HR Derby matchups set: Top-seeded Schwarber vs Pujols

Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports
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NEW YORK — The matchups are set for baseball’s Home Run Derby.

Philadelphia Phillies slugger Kyle Schwarber will be the top seed Monday at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles thanks to his 28 home runs through last Wednesday – most among the eight players in the field. Schwarber entered the All-Star break with a National League-leading 29 homers.

Schwarber will face eighth-seeded Albert Pujols of the St. Louis Cardinals in the first round.

New York Mets first baseman Pete Alonso, trying to become the first player to win three times in a row, is the No. 2 seed and will take on Atlanta outfielder Ronald Acuna Jr., the seventh seed.

Third-seeded Corey Seager of the Texas Rangers, added to the American League roster last Thursday as an injury replacement for the All-Star Game on Tuesday, will square off against 21-year-old Seattle rookie Julio Rodriguez, the No. 6 seed.

Seager spent his first seven major league seasons with the Dodgers before signing with the Rangers last offseason.

No. 4 seed Juan Soto from the Washington Nationals opposes fifth-seeded Jose Ramirez of the Cleveland Guardians.

The seeds and matchups announced last Thursday night by Major League Baseball were based on the home run totals of each player through last Wednesday.

Alonso hit 74 total home runs in last year’s Derby at Denver’s Coors Field and beat Baltimore’s Trey Mancini 23-22 in the final round. Alonso joined Ken Griffey Jr. (1998-99) and Yoenis Cespedes (2013-14) as the only players to win consecutive titles. Griffey also won in 1994 and is the lone three-time champion.

Pujols will participate in his fifth Derby after coming up short in 2003, 2007, 2009 and 2015. He and Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera were added to the All-Star rosters as special selections by Commissioner Rob Manfred.

Pujols will make his 11th All-Star appearance and compete in the Derby at one of his former homes. He played 85 games with the Dodgers last season after being cut by the Los Angeles Angels, then signed with St. Louis before this season, which he has said will be his last.

The 42-year-old Pujols has six homers this season and 685 in his career, fifth on the career list.

Rodriguez will be the 14th rookie to participate in the Derby, and only two of those have won outright: Alonso in 2019 and Aaron Judge in 2017.

Judge leads the majors in homers with 33 and is set to start the All-Star Game as the top vote-getter in the AL, but the New York Yankees star is not participating in the Derby.

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.