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Mudville: February 1, 2023 4:45 am PDT
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The Pendulum Swings

BY KEVIN KERNAN

If you have been following along here at BallNine the last two years, you are not surprised that Jacob deGrom left the Mets. Two years ago I said he would opt out and leave when the rest of the world was convinced he would remain a Met his entire career, especially since money bags Stevie Cohen took over as owner.

Those who insisted that deGrom would remain a Met were never really in touch with what was motivating the player. All the signs were there that deGrom wanted a change and the Texas Rangers gave him the opportunity.

Good for deGrom. Good for the Rangers.

I’ve also been insisting that ever so slowly the pendulum is beginning to swing away from the Nerds. It’s a slow process but just look at how the Rangers are being run by Chris Young, their GM. They now have a baseball first manager in Bruce Bochy, a man I have known for four decades. They also have a baseball first pitching coach in Mike Maddux, someone I have known since his pitching days in the majors.

They are doing baseball things and yes, the money to deGrom was crazy money but it’s all crazy money; a five-year $185 million deal to a 34-year-old pitcher who threw only 64 innings last season.

Everything deGrom did pointed to being at his best next season. You just had to follow the dots. As for the Rangers, they are already being criticized for the gamble, but just as I was right that deGrom would opt out and leave the Mets, I believe I will be proven right because deGrom will produce for the Rangers.

When a team doesn’t have an ace, you do what you have to do to acquire an ace and if it costs you lots of money, then you take that gamble.

In the World Champion Astros and improving Rangers, the state of Texas has it going when it comes to Major League Baseball. As an added bonus and as Robert Raiola, CPA pointed out on his Twitter feed, there is no state tax in Texas.

Jim Crane has shown the Nerds, with the immense help of Dusty Baker, this is how it’s done and that state of Texas has a lot going for it when it comes to baseball. The Rangers should become a playoff team and one thing is certain, deGrom will get more offensive help from his Ranger teammates than his Mets teammates ever produced.

Somehow the Mets and Steve Cohen were caught napping on this one and that includes GM Billy Eppler, a Brian Cashman disciple who seems to be making Cashman-like decisions for the Mets. It’s not going as all the Mets fans had hoped once the Mets got out from under the Wilpons. Say what you want about the Wilpons but at least they signed deGrom to a long-term deal.

The Winter Meetings kick off Sunday in San Diego so the Mets can change for the better quickly, but they have work to do and Justin Verlander and Carlos Rodon remain available.

Their plan isn’t exactly crystallized at this point, much like the Yankees who are waiting for the Aaron Judge shoe to drop where Judge may pull a deGrom and sign with the San Francisco Giants. As it stands now the Yankees are in familiar territory, trying to get out from under some bad contracts that Cashman initiated like Aaron Hicks – or took on in the Josh Donaldson contract. This, of course, after stupidly handing $6 million to Isiah Kiner-Falefa when they have young shortstops at the ready in Oswald Peraza and Anthony Volpe.

Too many front offices (and you know who they are) are just out there trying to impress other front offices. Gaining financial control of players is not winning the championship. Having payroll flexibility is not winning the championship.

Jacob deGrom #48 of the New York Mets looks on prior to the game between the Pittsburgh Pirates and the New York Mets at Citi Field on Thursday, September 15, 2022. deGrom signed a five-year $185MM contract with the Texas Rangers on Friday. (Photo by Mary DeCicco/MLB Photos via Getty Images)

If Cashman were doing his job he might have turned one of his young players into a veteran player who could have helped the Yankees not get swept by the Astros in the ALCS, but the Yankees seem to be in that mode of reacting to other teams moves instead of initiating their own good moves like signing Judge two or three years ago.

As for deGrom, he has the best arsenal of any ace out there, he just needs to stay healthy and that is where the intelligent leadership of Bochy and Maddux come into play. Just a reminder, in his brief 2022 season deGrom struck out 102 batters and walked only eight batters while surrendering a total of nine home runs.

Step One for deGrom will be for Maddux to convince him that he does not have to be perfect with every pitch. You could almost see the pressure wearing on deGrom through his Mets career. He seemed to me to be trying to avoid a mistake instead of pitching from his strengths and he also let hitters get way too comfortable and needs to pitch inside more.

The two-time Cy Young winner has to stop trying to be Cy Young worthy on every pitch and start being Jacob deGrom. With deGrom’s departure – and not enough has been made of this – this is the end of the Mets golden rotation that they thought would carry them for years and years. Now they are all gone from the Mets: deGrom, Matt Harvey, Noah Syndergaard, Steven Matz and Zack Wheeler.

Matz wound up in St. Louis with Mike Maddux and you can be sure that Maddux got some golden intel from Matz, who is deGrom’s best friend in baseball. So Maddux should be in a good teaching spot to begin spring training with deGrom.

Pitching coach Mike Maddux #31 of the St. Louis Cardinals places a call to the bullpen during the eighth inning against the Atlanta Bravesat Busch Stadium on August 27, 2022. Maddux recently joined the Rangers' coaching staff as the new pitching coach. (Photo by Scott Kane/Getty Images)

Again, these are all the little things that add up in baseball that the Nerds never figure out because they base everything on numbers and not much on looking inside the will of a player and what makes him tick. That is why the pendulum has to swing back a bit and that’s why the Astros are champions.

You can argue that Jim Crane is not only the owner but one of the best GMs in baseball because of his understanding of what makes a lineup and a pitching staff and he gets great intel from Dusty Baker. The Jose Abreu signing appears to be gold for the Astros and Abreu’s bat is the perfect addition to the Astros lineup.

