Business remains brisk in the starting pitching marketplace. While the Cardinals have yet to make a move to improve their rotation quality or depth, other franchises have been busy.
The Texas Rangers signed Nathan Eovaldi to a two-year, $34 million contract that could become a three-year, $63 million contract if he hits all of his bonuses and vesting triggers.
Earlier the Rangers opened the vault for free-agent Jacob deGrom, who joined Jon Gray, Andrew Heaney, Martín Pérez and Jake Odorizzi in a potentially formidabe rotation.
Rangers manager Bruce Bochy isn’t a fan of the six-man rotation, but all of those starters have injury histories. So does Eovaldi, so Rangers general manager Chris Young – himself a former pitcher – aimed to gain strength in numbers.
“I think what we're focused on is the best way to keep them healthy,” Young told MLB.com. “And certainly our medical team has signed off on every player. So we're confident in understanding the player, the person, to make up the injury history so that we can put each player on a program that's going to give them the best chance to stay healthy. But injuries are part of the game. We recognize that. But I think that we're prepared to deal with that based on the depth that we have in our rotation.”
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Writing for ESPN.com, David Schoenfield had this take on the Rangers:
This is the kind of move the Rangers needed to make: They're $685 million into Corey Seager, Marcus Semien and Jacob deGrom, so signing the best remaining starting pitcher to add to that win-now nucleus makes sense and improves the Rangers' chances of being more than a .500 team.
That's about where my colleague Brad Doolittle had the Rangers before this signing. In his run of 10,000 simulated seasons, Brad had the Rangers averaging 79.5 wins, with odds of reaching the playoffs at 24%. He also had them as the most improved team this offseason -- adding not only deGrom, but re-signing Martin Perez, signing Andrew Heaney and trading for Jake Odorizzi.
Yes, if you do the math, that's four new starting pitchers to go alongside Perez and Jon Gray -- for a rotation that ranked 25th in the majors in 2022 with a 4.63 ERA -- worse than the Tigers or Pirates. That group of six combined for a 3.52 ERA last season, which would have been the fifth-best rotation ERA, so it's not a stretch to envision the Rangers going from one of the worst rotations to one of the best. The hitch, of course, is keeping all these guys healthy. They also combined for just 123 starts last season, with only Perez making more than 24.
After losing Eovaldi and Rich Hill from last season’s rotation, the Boston Red Sox took a one-year, $10 million flyer on Corey Kluber after he struck out 139 batters and walked just 21 in 164 innings for the Tampa Bay Rays last season.
Meanwhile the 900-year-old Hill signed a one-year, $8 million contract with the Pittsburgh Pirates – who hope that he pitches well enough to fetch a prospect package at the trade deadline as that franchise continues its eternal rebuild.
What’s left in the marketplace? There is our old friend Michael Wacha, another hurler who found late-career success in Boston.
Zack Greinke and Wade Miley are still out there, albeit without much tread left on their tires. Then there are reclamation cases like Dylan Bundy, Chris Archer, Michael Pineda, Mike Minor and soft-tossing Dallas Keuchel.
Here is what folks have been writing about the marketplace:
Bradford Doolittle, ESPN.com: “The Cardinals are rarely aggressive when it comes to a quantity of moves to add players from outside the organization. However, St. Louis has been opportunistic when it comes to making a targeted move, and generally those have paid off. The latest maneuver to fit that bill is the signing of catcher Willson Contreras. It's the only move that as of now figures to impact the big league depth chart in a significant way. Yet it appears to have been enough to give the Redbirds a strong offseason grade, as the roster looks solid. Another starting pitcher would be a good idea, but don't we always say that about St. Louis?”
Zach Crizer, Yahoo! Sports: “Eovaldi (likely) completes a starting rotation overhaul headlined by Jacob deGrom. Texas mostly leaned into upside with its external pitching acquisitions, which also included Andrew Heaney. If you’re counting, the Rangers now have eight guys whom, at the end of the 2022 season, you would've been obliged to call MLB starting pitchers: deGrom, Eovaldi, Heaney, Martin Perez, Jon Gray, Jake Odorizzi, Dane Dunning and Glenn Otto. That’s both a lot to juggle and a necessary assemblage of depth, considering the health records of the team's top starters. Over the past three full seasons (since the beginning of 2019), the group has collectively produced seven campaigns of 150-plus innings. In all likelihood, the Rangers will need seven or eight arms to get through the 2023 season. On the surface, the 32-year-old Eovaldi’s performance seems to stack up with those of Taijuan Walker and Jameson Taillon, who landed similar annual salaries ($18 million and $17 million, respectively) for more years due to their relative youth. Eovaldi, though, came out ahead on park-adjusted figures, and his underlying metrics (notably, his strikeout rate) point to a stronger pitcher closer to the level of Chris Bassitt, who signed for $21 million per year. The concern that might have depressed Eovaldi’s market? A sharp decline in fastball velocity in 2022, a season in which he managed only 20 starts. Like the rest of the Rangers’ additions, he’s a known health risk with potentially huge rewards.”
David Schoenfield, ESPN.com: “No, this signing isn't going to appease Red Sox fans after their long, angry offseason of discontent. While Kluber was healthy for a full season for the first time since 2018, he's not close to the same pitcher he was during his dominant peak with Cleveland from 2014 to '18, when he won two Cy Young Awards and finished third in the voting two other times. Even in his prime, Kluber never had an overpowering fastball and he has completely morphed into a finesse pitcher, at least by today's standards. He relies on supreme command and changing speeds. His fastball -- he pretty much just throws a two-seamer these days -- averaged 88.9 mph for the Rays in 2022. That ranked in the second percentile among all pitchers and Kluber ranked 136th in fastball velocity out of the 140 pitchers with at least 100 innings. The decline in velocity means Kluber has become more hittable. He allowed 178 hits in 164 innings and a .274 batting average -- after allowing a .224 average from 2014 through 2021. That happened with a good Tampa Bay defense behind him. Overall, he finished 10-10 with a 4.34 ERA. How valuable was that? We get a big split between Baseball-Reference, which puts his value at 0.7 WAR, and FanGraphs, which put it at 3.0 WAR. FanGraphs however, is ignoring the hits and just looking at his strikeouts, walks and home runs allowed and saying Kluber was unlucky.”
Jeff Passan, ESPN.com: “Hill, who turns 43 in March, carved out a role in recent years as a five-inning specialist. With the Boston Red Sox last season, he started 26 games and threw 124⅓ innings, posting a 4.27 ERA and putting up typically strong strikeout-to-walk numbers. The deal, which is pending a physical, would add Hill to a roster filled with young pitchers, including right-handers Mitch Keller, Roansy Contreras, Luis Ortiz and Johan Oviedo. Right-handed prospects Quinn Priester and Mike Burrows also finished last season at AAA. Hill was the second-oldest player in baseball last year, two months younger than St. Louis slugger Albert Pujols, who retired. Behind Hill were Nelson Cruz and Oliver Perez, both of whom remain unsigned, and 41-year-old Adam Wainwright.”
“He’s got tremendous stuff, tremendous command, he throws strikes, he attacks the strike zone -- it's aggressive mindset. And even just having conversations with him over the last 48 hours about the type of pitcher he is, the way he thinks about the game, the intellect, the competitiveness ... I think that he really fits all the criteria that we look for that we want our pitchers to be. I think he's going to set a great example for a lot of our young guys that are going to be coming along with the other pitchers that we have on staff.”
Rangers general manager Chris Young, on Eovaldi.