Tim Wakefield ranks with Red Sox legends

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Tim Wakefield would never be quite so good again.

He debuted with the Red Sox on May 27, 1995, pitching seven innings of one-run ball in a win over the Angels. Three days later, he used his knuckler to shut out the A’s for 7 1/3 innings in a win. Five days after that, he allowed an unearned run over 10 innings in a win over the Mariners. His incredible run concluded on June 9, with a three-hitter in another win over Oakland.

Wakefield started his Red Sox career 4-0 with a 0.54 ERA. He ended up being the biggest reason the 1995 Red Sox won the AL East (the last time they’d do so until 2007), finishing 16-8 with a 2.95 ERA. None of the team’s other starters had an ERA under 4.00.

The 45-year-old Wakefield announced his retirement Friday after 19 seasons, the last 17 coming with the Red Sox. Depending on how one wants to look at it, he was the active leader in victories with 200 (Jamie Moyer, who is trying to make a comeback after missing all of 2011, does have more).

It’s true that Wakefield was never again great after 1995. He had a sub-3.00 ERA once more, but that was in a 2002 season in which he made 15 starts and 30 relief appearances. He finished his Red Sox career with a 4.43 ERA in 430 starts and 160 relief appearances. He actually had a better ERA in his two early years with the Pirates.

But Wakefield was a rock, one always willing to do what was asked. He saved 15 games for the club in 1999. That was the first of four straight years in which he never really knew his role. Restored to the rotation on a full-time basis in 2003, he went on to win 63 games over the next five seasons. His ERA was always over 4.00, but that was nothing to be ashamed of during the era. His weakest ERA+ during those years was 100, so he was always a slightly above average starter.

While Wakefield’s numbers are a testament to longevity, his durability and consistency — even with the game’s most inconsistent pitch — played a big role in the team’s ability to contend for postseason berths every year (it also helped a bit that he was always willing to take less money from the Red Sox; Wakefield never earned even $5 million in a season). Wakefield ended up third on Boston’s all-time wins list at 186 and second with 2,046 strikeouts.

Obviously, Wakefield is far from a Hall of Famer. But as a person, he rates right up there. His charity work earned him the Roberto Clemente Award from MLB in 2010.

It used to be that the Red Sox would only retire the numbers of Hall of Famers, but they broke away from that in putting Johnny Pesky’s No. 6 on the wall in 2008. Wakefield’s No. 49 should join it at some point within the next  few years. 17 years of service warrants it.

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

Jacob deGrom
USA Today
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ARLINGTON, Texas — Free-agent ace Jacob deGrom and the Texas Rangers agreed to a $185 million, five-year contract Friday.

The two-time Cy Young Award winner leaves the New York Mets after nine seasons – the past two shortened substantially by injuries.

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.

Texas announced the signing Friday night 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.

“We are thrilled that Jacob deGrom has decided to become a Texas Ranger,” executive vice president and general manager Chris Young said in a statement. “Over a number of seasons, Jacob has been a standout major league pitcher, and he gives us a dominant performer at the top of our rotation. One of our primary goals this offseason is to strengthen our starting pitching, and we are adding one of the best.”

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

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).

This latest blockbuster move comes just before baseball’s winter meetings, which begin early next week in San Diego. The Rangers said deGrom will be introduced in a news conference at Globe Life Field next week following the winter meetings.

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 University, where he played shortstop before moving to the mound. He was slowed by Tommy John surgery early in his professional 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.

New York won 101 regular-season games last season, second-most in franchise history, but was caught by NL East champion Atlanta down the stretch and settled for a wild card.

After declining his 2023 option, ending his contract with the Mets at $107 million over four years, deGrom rejected a $19.65 million qualifying offer in November, so 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.

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.