This offseason the Texas Rangers made a big splash by signing Jacob deGrom to a five-year, $185 million deal. It was an enormous gamble that has since gone bust, as deGrom will undergo Tommy John surgery to repair a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow. It will be his second time getting the surgery and he might not be back on a major league mound until 2025.
deGrom entered the offseason as MLB‘s top free agent pitcher. But there was a serious problem with that designation: he’s had a lengthy injury history, especially over the last two seasons. He was set to turn 35 during the 2023 season and had made a total of 26 starts in 2021 and 2022. Nevertheless, the Rangers opened the coffers and showered him with a massive contract. It turns out those injury concerns were real.
Texas is paying deGrom $30 million this season and that jumps to $40 million over the next two seasons. He’s then owed $38 million in 2026 and $37 million in 2027 when he’ll turn 39 during the season. Just so we’re clear, the track record for guys coming back from a second Tommy John surgery isn’t great. And to make matters worse, the Rangers didn’t get insurance on the contract.
When he’s been healthy, deGrom has arguably been baseball’s best pitcher since 2018. He put up monster numbers for the New York Mets while winning two Cy Young Awards and being named an All-Star four times. But he has only made 30 or more starts four times in his 10-year career and has only topped 200 innings three times.
deGrom boasts a fastball that can hit triple digits and a slider and changeup that both come in around 92 mph. He has an absolutely devastating arsenal. But that has clearly taken a toll on his body. Over the years he’s dealt with a hip injury, back problems, a neck strain, an injury to his right side, shoulder injuries and multiple elbow and forearm maladies. This will be his second Tommy John surgery, after undergoing the procedure shortly after being drafted back in 2010.
Once recovered, he pitched well, winning NL Rookie of the Year in 2015 and placing seventh in NL Cy Young voting in 2015 while winning a Wilson Defensive Player of the Year Award. In 2016 he made 24 starts but his season ended in early September due to surgery on the ulnar nerve in his right arm.
During the 2021 season, he had forearm tightness in July and was diagnosed with elbow inflammation. he wound up being shut down for the season. In 2022, he suffered a stress reaction in his right scapula in spring training and missed the beginning of the season. He didn’t debut until August, though he did finish the season and pitched in the playoffs. He made a total of 11 starts, following the 15 he made in 2021.
The Rangers knew all of this and still bet on him being healthy. They got six starts out of deGrom and he went 2-0 with a 2.67 ERA, a 0.76 WHIP and 45 strikeouts in 30.1 innings. Again, there’s no doubting him when he can actually pitch.
It will be a long time before we see him do that again.