Padres’ Joe Musgrove wears No. 44 to honor Jake Peavy

Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports
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When Joe Musgrove reported to spring training to start his sixth big league season, a brown and gold No. 44 San Diego Padres jersey was hanging in his locker.

The No. 44 is a nod to Jake Peavy, the fiery right-hander Musgrove grew up cheering for. Musgrove continued to follow his hometown Padres even as his big league career unfolded elsewhere, and now he’ll get to pitch at Petco Park as part of a powerhouse rotation San Diego is counting on to take it deep into October.

“Putting on that jersey for the first time the other day was pretty special, and just hearing all the feedback from my family and friends about how good it is to see me in a Padres uniform,” Musgrove said in a videoconference Saturday from Peoria, Arizona.

Musgrove is among the big leaguers making a homecoming of sorts this spring. Just up the California coast, there’s NL Cy Young Award winner Trevor Bauer, who grew up near Los Angeles listening to Hall of Fame broadcaster Vin Scully and signed a $102 million, three-year deal with the Dodgers this month.

Elsewhere, a number of players have returned to teams where they had success: James Paxton with Seattle, Chris Archer in Tampa Bay, Jake Arrieta to the Chicago Cubs, Adam Eaton to the Chicago White Sox and Jed Lowrie in Oakland.

“This is where I wanted to be,” Arrieta said. “The last few days here, it just feels right.”

Musgrove was obtained in a trade with rebuilding Pittsburgh on Jan. 19, the third big trade Padres general manager A.J. Preller made after Christmas to restock the injury-depleted rotation. Preller also obtained Yu Darvish and Blake Snell in blockbuster deals that are expected to make the Padres one of the best teams in the majors this season. Darvish, Snell and Musgrove have all pitched in the World Series. Only Musgrove has won a ring, with Houston in 2017.

Musgrove said he was an energetic and emotional player as a kid, which is why he idolized Peavy, the 2007 NL Cy Young Award winner.

“Going to Padres games and seeing Peavy, you know, snot flying and grunting and fist-pumping, that was just kind of who I felt I was as a player and seeing a big leaguer at that time doing the same thing kind of gave me the confidence to go out there and be myself and play the game I wanted to,” Musgrove said. “It’s pretty special for me to wear 44, and I know there are a lot of expectations with it and I’ve got to do the number right.”

Musgrove goes from a Pirates team that had the worst record in the majors to what should be a heated NL West race with the eight-time division champion Dodgers.

He might wind up sharing the rubber with Bauer, introduced last week at Dodger Stadium, where he attended games as a kid with his father, listening to Scully’s call through headphones. Bauer was born in North Hollywood, attended high school in Santa Clarita and pitched at UCLA.

“A lot of people have told me, `If you can play for the Dodgers, you should. It’s first class, the best that I’ve ever experienced,”‘ Bauer said. “I’m just excited to be here for those reasons.”

Paxton, Seattle’s one-time ace, said a number of teams were interested in signing him but he decided to return to the Mariners – a team he threw a no-hitter with in 2018.

“I think that coming back to Seattle was the best long-term decision for me, looking forward in my career and what I want to do,” the left-hander said. “I want to get back to being myself this year. I really struggled last year coming back from the back surgery, and I’m comfortable here in Seattle. I love the group here, and I’m excited to be part of it.”

Familiarity is also why the defending AL West champion A’s brought back Lowrie for a third stint, on a minor-league deal, despite the infielder’s medical struggles.

Lowrie was limited the past two years by knee injuries and played only nine games in 2019 for the New York Mets and none last year. He has not played the field since 2018, when he was an All-Star with Oakland.

“I saw what he did for us in 2018, and that alone was enough for us to hope that he can still impact our team,” A’s general manager David Forst said this week. “Obviously he had a rough last couple of years, dealing with a knee injury that we think is taken care of now.”

Arrieta is looking forward to his return to the Cubs on a $6 million, one-year deal. His former catcher, David Ross, is now the Cubs’ manager.

Now 34, Arrieta helped the Cubs win the World Series in 2016 and threw no-hitters in consecutive seasons.

“To play for a manager that caught one of my no-hitters is pretty cool,” Arrieta said Saturday.

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.