We learned yesterday that Jacob deGrom needs elbow surgery due to a damaged UCL, and the Texas Rangers will be without him for the rest of 2023.
We will know more once deGrom goes under the knife what the prospects are for 2024. If deGrom needs Tommy John surgery, he will be out until sometime in the second half of 2024 (if at all in 2024). If it is determined that internal brace surgery — which has a quicker rehab period — is appropriate, the timeline for his return moves up, and he could possibly be ready for the start of the 2024 season.
But either way, the Rangers aren’t getting him back this year, and that has a pretty significant impact on the Rangers prospects for 2023.
How significant? Well, Fangraphs has the Astros as slight favorites (47.5% to 45.5%) over the Rangers to win the American League West. This is despite the Rangers being slight favorites yesterday, and despite the Rangers being the Cardinals yesterday while the Astros lost to the Blue Jays. The prospect of some deGrom versus the prospect of no deGrom was enough to tilt the odds in the Astros’ favor, based on the Fangraphs algorithms.
The immediate reaction from folks last night was that the Rangers need to add “starting pitcher” to their trade deadline priority list. I tweeted this last night:
Re the talk about the Rangers trading for a starter with deGrom now out…unless you are getting a guy who would start twice in a seven game series, I don’t see the point.— Adam J. Morris (@lonestarball) June 7, 2023
They don’t need just a guy.
But they could very much use a legit 1/2/3 guy.
Having slept on it, I’m still generally of that point of view, albeit with a caveat.
The Rangers opened spring training with a projected rotation of deGrom, Nathan Eovaldi, Jon Gray, Martin Perez and Andrew Heaney. As depth they had Jake Odorizzi, Dane Dunning, Cole Ragans and Glenn Otto, though Dunning was coming off hip surgery, Ragans had a limited track record, and Otto seemed to project better as a reliever than as a starter.
Flash forward to early June. Their #1 and #6 starters — deGrom and Odorizzi — are out for the year. Their #7 starter is now in the rotation. Their #8 starter is working out of the bullpen, and isn’t really a rotation depth option unless he is sent down to AAA and stretched out. Their #9 starter is reportedly soon to start a rehab assignment after having not pitched at all this season, and is likely going to be used as a reliever.
In terms of the organization rotation depth chart, as things stand now, the #6 guy is Cody Bradford, who you probably want to spot against lefty-heavy teams, and who is a five-and-dive guy right now anyway most likely.
I don’t know who the #7 guy is. Spencer Howard, who was probably the #10 guy on the depth chart coming into the season, has missed most of the season due to injury, and is now in the major league bullpen. He’s not an option. Owen White had some physical issues early on and has been middling at AA Frisco. He may be an option later on if things click, but for now, he’s probably not ready to face major league hitters.
Looking at Round Rock, Cole Winn isn’t throwing strikes and is not an option. Kyle Cody has been starting but has a 7.49 ERA. Robert Dugger has been brought in as AAA rotation depth and hasn’t been that good, though at least he’s started in the majors before (and not been good).
So I guess my point that you don’t need just a guy for the rotation is true, as far as it goes, so long as everyone stays healthy. But that’s a big if, particularly given the histories of Heaney and Eovaldi. The Rangers are probably actively checking in on guys right now who might have outs in their minor league contracts or might otherwise be available who could be in Round Rock as a “break glass in case of emergency” option. And if someone currently in the rotation goes down or goes south, well, “just a guy” suddenly makes a lot of sense. Hell, you may want to get “just a guy” to move Dunning back to the bullpen or to function in the role Odorizzi was to fill as long man/spot starter at some point in July anyway, as insurance down the stretch.
However, the more I think about it, the more I tend to think that the priority if you’re going after a starting pitcher is someone who is going to start twice in a seven game series. A big part of the thought process with landing deGrom was that you wanted him to head up your rotation in the playoffs. You had the prospect of deGrom, Eovaldi, and Gray as your front three, with one of Perez/Heaney/Dunning as your Game Four starter. Now Eovaldi and Gray move up a slot, and you are looking at one of those three being your Game Three starter and another your Game Four starter.
