Texas Rangers general manager Chris Young barreled into his reconstruction of the franchise with such velocity over the last two and a half years that he was bound to make a mistake or two. Jacob deGrom’s $185 million contract looks like a doozy.
The Rangers announced on Tuesday that the two-time National League Cy Young Award winner is done for the season and will undergo surgery to repair a tear in his right ulnar collateral ligament. That likely means a second Tommy John elbow reconstruction, and deGrom could be sidelined for most, if not all, of the 2024 season. “It stinks,” deGrom told reporters on Tuesday, arms crossed and fighting back tears. “When you are told you can’t be out there doing something you love, it’s tough. We’ve got a special group of guys here and I want to be able to be out there and help them. It’s a disappointment.”
DeGrom’s $30 million salary this year is Major League Baseball’s fifteenth highest, and deGrom has four years and $155 million remaining beginning in 2024. “We’re confident he’ll make a full recovery,” Young told reporters on Tuesday, “and it’s unfortunate the way things have gone, but nonetheless, we now have clarity and can move forward and prepare to have a healthy Jacob deGrom, hopefully sometime by the end of next season, but no promises on the timetable.”
Before carving Young into bite-size pieces for gambling on a pitcher with a track record that resembles an orthopedic-surgery textbook, the GM’s overall body of work shouldn’t be overlooked. Young is the biggest reason the Rangers are off to their best start ever, at 40–20, and are leading the defending World Series champion, the Houston Astros, by four and a half games in the American League West.
The Rangers aren’t just good. They’re breathtakingly good. Offensively, they’ve scored at least twenty more runs than any other major league team this season. Only the Astros and the Twins have allowed fewer runs. Heading into Tuesday’s 6–4 win over the St. Louis Cardinals, the Rangers had outscored the opposition by a whopping 153 runs over the course of the season—that’s the largest run differential through the first 59 games of any team since the 1939 New York Yankees. Young will need to acquire a reliever or two before MLB’s August 1 trade deadline to shore up a shaky bullpen, but thanks to the Rangers’ strong minor league system, Young has a war chest full of young talent that should allow him to do just that. Even without deGrom, Texas is nicely positioned for a postseason run with three solid starting pitchers in Nathan Eovaldi, Jon Gray, and Dane Dunning.
All in all, Young got the Rangers back in contention faster than almost anyone expected, considering the state of the franchise when he took over in December 2020. Young took complete control of baseball operations last August when longtime executive Jon Daniels, the architect of two American League championship teams, was fired. Perhaps just as significant, Rangers owner Ray Davis gave Young the green light to spend, and Young shelled out close to $800 million over the last two offseasons, in which the franchise didn’t just acquire better players—though shortstop Corey Seager, second baseman Marcus Semien, Eovaldi, Gray, and others certainly were huge upgrades. Young also changed the attitude around the team by talking the most successful manager of this era, Bruce Bochy, out of retirement and hiring Mike Maddux, one of the best pitching coaches in the sport.
He built organizational depth, too. With deGrom having pitched just six times this season, right-hander Dane Dunning, acquired from the Chicago White Sox in 2020, has stepped into the rotation and allowed more than two runs in just one of his five starts. DeGrom was Young’s big-ticket pitching investment, but the Rangers’ season has been saved by smaller spending for Gray, Eovaldi, Andrew Heaney, and Martín Pérez. So far, so good. Rangers starters have a 3.19 earned run average, second lowest in the majors, trailing only that of the Tampa Bay Rays.
“I’m disappointed for Jacob,” Bochy said of deGrom. “I know how bad he wanted to come back and pitch and help the team. We’ve shown already how resilient we are . . . you have to focus forward, you have no choice.”
Losing deGrom for an entire season is the kind of mistake that could get an executive fired, but many Rangers fans appreciate Young’s aggressiveness after decades of team owners mumbling about how they couldn’t afford to pursue game-changing talent or how they weren’t willing take chances on great players who were considered injury risks. The faithful have bought in, with the Rangers averaging more than 28,000 fans per home game in the franchise’s fourth year playing at Globe Life Field. If the team keeps rolling, it could crack 2.5 million in cumulative home attendance for the first season since 2017.
That will ease the sting of the deGrom signing, but Young should still have known better when it came to acquiring the former NL Cy Young winner. The GM ignored a checkered medical history that’s right there on the back of deGrom’s bubble gum card: 26 starts in 2021 and 2022 combined, which isn’t even one full season of work. Perhaps Young thought of the dominant starter that deGrom had been and allowed his heart to overrule his head. In seven seasons between 2014 and 2020, deGrom’s 2.61 earned run average was the second-lowest in baseball, trailing only North Texas native and former Highland Park High School star Clayton Kershaw.
To understand why Young was willing to look past deGrom’s injury history, it helps to remember that Young, who pitched for thirteen MLB seasons before beginning his career as an executive, was a near-perfect example of a player who overcame injuries and a lack of overpowering talent with smarts, guile, and work ethic. What he likely saw in deGrom was someone who, at 34, was still one of the three or four best pitchers in baseball when healthy. If you’re going to roll the dice on an injury-prone starter, you might as well choose the kind of pitcher who can carry a team through the playoffs if he can stay on the mound. DeGrom has that kind of ability.
But there were also the injuries that deGrom had sustained over the years to his forearm, elbow, shoulder, hamstring, neck, back, and hip. DeGrom had Tommy John surgery to replace the same elbow ligament he tore this season back in 2010. That’s four years before deGrom threw his first pitch in the majors. When he stepped on a major league mound for the first time, in 2014, and tossed seven dominant innings for the New York Mets, it was magic.
In 2021, however, deGrom’s body began to betray him in a big way. He made his final start of that season on July 7 because of right forearm tightness. Last year he was limited to 64 innings throughout the entire season because of a stress reaction in his right scapula. After deGrom threw his final pitch in a Mets uniform last season, his medical record made deGrom’s free agency one of baseball’s riskiest propositions. He was still capable of buckling knees and shattering bats when he was healthy enough to perform, and Young’s gamble looked smart on opening day this year, when deGrom’s fastball touched 101 miles per hour and averaged 98.5. When deGrom’s feeling good, Young said this week, he’s “the best pitcher in the world.”
Rangers fans never got a chance to see much of that deGrom, who missed time in spring training with soreness in his side, then left a no-hitter in Kansas City after four innings on April 17 because of wrist soreness. His season ended eleven days later, in his sixth start, when “elbow inflammation” forced him to exit a game against the Yankees in the fourth inning.
Now deGrom’s season is over, and the Rangers will try to compete for a World Series championship without him.