Jacob deGrom to the Rangers!? Texas goes bold, but can this signing actually work?

by Daryn Albert - The former New York Mets ace will switch leagues, giving Texas one of the game's best pitchers -- at least when he's healthy.

MLB free agency grades: Texas Rangers land Jacob deGrom Adam Hunger/Getty Images 9:31 PM ET David SchoenfieldESPN Senior Writer Close Covers MLB for ESPN.com Former deputy editor of Page 2 Been with ESPN.com since 1995 Welcome to checkbook baseball. When it's your team signing the checks, it can be lots of fun! The Texas Rangers and Jacob deGrom always made a lot of sense. The Rangers are desperate for starting pitching. They're in win-now mode after signing Corey Seager and Marcus Semien last year and hiring three-time World Series-winning manager Bruce Bochy earlier this offseason. Most importantly, they're a big-market team that has been operating like a mid-market team for too long. After operating top-10 payrolls each season from 2012 to 2015, the Rangers entered a rebuild that has yet to produce any positive results. Their payrolls slid to 19th and 20th the past two seasons -- and they lost 102 games in 2021 and 94 in 2022, leading to the firing of long-time executive Jon Daniels in August. So the Rangers had money to spend ... but nobody expected a five-year contract for a 35-year-old pitcher who has made just 26 starts over the last two seasons. Even one who at his peak from 2018 through the first half of 2021 posted a 1.94 ERA across 91 starts, the highest level of performance the sport had seen from a starting pitcher over a period of years since Pedro Martinez. ESPN's Kiley McDaniel predicted a three-year contract for deGrom , albeit with a higher annual average of $44 million, as opposed to the $37 million AAV of this $185 million deal. Others predicted a similar deal. Five years? It's the ultimate high-risk signing from new general manager Chris Young and owners Ray Davis and Bob Simpson. In one sense, the analysis is simple. If deGrom is healthy, he's still arguably the best starter in the game. The Rangers can even dream on the deGrom we saw for 15 starts in 2021, when he had a 1.08 ERA with 146 strikeouts in 92 innings and held batters to a .129 average. For three months, he was a combination of 1999 Martinez, 1994 Greg Maddux and 1968 Bob Gibson, firing 100-mph lasers with pinpoint accuracy and unhittable breaking stuff. If they get something close to that version of deGrom for five years, this can turn into an A+ signing and deGrom could do for the Rangers what Max Scherzer did for the Washington Nationals , competing for Cy Young Awards season after season. Editor's Picks MLB free agency and trade grades: Grading the veteran trade between the Mariners, Brewers 4m Bradford Doolittle and David Schoenfield An ace to the NL East? Two star catchers on the move? Eight trades we want to see at the winter meetings 15h Bradford Doolittle and David Schoenfield 2 Related But deGrom missed the second half of that season with a forearm strain and elbow discomfort. He missed the first months of 2022 with a stress reaction in his shoulder, suffered at the end of spring training. What's the over/under on how many starts deGrom actually makes over these five seasons? The Rangers are going to be paying deGrom, Seager, Semien, Martin Perez (who accepted the team's $19.6 million qualifying offer) and Jon Gray about $133 million in 2023. And there are still a lot of holes to fill on this team. Analysts, and no doubt the Rangers themselves, will point out that while they went 68-94, they underperformed their Pythagorean record by nine wins, so the true talent was actually closer to that of a .500 team than a 94-loss team. Still, it feels a little like the Rangers are gluing diamonds onto a papier-mâché ball, as my colleague Brad Doolittle texted me. Glitzy yet hollow. This feels like a team that needs 32 starts from deGrom to even have hope of battling the Houston Astros and Seattle Mariners in the AL West (and even the Los Angeles Angels ). They're not the Los Angeles Dodgers or the New York Mets , who could get away with deGrom making 20 to 25 starts if he's great at the right time. The Rangers need him to be great from April through September. The good news is that deGrom did finish the season healthy -- although looking human. Over his final five starts, including one in the postseason, he had a 5.33 ERA and allowed seven home runs in 27 innings. Maybe just a blip, a temporary loss of mechanics or fatigue after not pitching in more than a year, but certainly noteworthy for a pitcher who had been so untouchable for so long. It's also worth pointing out that deGrom has relatively little wear and tear on his arm for a pitcher his age. He didn't become a full-time pitcher until the Mets drafted him out of Stetson University and while he did have Tommy John surgery as a minor leaguer, he has just 1,326 major league innings through age 34. Compare that to, say, Justin Verlander , who had 2,545 innings through age 34. Or Scherzer, who had 2,290. Ranking the top 50 MLB free agents How much will Judge, Correa, Turner and others get paid this winter? Kiley McDaniel breaks down this year's free agent class. Top 50 2022-23 free agents » Still, for this to come together for the Rangers, they're going to need a couple things to happen: 1. They'll have to spend more money to fill out the 2023 roster; 2. Their prospects will have to come and produce immediately in the majors. That includes third baseman Josh Jung , who debuted last year, but mostly points to a group of young pitchers: Jack Leiter (the second overall pick in 2021), Kumar Rocker (the third pick in 2022), Cole Winn (a first-round pick in 2018) and Owen White (a second-round pick in 2018). That group, however, had decidedly mixed results in 2022. Leiter had a 5.54 ERA at Double-A, disappointing for a pitcher viewed as a polished college product. Rocker, his former Vanderbilt teammate, was a surprise selection that early in the draft and didn't even pitch after the Rangers drafted him until he made six short outings in the Arizona Fall League. Winn had a 6.51 ERA at Triple-A. White has big-time stuff, but has pitched just 115 innings as a pro. The Rangers' current payroll is already at an estimated $192 million -- higher than they've ever gone before. They are still $41 million below the $233 million tax threshold, so let's see their next move. If there isn't more to come, this might eventually resemble another Rangers deal from a couple decades ago, when a different owner signed Alex Rodriguez -- and when the team didn't win, couldn't wait to dump his mega-contract three years later. Grade: B-