3 legendary aces who loom over the 2024 season

February 10th, 2024

Spring Training games will be starting up before we know it -- just without three of the best starters of their time in baseball, and three of the very best all time when they were at their best: , , .

The last two are with the Rangers now and Kershaw, a kid from Dallas, reportedly thought about going home to pitch there over the winter before returning to the Dodgers. This is straight-up pitching royalty we’re talking about, but it will be royalty delayed because of various injuries.

So this season will start with a total of eight Cy Young Awards on the sidelines, four World Series titles, one MVP, nearly 8,000 career strikeouts and a combined won-loss record of 508-257.

By now, we know they were all something to see on the mound before their various injuries. Now we all wait to see who they are when they come back and how much they have left.

Kershaw talks about “July-ish” or “August-ish,” which is when he thinks he will be fully recovered from surgery last fall to repair ligaments and a left shoulder capsule. deGrom said a couple of weeks ago that both he and Scherzer expect to be back around the Trade Deadline, after Tommy John surgery last spring halted deGrom's first Rangers season after just six starts.

The Rangers got eight regular-season starts out of Scherzer after the Mets traded him at the last Trade Deadline. He got hurt, came back for the American League Championship Series and lasted 2 2/3 innings against the Astros, had to leave his World Series Game 3 start against the D-backs with a bad back and had surgery himself after the season to repair a herniated disk in his lower back. It’s like the old Indiana Jones line about how it’s not about the years, it’s about the mileage.

There are a lot of years and a lot of pitching mileage on all three of them, all legitimate greats of their game. Scherzer will turn 40 in July. He still had enough left last season to have a combined record of 13-6 with the Mets and the Rangers. Now, late in the game for him, he points toward a midsummer return the way the others do -- after a career that has already seen him win Cy Young Awards in both leagues and finally win the World Series with both the Nationals and Rangers.

"Now it's just in the stage of just building back up of where I can get back into it, and at the same time [figuring out] how to keep the arm primed as you're navigating something where the biggest concerns are bending, lifting, twisting," he said at Rangers Fan Fest two weeks ago.

Kershaw, with three Cy Youngs of his own and the only of the three to win an MVP Award, pretty much had the same regular season that Scherzer did, finishing with a 13-5 record and a 2.46 ERA. But he was clearly not himself over the second half. Then his season ended with the worst performance of his illustrious career, Game 1 of the Dodgers-Diamondbacks NLDS:

Six hits allowed, six runs, one out.

In November, he had surgery. Now he is back with the Dodgers, the only team for whom he has ever pitched. There was Sandy Koufax once for the Dodgers. Then there was Clayton Kershaw.

“I felt wanted, even though I’m kind of damaged goods right now,” Kershaw said about returning to the Dodgers. “It was a good feeling.”

He will turn 36 in March. deGrom will turn 36 in June. deGrom does not have the career numbers that the other two have. He has not pitched a full season in years. But when he was at the top of his game in New York, it was deGrom who looked like the most unhittable pitcher in the world.

He finished with a 1.70 ERA in his first Cy Young season in 2018, and turned what was known as deGrom Days in New York into appointment viewing. Then he made it back-to-back Cy Youngs the next season. By 2021, he looked even better, before his season ended because of a bad elbow in July. He was 7-2 that season, with an ERA of 1.08 and 146 strikeouts in the 92 innings he pitched. He finally left the Mets after the ’22 season, signed with the Rangers as a free agent and got hurt again.

This is what he said at Rangers Fan Fest when discussing his projected return to Bruce Bochy’s rotation, along with Scherzer’s:

"When we get us back here, hopefully somewhere around the Trade Deadline, it's like picking up a couple guys."

They are a lot more than just a couple of guys. So is Clayton Kershaw. Two of those guys in Texas now. One is there. Three famous starters looking to start all over again. Just in the summer-ish this time, not the spring.