The Rangers had a 4.63 ERA last season, 25th in baseball. They had to make a shocking move to get going in the right direction and give Bochy a fighting chance to work his magic. Suddenly the AL West has become a more dynamic division with the Astros, Mariners and Rangers in battle with one another and if the Angels can ever figure out baseball, and how best to make the most of Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani, it will be an even more impressive division.

More on the pendulum swinging in a baseball direction.

Why do you think the Blue Jays hired Don Mattingly as the bench coach? Mattingly fits in the same way that Dusty Baker fits, the same way that Bruce Bochy fits, it’s important to get proven baseball men and all former players, back in a position of power in the dugout and making decisions.

Real time knowledge has a real time place in the dugout, it can’t just be a spreadsheet of information. There has be input from people who have been there before to weigh the good and the bad of analytics. Without a doubt Dusty Baker made a world of difference for the Astros and in this copycat league other teams are going to rely on baseball opinions as well as the analytics. To the Mets’ credit Buck Showalter made such a difference in their dugout during the season but the Mets fell apart in the wild card series against the Padres and it didn’t work out for Max Scherzer the way it was supposed to work out. DeGrom won his wild card game.

Manager Bruce Bochy of the San Francisco Giants looks on during the game against the Texas Rangers at Surprise Stadium on March 11, 2013 in Surprise, Arizona. Bochy is the new manager for the Texas Rangers. (Photo by Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images)

The Phillies also swung the pendulum back to baseball a bit with Dave Dombrowski in charge and his decision to replace Joe Girardi with Rob Thomson, a lifetime baseball man who grew up in George Steinbrenner’s Yankees, as Thomson ignited the Phillies to their amazing World Series run.

Are you sensing a pattern yet?

The Rangers also added the Royals’ well respected Dayton Moore to their front office after Moore was canned by ownership that wants more numbers.

Chris Young – a pitcher I covered – is making some fascinating moves and since taking over the Rangers has really made some interesting decisions that should help that club get back to success and when he was able to sign Bochy to a three-year-deal, Young said, “I’m very, very grateful that he chose us.’’

That’s a key sentence.

Young has the Ivy League brains but also the competitive common sense will and understanding that baseball is baseball not math class. That’s a great combination and I am expecting good things moving forward from the Rangers and the signing of deGrom is one of those moves that had to be made to change the picture. It’s so funny to hear Mets fans say that deGrom is not worth that kind of money at his age and that seems to be the prevailing word in the media.

A true ace, though, is worth every penny and unless deGrom falls apart physically – something I don’t think is going to happen – he will prove to be worth the money for the pitching starved Rangers.

Simply put the Rangers are not trying to re-invent the wheel as they were under past leadership. They are trying to build a more complete team and I am also curious to see how deGrom could influence some of the Rangers young pitchers like Jack Leiter, whose father Al had a front row seat to deGrom’s greatness.

Chris Young also spent some time in the MLB offices and got the opportunity to see from the inside out what the heck is going on there. Enough said. All in all, as they say, Chris Young checks a lot of boxes.

GM Dayton Moore of the Kansas City Royals watches batting practice prior to a game against the Baltimore Orioles at Kauffman Stadium on August 30, 2019. Moore was hired as a senior advisor by the Texas Rangers on November 23, 2002. (Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)<br /> Baltimore Orioles v Kansas City Royals

My refrain is that too many people in charge of baseball don’t know baseball. And in the Rangers now we have people in charge, Chris Young, Bruce Bochy, Mike Maddux, Dayton Moore and so many more – people who actually know baseball and that should propel the franchise forward, the pendulum has swung in baseball’s favor in Texas. Now it’s time to show up, but you have no chance to show up if you don’t have an ace. Not only do the Rangers have an ace, they have a motivated ace in Jacob deGrom who has that chip on his shoulder who needed a fresh start somewhere away from New York City.

One longtime talent evaluator told The Story that, “talking to people in and around the Rangers, they are all re-invigorated because that’s what happens when you are working with baseball people and you are trying to win.’’

Ideas are welcomed and knowing Bochy and Maddux you are going to get plenty of pitching ideas that work.

Never underestimate the value of that simple phrase, “trying to win.’’

Too many front offices (and you know who they are) are just out there trying to impress other front offices. Gaining financial control of players is not winning the championship. Having payroll flexibility is not winning the championship. Impressing the list makers of top prospects is not winning a championship. You can’t just horde young talent and never see it blossom and fail to make a trade that needs to be made to add final pieces to a winning team. Before you know it you are stuck with a bunch of prospects who aren’t really prospects anymore.

Five-year plans are pretty worthless.

What’s important is winning. Winning develops with a winning mindset and people who know how to push those buttons and will go to war for their players and will recognize talent early in the players’ career and make the most of that situation.

That is how Bochy and Brian Sabean won championships in 2010, 2012 and 2014 with the San Francisco Giants. That didn’t just happen, there had to be baseball decisions made that made all the difference. And, of course, it all starts with pitching and that is why the Rangers shelled out $185 million for deGrom. The path was there and baseball people are betting on themselves knowing the right path to take.

The pendulum is swinging in the right direction for the Rangers – and maybe for baseball.

45+ years, columnist at NY Post for the last 23 years prior to joining BallNine. Elected to the NY Baseball Hall of Fame. Former SportsTalk Host (KFMB), ESPN’s First Take and Cold Pizza contributor. Frequent guest on radio shows and podcasts nationwide. Author of seven books. Seen in episode 10 of ESPN’s “The Last Dance” (the one with Dennis Rodman). First baseball interview he conducted was with Thurman Munson. Now you know why he is America’s Most Beloved Sportswriter.

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