ARLINGTON, Texas — In a way that he so rarely publicly was in recent years, Jacob deGrom was plainly happy — downright giddy — on Thursday.
He swapped his blue and orange for blue and red, slipping on a freshly made jersey with R-a-n-g-e-r-s in script across the front and his usual No. 48 on the back, the Texas state flag on the left sleeve, the other arm — the right arm, the one on which his new team is dreaming and building — getting plenty of work via handshakes and autographs.
DeGrom, who burst into the New York spotlight almost a decade ago as a long-haired, hard-throwing older rookie before becoming perhaps the second-best pitcher in franchise history, isn’t nearly a New Yorker anymore. During his introductory news conference at Globe Life Field, a celebration of the five-year, $185 million contract he signed last week, the perception that this was what he wanted — that he was done with the Mets and the big city and bright lights — remained.
Asked afterward by Newsday if the impression that he preferred to get out was fair, deGrom talked around it and lightly pushed back.
“No, I was open to — this is the business of it,” said deGrom, who became a free agent last month after making good on his spring training promise to opt out of his contract. “That’s just how it worked out. It was never, ‘I did not want to be there.’ I spent the first eight-and-a-half years there, and everybody was great to me. It was a time I’ll never forget.”
Said deGrom’s father, Tony: “We’re going to miss the folks that we did have a relationship with. That’s just the way it is, I guess, in this business. Sometimes you just move on.”
The elder deGrom was with the family in the front row while Jacob, flanked by Rangers general manager Chris Young and manager Bruce Bochy, sat at the center of the dais. When it was his bosses’ turn to speak, the pitcher snuck smiles at his towhead kids — 6-year-old Jaxon and 4-year-old Aniston, sitting on their grandparents’ laps — and wife, Stacey.
Much of what deGrom said during his first public comments since the abrupt end of the Mets’ season in October sounded a lot like what he said on plenty of previous occasions: He wants so badly to win a World Series, he thinks this organization he is a part of now can do that, he feels healthy and strong, and he wants to make 30-plus starts next year. Limited by injuries, he totaled 26 appearances the past two years.
And then there was the matter of leaving the Mets.
“That’s not an easy decision,” he said. “They’ll always hold a special place in my heart, in my wife’s heart, my kids’. From ownership to my teammates there. The fans, ultimately. They made me feel welcome there and they played a big role in my career. There will always be a special place in my heart for the New York Mets and the fans. That’s the part of the business of baseball. What [the Rangers] are building here is something I wanted to be a part of.”
The Rangers, who finished 68-94 in 2022, haven’t had a winning season since 2016 — six years and, for deGrom, two Cy Young Awards ago. Young described expectations for 2023 as “to push for a spot in the playoffs.”
Among those standing on the upper-deck concourse watching the news conference at the $1.1 billion ballpark that opened in 2020: more than a dozen of deGrom’s new teammates, including middle infielders Corey Seager and Marcus Semien. DeGrom cited Texas’ commitment to that pair — a combined $500 million last offseason — as a sign that the Rangers were serious about trying to win.
When deGrom became a free agent for the first time in his career, the Rangers were at the front of the line. But he stayed in regular touch with the Mets, too, most of the way.
Mets general manager Billy Eppler, who early this offseason noted a pledge between the sides to keep each other in the loop on their plans, said recently that remained the case through about Thanksgiving. He didn’t want to detail the communication after that, over the final week before deGrom departed. The Mets rebounded by signing Justin Verlander as a replacement three days later.
According to deGrom, the deal with the Rangers came together “very quickly.” Stephen Veltman, deGrom’s agent at VC Sports Group, declined to comment on the negotiation process.
“We were in contact with the Mets,” deGrom said. “The Rangers did a great job with constant communication and making me feel like they really wanted me here.”
Young, who counts the Rangers and Mets among the five teams he pitched for across 13 seasons in the majors, said he didn’t speak with deGrom about the differences in playing in those disparate parts of the country, but they did talk about life in Texas.
“We certainly did, and the lifestyle,” said Young, who is from Dallas and was anointed leader of the Rangers’ baseball operations in August. “The extent to which that went into his decision, I don’t know. Any free agent we talk to, we explain what it’s like to be in the [Dallas area].”
DeGrom, wildly wealthy and newly cheerful, will get to know it well over the next half-decade.
“Everything lined up. This is where I wanted to be,” deGrom said. “They showed a ton of interest right from the start, and the feelings were mutual. Just very happy to be here.”