Top 25 Baseball Stories of 2016 — #4: David Ortiz’s historic farewell season

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We’re a few short days away from 2017 so it’s a good time to look back at the top 25 baseball stories of 2016. Some of them took place on the field, some of them off the field and some of them were creatures of social media, fan chatter and the like. No matter where the story broke, however, these were the stories baseball fans were talking about most this past year.

David Ortiz actually announced his retirement in November 2015, nearly a year before he’d play his final game. The mere announcement was itself a big story — I ranked it the #20 story of the year — and his retirement still would’ve been notable if, like most players, he went out with a whimper in his final season.

He did not go out with a whimper.

At the age of 40, Ortiz put up numbers which wouldn’t have looked out of place a decade earlier. His batting line: .315/.401/.620, leading the majors in OPS, while smacking 38 homers and 48 doubles while driving in 127, with those latter two totals leading the American League. He won the Hank Aaron Award, the Edgar Martinez Award, the Silver Slugger Award, made the All-Star team and came in sixth in MVP balloting, all while powering an offense that helped the Red Sox win the AL East with a 93-69 record. It was probably the greatest season a 40-year-old player has ever had.

It may also have served to put him over the top when it comes to his Hall of Fame candidacy. Personally, I think Ortiz was a Hall of Famer no matter what he did in 2016, but many had reservations due to his being a DH — even the greatest DH ever, Edgar Martinez, is on the outside looking in for some dumb reason — and because he was allegedly one of the players who tested positive in the 2003 survey drug testing conducted by Major League Baseball in order to determine if mandatory testing should be implemented.

In early October, Rob Manfred seemed to nip that latter point in the bud, saying that the Hall of Fame should not take 2003 survey test results into account. Whether the voters will listen to him is an open question, but those comments, along with a greater thawing of anti-PED sentiment we’re witnessing in current Hall of Fame voting, may negate PEDs as an issue for Ortiz by the time he’s up for election in 2022.

As for the former: by the time David Ortiz is up for election, the DH will be half a century old and one would hope people would be over it by then. That aside, they will be faced with the candidacy of a man who was the biggest star on the best Boston Red Sox teams in the franchise’s history. A man whose name could not be left out if one wished to tell the story of baseball in the first part of the 21st century. A man who went out on top as one of the biggest fan favorites the game has ever seen while hitting 541 career homers, posting a career line of .286/.380/.552, winning three World Series rings, appearing in ten All-Star Games and compiling numbers better than the average for a Hall of Fame hitter.

I think that’ll do.

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

Jacob deGrom
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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.