Half-century holdout over, DH comes to National League

Rich Schultz/Getty Images

PHOENIX – It was an impressive holdout for the National League, which made it nearly 50 years staving off a full-time designated hitter rule that the American League implemented before the 1973 season.

“We’ll continue to play by baseball rules,” NL President Chub Feeney famously said back then.

Well, the rules have finally changed.

Among the most noticeable switches in MLB for the 2022 season will be that all 30 teams will use the designated hitter, eliminating pitchers hitting and changing one of the long-standing different quirks between the two leagues.

No more Madison Bumgarner taking meaty cuts, no more Max Scherzer trying to end last year’s 0-for-62 slump.

The extra hitter won’t be a completely new concept in the NL: The league used the DH in the coronavirus-shortened season in 2020, in interleague games when visiting AL parks and in the postseason. There’s also the reality that nearly every level of baseball – from high school to college to the minor leagues – usually uses the DH.

But the change is still substantial, and it means some parts of the game will almost certainly become endangered or vanish – think sacrifice bunting, double switches and a Bartolo Colon blast. On the positive side, it also could add a jolt of offense to a game that needs it. MLB teams combined for a .244 batting average last season, which was the sport’s lowest mark since 1972 — pitchers didn’t help, combining to barely hit over .100.

There are certainly some pitchers upset that they don’t get to swing the bat. Zack Greinke produced two singles in last year’s World Series, including one as a pinch-hitter for Houston.

But Diamondbacks infielder Josh Rojas said he didn’t expect the change to be a big adjustment.

“I do think it’ll help with run production on the National League side,” Rojas said. “Having that pitcher in the nine-hole kind of cut off some rallies sometimes, or having to bunt him over instead of swinging it. … I don’t mind the DH.”

The DH position could also provide more jobs for the sport’s 30-somethings, who might not be as fleet in the field but can still swing the bat at a high level. Here are a handful of free agents who could benefit most from having the DH available for all teams:

Nick Castellanos: The 30-year-old has developed into one of the best all-around hitters in the game after batting .309 with 38 doubles and 34 homers in a 2021 All-Star campaign for the Cincinnati Reds. He’s a little shaky defensively in the infield and outfield, but is in his prime offensively and shouldn’t slow down any time soon.

Kyle Schwarber: The square-shaped masher has always been a little better in the batter’s box than in the field. The 2021 All-Star smacked 32 homers last season and the 29-year-old is an on-base machine when he’s healthy. There are a lot of teams that would like that production, especially knowing he doesn’t have to spend 162 games in the outfield.

Freddie Freeman: The Atlanta Braves star is a solid first baseman, but he’s not getting any younger at 32 years old. As he looks for a big contact in free agency, NL teams will be happy to know that Freeman’s bat can remain in the lineup even if he slows down some in the field.

Nelson Cruz: Now past his 30s, Cruz is proving that 40-somethings can still swing the bat, too. The 41-year-old has spent a huge chunk of his career at DH in the American League. Now there are 15 more teams in play who certainly wouldn’t mind adding his presence in the middle of the lineup. He’s got 449 career homers.

Eddie Rosario: He’s just OK defensively and almost never walks, but when Rosario swings the bat, good things can happen. The Braves picked him up for the stretch run last season and was the NLCS MVP after batting .560 with three homers against the Dodgers.

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

Jacob deGrom
USA Today

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.