Verlander, Alcantara are unanimous Cy Young Award winners

Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
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HOUSTON — It didn’t take Justin Verlander long to realize he could have a special year after missing almost two full seasons recovering from Tommy John surgery.

Heading into his fifth start, Verlander knew he was back.

“In that moment, I felt normal and like myself, pain-free, able to recover like I always have,” he said. “I think my mindset just completely shifted to like, `OK, I am the pitcher I’ve always been.”‘

On Wednesday, the Houston ace capped his stellar season by winning the American League Cy Young Award, joining Miami’s Sandy Alcantara in the National League as unanimous selections.

It’s the second time the winners in both leagues were unanimous since the award began in 1956 and the first since Detroit’s Denny McLain in the AL and St. Louis’ Bob Gibson in the NL swept the voting in 1968.

The 39-year-old Verlander, who also won the award in 2019 after winning both MVP and the Cy Young in 2011, becomes the 11th player to win it three times. He also won unanimously in 2011.

He said this one has a different meaning.

“It shows that I’m at a different point in my life,” Verlander said. “I will always remember this Cy Young as looking back at the growth of me as a father and as a person, and just also the the rehab and all the hard work that went into the rehab and how I was just so committed to it was going to go well and I was going to come back and be me.”

Verlander led the majors with a 1.75 ERA, the lowest of his 17-year career. He becomes the fourth AL pitcher with two unanimous Cy Young Awards, joining Roger Clemens (1986, 1998), Pedro Martinez (1999, 2000) and Johan Santana (2004, 2006).

Verlander led the Astros to the best record in the AL, and while the postseason doesn’t count for the award, he got his first career World Series win in Game 5 as Houston beat Philadelphia in six games.

Verlander, who will receive a $200,000 bonus, is a free agent and said he has communicated with Astros owner Jim Crane about a possible return, but noted that Houston is far from his only potential suitor.

“Obviously, there’s a lot of people that are interested and Jim understands that based on our conversation,” he said. “He completely understands that. … So we’ll see what happens.”

Alcantara had a 2.28 ERA while pitching a major league-best 228 2/3 innings and six compete games. It’s the first Cy Young Award for the 27-year-old from the Dominican Republic, who becomes the first Marlins player to receive the honor.

“It makes me feel so special because I came here to the Marlins with my positive mentality – just tried to win,” he said. “Tried to compete, tried to get better. This year I put everything in the same spot, working hard. I’ve had great success. And now to win the National League Cy Young, I feel so happy and blessed.”

Alcantara received all 30 first-place votes, the 15th time the NL has had a unanimous winner. Atlanta’s Max Fried was second with 72 points, including 10 second-place votes, and Los Angeles Dodgers lefty Julio Urias was third 66 points and seven second-place votes.

Behind Verlander, who was the 11th AL pitcher to win unanimously, were Dylan Cease of the Chicago White Sox with 97 points and 14 second-place votes and Toronto’s Alek Manoah with 87 points and seven second-place votes. The three pitchers were named on every ballot.

Verlander’s 18 wins led the AL, and he had 185 strikeouts to give him 3,198 in his career, the most among active players.

Alcantara’s six complete games were the most in the majors since Chris Sale had six in 2016. The two-time All-Star went 14-9 and threw seven or more innings in 13 straight starts from May 11-July 15, which was the longest such streak since 2014.

Alcantara’s innings pitched and wins were both career highs and his ERA was his best in six seasons and ranked second in the NL.

“The hard work, the positivity, every day, fighting for my team, competing against any team. That makes it special,” he said. “My mentality all the time is to be aggressive. Try to get better every day. And I’ll keep doing the same. And let’s see if I can win the Cy Young next year, too.”

He joins Martinez (1997) as the only player born in the Dominican Republic to win the NL award. Martinez also won twice in the AL (1999, 2000) and the other Dominican winner in the AL was Bartolo Colon in 2005.

Urias was 17-7 and led the NL with a 2.16 ERA to help the Dodgers lead the majors with 111 wins in the regular season. The left-hander had 166 strikeouts after a 2021 season in which he led the majors with 20 wins.

Fried was 14-7 with a 2.48 ERA and 170 strikeouts. He was a first-time All-Star and helped lead the Braves to their fifth straight NL East crown.

Cease was 14-8 and ranked second to Verlander in the AL with a 2.20 ERA. He had a career-high 227 strikeouts and went 14 consecutive starts this summer without allowing more than one earned run.

Manoah went 16-7 with a 2.24 ERA in his second season. He had 180 strikeouts and went 4-0 with a 0.88 ERA in his last six starts to help the Blue Jays make the playoffs.

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.