [throughout the farm] that we have coming, we need veteran starting pitchers and we're going to look to continue to add.  

“We’re going to be very aggressive. We’ve spent a lot of time, and credit to our pro scouting group, we’re prepared on pretty much every Major League pitcher right now. I don’t think you can have enough depth in your starting pitching.”