Why Atlantic League player may not love new rules experiment

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Yesterday Major League Baseball and the independent Atlantic League announced that they reached a three-year agreement that will allow MLB to test experimental playing rules and equipment. The Atlantic League will, essentially, be a lab for various new initiatives.

Why an independent league instead of using affiliated minor leagues as they usually do for rules and equipment changes? Probably because some of the changes we’re learning about are radical. Most radical: moving the mound back. From J.J, Cooper at Baseball America:

And those rules changes will be significant. While no one with the Atlantic League would confirm the changes, it is expected that the rules tweaks will involve moving back the mound and using Trackman to call balls and strikes, both rules changes that have long been suggested but are significant enough to require plenty of in-game testing.

And those are changes that would be nearly impossible to first implement in any level of affiliated minor league baseball or the developmental Arizona Fall League, as all 30 teams would likely be hesitant to let their prospects loose on a mound that isn’t 60-feet, 6-inches from home plate.

I imagine they might hesitate because pitching from a new, longer distance may lead injury. Or because it may shake pitchers’ confidence if they get hit hard or can no longer command their pitches the way they used to.

But it’s not as if pitchers in the Atlantic League are gonna love that either, right? It’ll mess with them the same way and have the added detriment of making them look worse to affiliated teams which may want to give an independent league pitcher a look. So says Tyler Badamo, a pitcher who, until last season, was in affiliated ball and now pitches for the Long Island Ducks of the Atlantic League:

Badamo goes on to note that Atlantic League pitchers are heavily scouted by winter league and overseas teams and that, if they’re pitching from, say, 62, 63 or 65′ or something it may materially impact their ability to make a living going forward.

One wonders where Rich Hill would be today if his trip to the Atlantic League had come later than it did. He pitched for two weeks for the Long Island Ducks in 2015 after being released from a Triple-A club and finding no takers in affiliated ball. Maybe he gets that call from the Red Sox without his time in the Atlantic League, maybe he doesn’t, but having a couple of dominant outings that were, no doubt, seen by Red Sox scouts had to have helped his cause. Does anyone look if he doesn’t do that? Does anyone look at any other Atlantic League player if the league is seen as a lab or an oddity?

I don’t know. But I do know that a lot of players have made the jump into or back into affiliated ball from the Atlantic League. if I was a player in the Atlantic League, I’d worry about it.

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.