No more interim: Rob Thomson to remain Phillies manager

Philadelphia Phillies v San Francisco Giants
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ATLANTA – After guiding the Philadelphia Phillies to their first playoff berth in more than a decade, manager Rob Thomson had the interim removed from his title Monday.

The only issue?

Thomson had to sit through a news conference to discuss his new two-year contract to remain as Phillies manager through 2024.

He would prefer to talk about anything but himself.

“Completely,” Thomson said after his new deal was announced on the eve of the NL Division Series against the reigning World Series champion Atlanta Braves. “I really want the spotlight on the players and the series. And baseball is what I want to get to.”

The Phillies made the obvious choice to keep the manager who guided an improbable turnaround, one that propelled the club to its first playoff berth since 2011.

The 59-year-old Thomson took over on June 3 when Joe Girardi was fired with the Phillies mired at 22-29.

Philadelphia went 65-46 the rest of the regular season, finishing a distant third in the NL East behind Atlanta and the New York Mets but still good enough to land a wild card.

In the opening round of the playoffs, Philadelphia swept the NL Central champion Cardinals in two games at St. Louis for its first postseason series victory in a dozen years.

The best-of-five series against the Braves begins Tuesday at Truist Park.

Thomson is the first Canadian-born manager to lead a team to the postseason. But it was the way he handled his players that really stood out, allowing them to express their personalities and play much looser than they did under Girardi.

“He’s very deserving of this,” Game 1 starter Ranger Suarez said through a translator. “He let us be ourselves. There’s a lot of freedom that we feel when we’re around him. And the most important thing is that we’re comfortable because we can be ourselves.”

President of Baseball Operations Dave Dombrowski said several players came to him during the season, urging him to keep Thomson on as manager beyond 2022.

Dombrowski said his mind has been made up for quite a while to retain Thomson, but baseball rules designed to promote more opportunities for minority candidates prevented any announcement until after the regular season.

“I think just the overall change of atmosphere and communication and just the way the clubhouse felt when you’re around,” Dombrowski said, explaining his reasoning. “It’s not being negative towards the past, but it was just different, and you could tell we were playing with a relaxed but focused approach.”

Thomson had been the Phillies’ bench coach since 2018 before he was promoted to interim manager.

He became only the fourth manager in major league history to take over a team at least seven games under .500 and lead it to the postseason. The others were Dick Howser (1981 with the Royals), Cito Gaston (1989 with the Blue Jays) and Jim Tracy (2009 with the Rockies).

The Phillies won their first eight games with Thomson at the helm. A rash of injuries kept the team from keeping pace with the surging Braves or chasing down the Mets, but there were no complaints after Philadelphia ended the National League’s longest playoff drought.

Thomson immediately clicked with the players in his new role.

“He just feels relatable. I don’t know if that’s just his demeanor, the way that he speaks to you as a person and genuinely listens,” first baseman Rhys Hoskins said. “There’s just a lot of genuine feeling there when you’re around him, and it’s incredible to have in the manager’s office, for sure.”

After the Phillies arrived in Atlanta from their wild-card victory over the Cardinals, Dombrowski summoned Thomson to his hotel room to deliver the news officially.

It was a touching moment for the baseball lifer, who prior to joining the Phillies had spent 28 years in the New York Yankees organization.

Thomson had reached the age where it seemed unlikely he would ever get the call to become a big league manager.

Now, he’s managing at the biggest time of the season, with a contract to do it for two more years.

“It’s been in the back of my mind for a lot of years. But the last three, four, five years, I really have never thought about it,” he said. “And then it just happened.

“It’s funny how life is sometimes.”

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.