Keith Hernandez wants to contract four teams. Does it make any sense?

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I missed this the other day, but Keith Hernandez was quoted in the USA Today saying that if baseball really wants to speed up the game it needs to stop pussyfooting around with the rules and simply axe four teams, thereby eliminating the worst 45-50 pitchers in the game.  You know, the ones who can’t throw strikes.

Notably, Mex doesn’t say which teams he’d contract, probably because that would be hard and controversial.  You find this sort of lack of specificity with anyone who talks big about hard issues, be it contraction, the collective bargaining agreement, drug policy and the like. It has its analog in politics with people who talk big about reducing the deficit but never say what, exactly, they’d cut.

But I’ll cut Hernandez some slack here because he actually goes on more about how long games are a function of pitcher usage rather than pitcher quality, saying that the real problem is when a starter who is cruising is lifted due to a pitch count and the bullpen takes over. I’ll join in with that complaint. Less so on pitch count grounds — you have to be careful with young guys — than on the grounds that La Russian hyper-substitution and specialization are just total game-stoppers that lead to more innings being thrown by worse pitchers.

I’d still like to hear who he’d contract, though.  Or you too, by the way, if you agree with a contraction scheme.  Put your contraction arguments in the comments. But let’s keep it pragmatic. Everyone can name the four worst teams in baseball. But it’s not like you can just contract anyone. Most teams have new ballparks that make contraction a political impossibility. Many of the usual suspects — the Marlins, the Pirates, etc. — also tend to be quite profitable, meaning that their owners would likely fight tooth and nail against such a thing.

Really — and I’m not advocating this at all, so don’t jump all over me — the only teams that seem like they could even arguably be contracted, politically speaking, are the Athletics, Blue Jays and Rays. The A’s and Rays each have stadium problems, and messing with the Jays wouldn’t have U.S. political repercussions. At least not those as immediate and severe as those arising out of attempts to contract any of the other 29 teams. The A’s, Rays and Jays also have the added benefit of rhyming, and that might make the media cut a contraction plan more slack because we like little rhyming headlines and stuff.

Ultimately I don’t think you could do it, even if there was a will on the part of baseball to try. Which there is not.  But I would love to hear your arguments.

Texas Rangers ink free-agent ace Jacob deGrom to 5-year deal

Jacob deGrom
USA Today
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ARLINGTON, Texas — Jacob deGrom is headed to the free-spending Texas Rangers, who believe the health risk is worth the potential reward in trying to end a six-year run of losing.

The two-time Cy Young Award winner agreed to a $185 million, five-year contract Friday, leaving the New York Mets after nine seasons – the past two shortened substantially by injuries.

“We acknowledge the risk, but we also acknowledge that in order to get great players, there is a risk and a cost associated with that,” Rangers general manager Chris Young said. “And one we feel like is worth taking with a player of Jacob’s caliber.”

Texas announced the signing after the 34-year-old deGrom passed his physical. A person with direct knowledge of the deal disclosed the financial terms to The Associated Press. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the club did not announce those details.

The Rangers were also big spenders in free agency last offseason, signing shortstop Corey Seager ($325 million, 10 years) and second baseman Marcus Semien ($175 million, seven years).

The team said deGrom will be introduced in a news conference at Globe Life Field next week following the winter meetings in San Diego.

“It fits in so many ways in terms of what we need,” Young said. “He’s a tremendous person. I have a number of close friends and teammates who played with Jacob and love him. I think he’s going to be just a perfect fit for our clubhouse and our fans.”

Texas had modest expectations after adding Seager, Semien and starter Jon Gray ($56 million, four years) last offseason but still fell short of them.

The Rangers went 68-94, firing manager Chris Woodward during the season, and then hired Bruce Bochy, a three-time World Series champion with San Francisco. Texas’ six straight losing seasons are its worst skid since the franchise moved from Washington in 1972.

Rangers owner Ray Davis said the club wouldn’t hesitate to keep adding payroll. Including the $19.65 million qualifying offer accepted by Martin Perez, the team’s best pitcher last season, the Rangers have spent nearly $761 million in free agency over the past year.

“I hate losing, but I think there’s one person in our organization who hates losing worse than me, and I think it’s Ray Davis,” Young said. “He’s tired of losing. I’m tired of losing. Our organization is tired of losing.”

After making his first start in early August last season, deGrom went 5-4 with a 3.08 ERA in 11 outings. He helped the Mets reach the playoffs, then passed up a $30.5 million salary for 2023 and opted out of his contract to become a free agent for the first time.

That ended his deal with the Mets at $107 million over four years, and deGrom rejected their $19.65 million qualifying offer in November. New York will receive draft-pick compensation for losing him.

The fan favorite becomes the latest in a long line of ace pitchers to leave the Mets for one reason or another, including Nolan Ryan, Tom Seaver, Dwight Gooden and David Cone.

The Rangers visit Citi Field from Aug. 28-30.

When healthy, deGrom is perhaps baseball’s most dominant pitcher. His 2.52 career ERA ranks third in the expansion era (since 1961) behind Los Angeles Dodgers lefty Clayton Kershaw (2.48) and Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax (2.19) among those with at least 200 starts.

The right-hander is 4-1 with a 2.90 ERA in five career postseason starts, including a win over San Diego in the wild-card round this year that extended the Mets’ season. New York was eliminated the next night.

A four-time All-Star and the 2014 NL Rookie of the Year, deGrom was a ninth-round draft pick by the Mets in 2010 out of Stetson, where he played shortstop before moving to the mound. He was slowed by Tommy John surgery early in his career and didn’t reach the majors until age 26.

Once he arrived, though, he blossomed. He helped the Mets reach the 2015 World Series and earn a 2016 playoff berth before winning consecutive NL Cy Young Awards in 2018 and 2019.

But injuries to his elbow, forearm and shoulder blade have limited him to 26 starts over the past two seasons. He compiled a career-low 1.08 ERA over 92 innings in 2021, but did not pitch after July 7 that year because of arm trouble.

DeGrom is 82-57 with 1,607 strikeouts in 1,326 innings over nine big league seasons. He gets $30 million next year, $40 million in 2024 and 2025, $38 million in 2026 and $37 million in 2027. The deal includes a conditional option for 2028 with no guaranteed money.

The addition of deGrom gives the Rangers three proven starters along with Gray and Perez, who went 12-8 with a career-best 2.89 ERA in his return to the team that signed him as a teenager out of Venezuela. Young didn’t rule out the addition of another starter.

With several holes on their starting staff, the Mets have shown interest in free agents Justin Verlander and Carlos Rodon to pair with 38-year-old Max Scherzer atop the rotation.

Now, with deGrom gone, signing one of those two could become a much bigger priority.