Top 25 Baseball Stories of 2016 — #5: Alex Rodriguez’s career comes to an end. Probably.

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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.

On August 12, 2016, Alex Rodriguez played his final major league baseball game.

Probably.

It was certainly treated like his final game, with fanfare and farewells and all of that stuff. But technically speaking Rodriguez did not retire. The Yankees released him, agreeing to bring him back next spring as an advisor of some sort in a way which will allow him to depart baseball on friendly terms with a chance to work in the game in the future as opposed to being shut out in the cold like a lot of infamous and once-infamous players have been. A-Rod is still being paid his player salary in 2017 and could, if he wanted to, sign with any big league team for the minimum salary. He probably won’t, for reasons I argued at length here, but he could.

Let’s assume, though, that he won’t. If he doesn’t, we saw one of baseball’s strangest careers end last August. One of its best too, but one which will be more notable for its strangeness. Its controversy. And its drama. Indeed, due to all of the controversy and drama of the latter part of his career, A-Rod’s baseball accomplishments were often overlooked. It seems crazy to overlook such amazing accomplishments, though, so let’s take a brief refresher, shall we?

For a decade Alex Rodriguez was the best shortstop alive, full stop, and one of the two or three best shortstops to ever live. For close to another decade he continued to be one of the best hitters alive and one of the best all-around players to have ever lived despite moving to a different position. We could measure this a hundred different ways — I’ll leave it to the number crunchers to properly contextualize it all — but I would hope it would not take number crunchers to convince you that an infielder with nearly 700 homers, over 2,000 RBI, a .930 career OPS, over 300 stolen bases, three MVP awards, 14 All-Star appearances, the most career grand slams of anyone ever and a 2009 playoff performance in which he took the most storied franchise in baseball history, placed it on his back and carried the a World Series title was one of the greatest players to ever play the game.

We cannot, of course, ignore the controversy. He used PEDs. He admitted he did. This does not negate his accomplishments — if some HGH could turn a nobody into a superstar we’d have nothing but superstars — but it has certainly tainted them in the minds of most, and his numbers likely will never be taken at face value. Understandably so.

There was also his behavior separate and apart from the PED stuff. Until the final year or two of his career A-Rod was one of the least-self-aware superstars baseball has ever seen and he was constantly finding himself in controversies that could’ve been easily avoided. PR missteps. That media offensive and legal gambit he took immediately following his suspension in 2013. It was hard to love or identify with A-Rod in the best of circumstances, but he did absolutely nothing to give fans, the press or his peers a way in for the vast majority of his career, all of which gave him less of a margin for error when it came to legacy creation than players with half of his talent or accomplishments.

Despite all of that, it’s disingenuous to claim that A-Rod was not an all-time great. Even if you think his numbers were inflated by PEDs, he was among the most talented baseball players of our lifetime. Baseball was better for him having played it, not worse. Baseball was far more entertaining with him than it would’ve been had he not played. He was a great and baseball was better despite his perfidies and shortcomings. He was an all-time great whether you liked him or whether you didn’t.

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.