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Texas Rangers Go All-In to Build an Instant Contender

SAN DIEGO — Bruce Bochy’s telephone buzzed on Friday, and Chris Young, the general manager of the Texas Rangers, was on the line. After some general chitchat, Young cut to the chase.

We got him, he informed Bochy. Jacob deGrom is ours.

Time will tell if that blockbuster move changes the Rangers’ fortunes, but Bochy, an out-of-retirement manager who rode Madison Bumgarner, Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain to three World Series titles a decade ago, can spot a lottery ticket when he sees one.

“Euphoria hits at that point,” Bochy said at the winter meetings this week, describing that phone call from Young. “I couldn’t have been more thrilled, more excited that we were able to bring him here.”

The Rangers will formally introduce deGrom at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas, later this week.

Then, the plan is to reintroduce themselves to the baseball world next summer. The team that played in back-to-back World Series in 2010 and 2011 — the Rangers were the victims in Bochy’s first San Francisco title in 2010 — has fallen on hard times lately and is in the process of a serious makeover.

After three fifth-place finishes in four seasons, they shocked the baseball world last winter by signing shortstop Corey Seager to a 10-year, $325 million deal and infielder Marcus Semien to a seven-year, $175 million contract.

With that, they moved from fifth place to fourth place in the A.L. West.

The Rangers committed $500 million to Marcus Semien and Corey Seager last off-season. The infielders played well, but Texas did not improve all that much.Credit…Logan Riely/Getty Images

So they fired Jon Daniels, their president of baseball operations, and gave his duties to Young. Then, they lured Bochy out of retirement, lured the longtime and highly respected pitching coach Mike Maddux back to the organization and zeroed in on deGrom, 34, who signed for $185 million over five years.

“That was very much a need for us, a guy that’s going to head up this rotation,” Bochy said. “You’re talking one of the best pitchers in the game. For him to be leading the way was a big need for us. And it makes our club so much better when you get a player like this.”

Bochy has been away from the game since his retirement in San Francisco after the 2019 season. But he’s been watching and observing and, increasingly, feeling the itch to return. It was Young who leveraged his relationship with his former manager into not only deciding to return to the dugout, but also to do so in Texas.

“He’s got a real passion for trying to build a winning culture in Texas,” said Bochy, who managed Young in San Diego in 2006. “He’s from there. He’s from the Dallas area. It means a lot to him. It means a lot to improve the ball club for the fans and get to playing great baseball and hopefully getting back to the postseason and eventually hoping to win a championship.

“And he doesn’t hold back on it. And you feel the passion. You can sense it, his drive to get this done. And it inspires you. I’ll be honest. It certainly did me.”

The beginning of something in Texas meant the end of something in Queens, where deGrom won two Cy Young Awards (2018 and 2019), one Rookie of the Year award (2014) and helped pitch them into one World Series (2015). Billy Eppler, the general manager of the Mets, moved quickly to replace deGrom with Justin Verlander, the reigning winner of the American League Cy Young Award, while taking a few minutes to text deGrom to congratulate him and wish him well.

Bruce Bochy retired after the 2019 season, having won three World Series titles for the San Francisco Giants. He felt the itch to come back and was lured to Texas by General Manager Chris Young, who had played for him in San Diego.Credit…Orlando Ramirez/USA Today Sports, via Reuters

“He’s a great pitcher,” Eppler said. “He gave Mets fans a lot of really good memories. We wish him the best.

“We’ll miss him.”

In Texas, deGrom will front a rotation that also projects to include the right-hander Jon Gray, who formerly pitched in Colorado; the left-hander Martín Pérez, whom the Rangers signed as a free agent last March to spectacular results; and the right-handers Jake Odorizzi, acquired in a trade with Atlanta last month, and Dane Dunning.

That group was bolstered on Tuesday when the team came to terms with Andrew Heaney, a veteran left-hander, on a two-year, $25 million deal.

While Bochy always has won with pitching, and Bumgarner, Lincecum and Cain all were homegrown in San Francisco, the Rangers are scrambling to patch together a rotation that will hold and give them a chance.

To help with that balancing act, they dipped into the past with Maddux. Long considered one of the game’s best pitching coaches, Maddux was with Texas from 2009 to 2015 before going to Washington and then St. Louis.

Bochy calls the addition of Maddux “huge.”

“He’s got history there,” Bochy said. “He had success there. He’s had success wherever he’s gone. Mike, he’s just considered one of the best pitching coaches in the game. And with his experience, knowledge and his success, this is just a great fit.

Andrew Heaney had a 3.10 E.R.A. for the Dodgers in 16 appearances (14 starts) last season. He will most likely be added to the Rangers’ starting rotation.Credit…Kyle Grillot for The New York Times

“A great fit for me, too. A great fit for the pitching staff. And to hear his voice, it’s been, to be honest, a little bit of a struggle getting that pitching developed in Texas. And so, we got him leading the way now. And he’s a difference maker.”

The Rangers’ moves this off-season at the very last have put people on notice. For one thing, adding Bochy, 67, to Houston’s Dusty Baker, 73, increases the average age of managers in the A.L. West.

“The experience and number of years managed just shot up,” said Mariners Manager Scott Servais, 55, with a chuckle. “I’m not saying it the other way.

“Obviously, those guys have done a ton in their careers, and I have a lot of respect for both of them. They’ve certainly been successful. Everything is elevated.”

Baker, whose Astros will be defending their World Series championship, said that it was not just the aggressive moves made by Texas that will make for a more rugged division in 2023. He pointed to the Los Angeles Angels’ acquisition of outfielder Hunter Renfroe from Milwaukee last month and the fact that they should have a healthy Anthony Rendon. And after snapping their two-decade playoff drought, the Mariners this off-season have traded for second baseman Kolten Wong and outfielder Teoscar Hernández.

Mike Maddux, who had previous success as a pitching coach in Texas, was most recently with the St. Louis Cardinals.Credit…Jeff Curry/USA Today Sports, via Reuters

“I’m predicting it’s going to take less games to win our division than anytime since I’ve been there, simply because there’s more parity,” said Baker, who is entering his fourth season in Houston. “And some team that you were 14-4 against last year, you could end up seven and, whatever, because they’re going to chip away. There’s no real doormats that you just think you’re going to sweep. So, that’s what I’m predicting.”

Too long a doormat, Texas says it is not finished after the deGrom signing. The Rangers would like to add another bat and more pitching.

And then, they will turn things over to Bochy and let him do his thing.

“It wasn’t that long ago where the Texas Rangers were playing really good baseball,” Bochy said, adding that Young and the owner Ray Davis “are doing all they can to get this club back on track. And it was just something that excited me. I wanted to be a part of it because you could see that they were ready to give us the tools to help this happen.”

He said that the biggest thing they talked about was the need to improve the starting pitching. Everything, he believes, begins with pitching and defense. But he also believes that enough heavy lifting has been done that he can win sooner rather than later in Texas.

“Sometimes, when you have some difficult years, the last part of that process is believing you can win,” he said. “And that’s what has to happen now. That’s going to be my job and the coaching staff’s job.”

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