FOX Sports MLB Analyst
We’re starting a new regular feature where we’ll take a closer look at some recent events in Major League Baseball. This week, we’ll look at the Texas Rangers’ new starting rotation, the San Francisco Giants joining a type of contract to add pitching depth, and the Cleveland Guardians finally breaking away from their rules for offensive upgrades.
Risky and redone Rangers rotation
None of Texas’ projected starters were in their organization before November 2021. Their longest-tenured probable starter is Martín Perez, then Jon Gray, then Jake Odorizzi, then Jacob deGrom, then Andrew Heaney. Obviously, none of them are homegrown. Nor did the Rangers follow a formula for acquiring each.
They drafted deGrom by simply outbidding everyone else, at $185 million. They recruited Heaney based on proximity, because he’s an Oklahoman anyway, and they’re the closest team to his home in Oklahoma City. Perez was secured via the qualifying offer after a 2022 breakout, Odorizzi via a discount trade and Gray as part of his spending spree before the close of last year.
What the signing of Jacob deGrom means for the Rangers moving forward
Ben Verlander and Alex Curry discuss the monster five-year, $185 million deal Jacob deGrom signed with Texas.
Dane Dunning will probably start as well. They acquired him 24 months ago, in the Lance Lynn trade with the White Sox. The former first-rounder has pitched like a mediocre fifth starter since arriving in Texas, but at least he’s pitched. That’s the biggest problem for most of the Rangers’ new starters. Gray is probably their safest bet to record at least 100 innings in 2023.
Especially with deGrom and Heaney, the Rangers went for high-risk, high-reward rotation candidates. Heaney, 31, has made 25 or more starts once in his career. deGrom, 34, has done it four times, but not since 2019. Last year, the two combined for 25 starts, with a 3.09 ERA. That’s almost the exact season Ross Stripling just had, and he signed to the same two-year, $25 million deal as Heaney, minus the incentives that could push Heaney’s 2024 salary to $20 million if stay healthy in 2023. year, the Rangers clearly overpaid.
In free agency, the story goes, teams are supposed to buy past production. This year, Texas did not. Instead, the Rangers are relying on their own calculations of what the more distant past might portend for the future of their new pitchers. It’s not a safe bet, but it’s not impossible to imagine it paying off. DeGrom could win a Cy Young with 25 starts to his name.
Either way, it will be fun to monitor.
Semblance of signings from the Giants’ opening pitch
San Francisco recently signed two veteran starting pitchers, Stripling and Sean Manaea, to identical two-year, $25 million contracts that include opt-outs after Year 1. The two took very different careers to get to this point, already than Manaea, a lefty. hander, was once a big-time prospect and Stripling, a right-hander, never had that status. But by outscoring Manaea last season, Stripling more than doubled his career earnings over the next two years.
It’s worth noting that the Giants also re-signed Alex Wood last winter to the same contract.
One more interesting element of this year’s Giants deals: Both include $5 million in signing bonuses. Obviously, immediate bonuses are nice, but the function of these bonuses is less immediate than you might think. Half are due shortly; the other half is to be delivered next winter. Its real function is to pay players while they live at home, and many states’ income tax rates are much, much smaller than California’s.
Stripling, for example, lives in Texas, where there is no state income tax. Compared to California’s 12.3 percent state rate, plus the 1.5 percent rate for nonresidents working in San Francisco, earning that $5 million while working in Texas could save Stripling hundreds of thousands of dollars
Such a maneuver, in fact, already saved him even more than that. Prior to the 2020 season, Stripling signed a $2.1 million contract with the Dodgers to avoid arbitration. Only $600,000 was salary. The remaining $1.5 million was a signing bonus, for the same tax-saving purposes. And when the pandemic hit, the bonus had the added bonus of netting Stripling a higher percentage of his 2020 salary than virtually any other teammate. Where everyone else only received 37% of their salaries, Stripling essentially earned 82% of his.
As of last season, the Padres listed Manaea’s residence as San Francisco, but he hails from Indiana, where the state’s income tax is much lower than California’s.
For the Giants, the two signings give them six consolidated starters. Homegrown Logan Webb currently sits as the ace. That depth makes it less likely they’ll pursue a reunion with Carlos Rodón, as, of course, their recent deal with Carlos Correa.
The Guardians diversify
Cleveland ran a rare offense in the playoffs a year ago, as their team was overwhelmingly contact-oriented and lacked power. In the 2023 rebuild, the Guardians front office opted to add one more contact hitter who has shown great power potential and one, ultimately, who doesn’t fit the contact profile.
First baseman Josh Bell is first, catcher Mike Zunino second. Zunino alone won’t transform Cleveland’s lineup from contact-centric to scoring-heavy, but he’ll at least add some balance. It’s a totally reasonable bet from one of the most successful offices in sports. Diversification would not undermine the Guardians’ strength; it should just allow them to succeed in slightly different ways.
They also tried to do it last year with designated hitter Franmil Reyes, one of the few players older than Bell. But Reyes made a point i he didn’t get the power, and Cleveland cut him a week after the trade deadline. Bell experienced a similar power drought after his trade to San Diego. However, he continued to get on base at an above-average rate. It offers more advantages and fewer disadvantages than Cleveland possessed at home.
For that privilege, the Guardians will pay Bell more than any of their players in 2023, even more than Jose Ramirez.
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Pedro Moura is the national baseball writer for FOX Sports. He previously covered the Dodgers for The Athletic, the Angels and Dodgers for the Orange County Register and LA Times, and his alma mater, USC, for ESPN Los Angeles. He is the author of “How to Overcome a Broken Game.” Follow him on Twitter at @pedromoura.
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