As has been pointed out by pretty much everyone, the Rangers are currently 40-20 despite getting only six starts from deGrom this year. The Rangers are 25-9 since deGrom went on the injured list with this rotation (featuring a couple of cameos from Cody Bradford) getting it done. The fact that they’ve been winning without deGrom shows that, well, they can win without deGrom.
Which is true. I don’t expect the Rangers to fall apart the rest of the way. I don’t expect them to play .667 ball for the remainder of the season, or to continue averaging 6+ runs per game on offense, but I expect them to play well. Even a .500 record the rest of the way would mean 91 wins and a likely playoff berth, and I would take the over on a .500 record the rest of the way.
But unlike in, say, 2010, the Rangers have a legitimate contender to deal with in the West. The Astros are not the Astros of the past, but they are still a very good team, and one that isn’t going to just go away the rest of the way. Holding off the Astros, winning the division and avoiding the uncertainty of the Wild Card round (the A.L. Central almost certainly will have the worst record of the division winners, and thus be the division winner playing in the Wild Card round) is a not insignificant goal to achieve.
So...do the Rangers need to get a top three starter to add to the rotation? Not necessarily. But if they have the opportunity to grab one, it would certainly make sense to do so.
The problem then, though, is who? Shohei Ohtani is the dream scenario, but there is skepticism that the Angels (read: Arte Moreno) will actually trade Ohtani, and even if they do, one can imagine that the Angels (read: Arte Moreno) might be reluctant to send him to Texas.
Shane Bieber’s name has come up, but as Ken Rosenthal notes in a column today, there is skepticism that Bieber is “a playoff difference-maker.” Bieber has not been impressive this season — while he has a 3.57 ERA, he also has a 4.07 FIP and a 4.89 xERA. His K rate has dropped every year since 2020, and he’s currently striking out just 6.14 batters per nine. Bieber’s whiff rate has dropped from 40.7% in 2020 to 36.4% in 2021 to 29.7% last year, and is at just 23.0% this year. His four seamer is averaging just 91.2 mph — in the bottom 10% of MLB.
Bieber has basically turned into a righthanded Martin Perez (non-2022 version).
Marcus Stroman has also been mentioned, should the Cubs end up sellers (though is anyone really out of the race in the awful N.L. Central?). He has a sterling 2.39 ERA, though his xERA and FIP (3.69 and 3.49, respectively) are more in line with what he has done the previous couple of seasons. He’s likely a rental, given he has a player option for 2024 he is likely to decline, and is the type of guy who could shore up your playoff rotation and strengthen you down the stretch.
Eduardo Rodriguez? His contract situation complicates things, as he is owed $49 million from 2024-26 but has an opt out after 2023, and so you don’t know for sure if he’s a rental or not. He’s also on the injured list with a finger issue currently. He also has a 2.13 ERA in 11 starts this year, along with a 3.08 xERA and a 3.17 FIP, suggesting he’s back on track after his disappointing, injury-shortened 2022 season.
I don’t know. There will probably be more clarity next month, when we have a better handle on who is really in the playoff race and who is out, and more clarity on health, performance and the like.
We know the Rangers will be buyers in July. They are obviously going to be in the market for relievers. They don’t appear to have an aching need on the position player side, though they could possibly go get a rental lefty bat like Joc Pederson to DH against righties.
And they will, it appears, at least be inquiring about starting pitchers.
And they have the farm system to make moves. Every team is going to want Evan Carter, and the Rangers aren’t going to want to give up Evan Carter. But they’ve got guys like Justin Foscue and Luisangel Acuna who don’t appear to have paths to the majors, and who are likely more valuable as trade pieces than anything else right now to the Rangers. They have Brock Porter, who could headline a deal. They have guys like Davis Wendzel and Dustin Harris who aren’t going to be the top piece in a big time trade, but could be used in a smaller deal or in part of a package.
It will be an interesting seven weeks from now to the trade deadline.