While there will be plenty claiming they always knew the Texas Rangers took too big of a risk in signing Jacob deGrom this past winter, the allure of deGrom was simply too much. And it should be. Especially if you don’t really care about the money, which more MLB owners shouldn’t. The Rangers have plenty of young talent that either has just come up or is about to. They don’t have to worry about signing them to huge contracts for a bit. So why not roll the dice? Worked out with Cory Seager and Marcus Semien, after all.
Most analyses, especially from the lazy, are about what can’t be instead of what could. 36 starts over the past three seasons is what everyone will focus on with deGrom. That no one had combined 102 MPH fastballs with 94 MPH sliders and held up physically. The stress is just too much. That he was already 34 (He turns 35 on June 19).
It’s been a while since deGrom’s back-to-back Cy Youngs — 2018 and 2019 —one that had a 1.98 FIP, and both had a sub-1.00 WHIP. Things that hadn’t been seen since Pedro Martinez first showed up in Boston. There is nothing in baseball quite like an ace that’s automatic. The charge in the park, or in the whole city at their best, on days they start. There was no more automatic than deGrom. Even if the Mets couldn’t do much with it, Mets fans knew that every deGrom start was going to be something to remember. One player, surrounded by opponents powerless to do anything about what he was doing. A vulgar and yet magnetic display of power.
Can’t blame the Rangers for wanting some of that. For wanting even a chance at it. Not something they’ve had since Nolan Ryan was around. Yeah, they’ve got a new ballpark to fill and deGrom probably sold a few tickets. But what’s wrong with that? Isn’t that the idea? Big-time names, promising big-time wins, to get fans to pony up the big-time prices?
It’s hard to not look back on the promise of that Mets staff, just like the ones that came before it, and not think about the familiar wreckage it became. That World Series appearance in 2015 that once again falsely promised a rebranding of the Mets, and then not another playoff win or division title. Noah Syndergaard looks finished, Matt Harvey crashing out fast and hard like a rock band created on Sunset, and now deGrom is unable to keep his body cooperating. Saw it before with Pulsipher, Wilson, and Isringhausen. This is how it goes in Queens, and anyone who exits there.
deGrom’s latest setback, one that probably eliminates the chance we’ll see anything like 2018 or 2019 again, will be used as yet another canary in the coal mine for how starters will be used from now on. As soon as they’re stretched out in the minors they’ll probably be up, because why wait for the innings you can get before they get hurt? Certainly, teams aren’t going to scout for durability anymore than they have, preferring to attack with numbers of guys with plus stuff and burn through them all if they have to. There certainly is a similarity in how starting pitchers and racehorses are treated and developed, though deGrom won’t have to be euthanized. At least we don’t think so. It is Texas, though.
It was a risk. But the Rangers saw what might have been, and let their fans dream a bit of having that supernatural force on their side for once. That’s worth the squeeze.
Speaking of supernatural forces, Carlos Alcaraz is on the precipice of announcing his adoption of the ATP Tour as his own. Yes, he already has a Grand Slam to his name, last year’s US Open. He has the No. 1 ranking. But he hasn’t had to go through either Novak Djokovic or Rafa Nadal to get those, and on Friday he’ll see the former in the French Open semis.
And it may very well be Djokovic who is the more nervous. Alcaraz has been on an utter tear. His third-round opponent was Denis Shapovalov, whose game can run about as hot and cold as anyone but when he’s on he fires rockets from both wings. He won seven games total off Alcaraz.
The fourth round saw Alcaraz run into Italian Lucas Musetti, who had used this tournament as his coming-out party. He even broke Alcaraz at the beginning of the first set to go up 2-1. He won five games the rest of the match.
Yesterday’s quarterfinal opponent was Stefanos Tsitsipas, another young hotshot who has at least hinted at being part of the next generation to take the torch of the sport from the Fabled Three. Alcaraz spent the first two sets kicking him around like a hacky sack, winning them 6-1 6-2 before his game went a little off the boil in the third, sentencing him to the ignominy of winning that in a tiebreak to still win the match in straight sets.
Alcaraz pulverized Tsitsipas’s second serve, winning 59 percent of those points. Alcaraz’s forehand would have been worthy of its own government defense contract, coming up with 26 winners on that side. If you’d like visual evidence:
The unfair aspect of Alcaraz’s game, at such an age, is how much touch he has with the blunt force he can produce as well. His drop shots remove all the cartilage from opponent’s knees. He’s good at the net. And he can also bludgeon a forehand on the run down the line on a passing shot.
Some will say it’s not official until he gets the best of one of the pillars at a major. Well, there’s only one left. If beating Nadal at Roland Garros is sports’ most difficult task, then beating Djokovic there is probably second, seeing as how only Nadal has managed in the past four years. Djokovic will take Alcaraz into the deep water he’s only briefly visited, though he did win three five-setters in Queens last year on his way to the title. It’s the last thing Alcaraz needs to do to officially ascend the throne. Friday feels like a historic point in men’s tennis.
Follow Sam on Twitter @Felsgate.