Twins pitching coach Wes Johnson makes midseason move to LSU

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The Minnesota Twins must make a midseason change to a vital role on their field staff, with the sudden departure of pitching coach Wes Johnson for a lucrative college job at LSU.

Before opening a five-game set at AL Central rival Cleveland, the Twins announced that Johnson will work the series against the Guardians through Thursday. The 50-year-old will then return to his roots in the powerhouse SEC and join the Tigers.

The Twins, who lead the Guardians by two games in the division race, were still working to address how Johnson’s job would be filled. Bullpen coach Pete Maki and assistant pitching coach Luis Ramirez figure to play a major part in replacing Johnson.

“His leadership, insight, creativity and ability to effectively work across a diverse team were hallmarks of his time with the Minnesota Twins,” president of baseball operations Derek Falvey said. “His influence and impact will continue to be realized in Minnesota through the pitchers and staff members he helped mentor.”

The midseason move by a key assistant from a first-place team was startling, but Johnson’s arrival in 2019 was also unusual. He was widely believed to be the first college pitching coach to jump directly to the major leagues when the Twins hired him from Arkansas, which was the national runner-up in the 2018 College World Series.

Johnson spent nine seasons as a college pitching coach before the Twins plucked him with a keen eye on his background in biomechanics. He has a master’s degree in kinesiology.

Johnson, who was born in Atlanta and raised in Arkansas, where he has has kept an offseason home, also had stops at Mississippi State, Dallas Baptist and Central Arkansas. He was a high school coach before entering the college ranks.

Johnson presided over pitching staffs for division champion teams in his first two years, and the Twins have returned to the top of the AL Central this season with a 3.78 team ERA that ranks 11th in the majors. The Twins ranked 26th in ERA last year, fourth in 2020 and ninth in 2019 while Johnson was in charge of the staff.

The Twins set a single-season club record with 1,463 strikeouts in 2019. Jose Berrios and Jake Odorizzi were All-Star selections in 2019, and Taylor Rogers made the team in 2021. Twins pitchers routinely praised Johnson’s energy, positivity and wisdom, as recently as Saturday night when Chris Archer threw five shutout innings with one hit allowed to Colorado.

“Wes is one of my biggest advocates,” Archer said after the 6-0 win at Target Field. “We do a lot of work, mental and physical, in between starts.”

The Athletic reported that Johnson will receive a hefty raise at LSU, which planned an announcement for Monday. The Tigers are one of only three schools that have won six national championships, all of which were accumulated between 1991 and 2009. They’ve made the College World Series 18 times, most recently in 2017.

Coach Jay Johnson just finished his first season at LSU, which went 40-22 and was eliminated by Southern Mississippi in the final game of their NCAA regional, and has lost two staff members to head coach promotions at other power conference programs. Assistant coach and recruiting coordinator Dan Fitzgerald went to Kansas, and pitching coach Jason Kelly went to Washington.

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.