The Greatest Living Ballplayer: Continued

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Yesterday’s post about the Greatest Living Ballplayer for each team struck a nerve. Lots of folks around the Internets linked it and talked about, which doesn’t happen a lot with my stuff. Indeed, I tend to think that people mostly read what I write and either nod politely or roll their eyes and then move on without comment for fear that I’ll just be a jerk and argue about it. It’s not an unreasonable fear.

Larry Granillo has a great followup at Baseball Prospectus this morning, asking who held the title of Greatest Living Ballplayer — overall — at any given point since 1900.  I don’t think I disagree with any of his choices, including the decision to not name Joe DiMaggio — the man whose handlers more or less invented the title — Greatest Living Ballplayer at any given time.  Because he wasn’t.

And you all had some great followups in the very long comment thread following my post. Highlights:

  • There was a ton of dissent on the Yankees, with very few people buying Derek Jeter as GLB. I realized this as soon as I hit “post” yesterday, and hastily added Yogi Berra’s name, though intellectual honesty prevented me from taking off Jeter’s seeing as though I had already published the thing. If I had a do-over I name Berra, no questions asked. Many of you, however, were pro-Mariano Rivera. This seems a bit nuts to me in that I don’t see how a closer can be the guy who carries the team banner — and that’s part of this I think — but I guess I get it.
  • Many dead people — Eddie Matthews, Willie Stargell, Kirby Puckett, etc. — were suggested for the title of Greatest Living Ballplayer. I can’t decide if this is a function of people simply having lives and not following baseball news as closely as I do or if it’s some audacious statement about the sheer power of certain players. I’d like to believe it’s the latter.
  • Someone noted that Ted Williams really does complicate this list.  I mean, really, if I’m wrong and cryogenics is legit, I’m going to have an awful lot to answer for when The Splendid Splinter is walking among us again.  Of course, given that they only froze his head, it’s an open question whether he’d still be the Greatest Living Ballplayer or merely Baseball’s Greatlest Living Baseball Mind.
  • Much disagreement on my choice of Nolan Ryan for the Rangers given his relatively short tenure in a Texas uniform.  Very good point on that. I guess I fell for Nolan Ryan the cultural phenomenon as opposed to Nolan Ryan the Rangers pitcher.  And many people think that he should have been the choice for the Angels instead.
  • The Indians choices of Belle and Manny drew criticism. Some said I was sleeping on Jim Thome, who played there longer and had more overall career value. Maybe, but I also think it’s reached a point where he’s excelled for so many other teams for so long that he fails the homogeneity test. Another person mentioned Kenny Lofton. Unlike Thome, yeah, I did just whiff on him (though I probably wouldn’t pick him).  My overlooking of Lofton, I think, may be a precursor to what will happen when he’s Hall of Fame eligible. He’s way more valuable than anyone ever gives him credit for. Yet we so often give him short shrift. I’m not proud of this.
  • Many disagreed with my statement that Cal Ripken was the easiest choice, pointing to the continued Earthly existence of Brooks Robinson and Jim Palmer. Noted. I still think I pick Cal — there is a fame and personality aspect to all of this that, while I don’t want to overstate, seems important — but those guys are way closer than I considered yesterday.
  • Speaking of Orioles, Frank Robinson’s name came up.  He’s like a lot of players of more recent vintage such as Roberto Alomar in that he played and excelled for a couple of teams. Which, somewhat perversely, harms your chances on this list. In my view Robinson falls just short of making it for the Reds and the Orioles and that’s just how it goes.
  • Speaking of the Reds, almost no one agrees with me on Joe Morgan, including Rob Neyer (who himself is in the conversation for Greatest Living Baseball Blogger). The beef: not enough time in a Reds uniform for Little Joe.  I think I have to agree. Neyer likes Rose. Bench gets the nod from most people. He probably gets it from me if for no other reason than I don’t want to encourage the Pete Rose lobby, which consist of a lot of frightening people.
  • People did not like that I called Todd Helton “the most boring Greatest Living Ballplayer for any team.”  To which I’d ask: who’s more boring on that list than Helton? He played football. So what? He has occasionally sported some interesting though not terribly original facial hair. Don’t get me wrong: this isn’t a slam on Helton. Lots of people are boring. Al Kaline has held the title of GLB for the Tigers for 50 years and he’s boring. I may be the most boring baseball writer there is. It’s OK to be boring. Maybe Helton has a rich life away from the diamond of which I’m simply not aware, but c’mon, where’s the flavor with this guy?
  • Finally, many people think I should have named Larry Walker for the Rockies instead of Helton. That’s an interesting idea. Probably a good one too. Indeed, mentions of Helton and Carl Crawford and stuff make me wonder if the rule Granillo made for his Baseball Prospectus list — no active players can hold the title — isn’t a good one.  That would be hard for the Rays and a few other young teams, but there is a lot of merit until waiting until a guy is retired to bestow the honor. I mean, the whole idea of GLB was so that Joe DiMaggio could be announced that way when he walked onto the field or up to a lectern for some promotional event or public speaking engagement.  Can’t really do that as an active player.

Thanks for all the feedback, folks. It was one of the more fun things I’ve written and talked about in a while.

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.