The week after Thanksgiving, Rangers manager Bruce Bochy was feeling a little under the weather. By the following Thursday, GM Chris Young knew exactly what would make him feel better.
“I got you some medicine. I got you a pitcher,” Young said he told Bochy on the phone. “So he asked who and I said Jacob deGrom. He said, and I’ll never forget this, he goes “Holy smokes!” and I think it took a minute to process.”
“Euphoria hits at that point,” Bochy said. “I couldn’t have been more thrilled, more excited that we were able to bring him here. And I’m thankful — first of all, to Jacob for coming to Texas, but also for CY, ownership, to step up the way they did to get a guy that was very much a need for us, a guy that’s going to head up this rotation. You’re talking about one of the best pitchers in the game. For him to be leading the way was a big need for us. And it makes our club so much better when you get a player like this. I couldn’t have been happier.”
The following day, the Rangers officially announced they had agreed to a five-year, $185 million deal with the two-time National League Cy Young Award winner. Both Young and Bochy emphasized the importance of a pitcher like deGrom on the staff, not just for his on-field performances, but because of the leadership and preparation he brings to a clubhouse.
“I heard this from numerous players, stories of guys saying, ‘Do you know what it means to play behind somebody like this?’” Young explained. “When you drive to the park that day you know you have an ace on the mound and that you are winning that night. It changes the mindset. It elevates everybody.”
But how did the Rangers, a club with a 4.22 staff ERA in 2022 and six straight losing seasons, manage to sign one of the best pitchers of this generation?
Interest from the Rangers’ side started early. The Rangers’ front office and ownership have been open about the club’s desire to improve the starting pitching at all levels. From the start of free agency, Texas was in contact with every viable option, with deGrom at the top of the list.
The sides set up a Zoom the week before Thanksgiving, accelerating the negotiation process. Young said that while his expectations were high going into the meeting with deGrom, the right-hander far exceeded everything Young already thought about him.
deGrom seemed just as impressed with the Rangers, who had Young, Bochy and assistant general manager Ross Fenstermaker on the call.
“I think what I got from him is you know how really committed he was to playing on a winner — I think he liked the fact that we were in the process of building a winning culture in Texas,” Bochy said. “A very humble man that wants to — he just wants to pitch. And a guy that also wants to be a good teammate, that was excited to listen to what we had to offer him.”
The Rangers’ new skipper met deGrom during the 2015 All-Star Game in Cincinnati, when the reigning NL Rookie of the Year struck out the side on 10 pitches as Bochy managed from the dugout. Even though he thought the Zoom meeting with deGrom and his team went great, he didn’t expect the signing to develop as fast as it did.
“I’ve always admired him, but when we had a chance to talk to him, it just gives you a better idea who the man is,” Bochy said. “I felt good about it. But you realize a lot of clubs are going to talk to the man. So you still don’t know where you’re at, as far as what his thoughts are. But he made up his mind pretty quick. He has just excited everybody. You still feel the residual of signing somebody like this. It just does a lot for the other players. Like, ‘Hey, we mean business right now.’ We’re trying to get back to contending and bringing winning baseball back to Texas.”
Young continues to emphasize that the deGrom signing does not preclude the Rangers from continuing to compete at the highest levels of the free-agent market. In his opinion, it makes them more likely to continue to do so.
“I think, very candidly, Jacob adds credibility to our organization and makes us a desirable spot,” Young said. “We’re open-minded. We’re looking for any way to continue to upgrade our club and balance the 2023 goals with the long-term goals, as well. We’re not ruling anything out in terms of ways to upgrade the club.”