Jon Gray isn’t the Rangers’ biggest free agent move, but he could be the savviest


At the end of the 2011 Winter Meetings in Dallas, the Los Angeles Angels rocked the baseball world by announcing the signing of Albert Pujols to a 10-year, $ 254 million contract. Almost bracketed, they also signed CJ Wilson to a $ 77.5 million half-term contract, the biggest contract a pitcher has landed in the offseason. Rarely has such an important free agent agreement been treated as a footnote.

Almost a decade later to the day and 20 miles west, the Rangers have officially announced the additions of Corey Seager (10) and Marcus Semien (seven) for a combined $ 500 million. Included as almost a postscript was right-hander Jon Gray, featured in a press briefing later the same afternoon after signing for four years and $ 56 million, a seemingly incidental amount 10 percent of the spending frenzy of the day by the club.

Wilson would prove to be the workhorse of Angels staff before fading and ultimately missing the last quarter (and most expensive part) of his contract due to injury. Texas envisions even more of Gray: becoming the latest shrewd addition of a pitcher who finds new equipment in Texas. Recent history suggests that this is not an unreasonable expectation.

Things haven’t gone particularly well on the pitch for the Rangers over the past four years, but they’ve done two things very well in that span. The first, capitalizing on the amateur draft, is the one you hope, if not expect, from a team that falls out of the race every year before the stretch race. The losing seasons streak has armed Texas with high picks in the first round, and with those picks the club added Cole Winn (2018), Josh Jung (2019), Justin Foscue (2020) and Jack Leiter (2021) to the system. All four are considered major pieces of the reconstruction puzzle. Texas will take third place overall this summer, another golden opportunity to fortify the near future with a high-end perspective.

The second accomplishment, however, is not normal for a non-competing team and, historically, not at all normal for Texas. The Rangers — the franchise of Pudge and Juan, of Raffy and A-Rod, of Michael and Kins, of Adrian and Josh — quietly emerged as pitch providers, and they did so by trawling in the middle of the market, not splurge on big ticket items.

In successive years, the club have signed Mike Minor (2018), Lance Lynn (2019) and Kyle Gibson (2020) for multi-year contracts. The results were undeniable: As Rangers, Minor (nine years after making major league debuts), Lynn (10) and Gibson (eight) each enjoyed their peak WAR seasons, lowered their walk rates and posted their Career lowest FIP ​​(an ERA-like metric that eliminates the quality of defense behind a pitcher). Lynn and Minor had high career workloads and failure and failure rates, and both garnered votes for the Cy Young Award. None of the three had made an All-Star Game before coming to Texas. All have now.

No free agent starter in baseball has provided more benefits over multiple years – or, in baseball parlance, lower cost per Win Above Replacement (WAR) – than Minor did in the 2018 class. The same goes for Lynn in the 2019 class. Only two, Wade Miley of Cincinnati and Zack Wheeler of Philadelphia, fared better than Gibson among those in the 2020 class.

“The funny thing is that each of them was so different,” said Rangers president of baseball operations Jon Daniels. “At different stages of rehabilitation compared to previous problems. Different directories. It’s not a specific thing that a trainer specializes in or our systems are good at identifying. It gives us confidence that we can continue to help other pitchers at similar stages.

This offseason means Gray. When Daniels, general manager Chris Young, manager Chris Woodward and pitching coaches Doug Mathis and Brendan Sagara met the 30-year-old on Zoom, they came prepared with a shoulder strap of chips they could present to support their vision. But they didn’t need to familiarize Gray too much with the success his predecessors had enjoyed at Arlington. “I saw it with my own eyes,” Gray told media on Dec. 1, just after pressers from Semien, Seager and Kole Calhoun and hours before the league closed. “[I saw them] come here and do much better. Just knowing that this could be my path is very exciting.

And the Rangers’ ground went way beyond Gray’s march through the Minor-Lynn-Gibson Trophy case. They have become personal. They spoke about specific areas of the right-hander’s game where they felt they could help him reach a new level – and not just with one of his four offerings (fast four-seam ball, 95-98 mph; forward slider; curve usable; effective change). “It was with every throw,” said Gray, declining to go into detail. “It was with some things that had been, I guess, my kryptonite for the last couple of years, some things [that] I think I slowed down.

Most importantly, the Rangers explained everything so that Gray understood it beyond the “We can help you be your best” standard that abstract players are regularly asked to trust. “They [gave] me something that I can work with now, ”Gray said. “‘[This is] how does it work, and it is Why. ‘ It was really important for me to see that.

Rangers officials noted during Gray’s introduction that their scouts – both at the amateur level as he was close to being selected third in the 2013 University of Oklahoma MLB Draft. and on the pro side as he progressed through the Colorado system – analysts, and coaches were made aware of what Gray is and could be, especially once he is released from the more difficult launch conditions. Game.

The Rockie quarry had to face a far more grueling test than simply throwing in the high altitude and thin air of Denver. Navigating the unique difficulties of going from Coors Field to Coors Field and back again and again required a constant change in pitching method at home and on the road. (Gray went on to explain to the media how he was forced to change his entire arsenal and attack and even his release point between Coors Field and elsewhere, going so far as to have to mechanically throw his curve ball in two different ways.) Freed. From this demanding job, Gray can now focus on learning how to make his throws more efficient, and not how to be a different pitcher in his own stadium than what he had to become as a pitcher. visitor.

Young Rangers southpaw Kolby Allard has probably learned a thing or two from Minor. Taylor Hearn probably noticed the behavior of Lynn’s mound as he tried to improve his own. Dane Dunning surely paid special attention to the way Gibson worked, on the mound and between starts, as a workhorse relying on location and common sense more than power. As for Gray, every pitcher the Rangers see as a possible part of their long-term future has an ETA that is expected to coincide with his four-year contract. Certainly part of the veteran’s appeal is the role he can play as a mentor and set an example for the young pitchers who should join him in the rotation.

And this is where Gray’s time in Texas could – or, the Rangers hope, will be-different from Minor, Lynn and Gibson. None of those other three completed their multi-year deals in Texas, but were overturned for the Minor Leaguers with a hike. It was the best scenario considering the situation of the organization at the time. All of them made $ 10 million a year or less, making them extremely tradable for a rebuilding team as long as they presented well. They did a lot more than that, each reaching a new level on the Texas Mound.

The best of times for Gray are different and not just because he’s landed an extra year and 40% more money each season. It’s different because the benefit is not to trade it for rejuvenation. Instead, it’s that Gray’s production here – with the players he served as an undercard for a month ago – could help the Rangers finally break down a door in Arlington instead of breaking in another. further down the road.

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Jamey newberg

Jamey newberg

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Jamey Newberg covers Rangers for StrongSide. He has lived in Dallas his entire life, with the exception of one …

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