Texas broke up the doldrums of this offseason on Thursday afternoon when it was announced that they had signed right-handed starter Tyler Mahle to a two-year and $22 million contract. Mahle was once thought to be a young and up-and-coming starter. He burst onto the scene with the Cincinnati Reds back in 2017 at 22 years old. He pitched for some Reds teams that were not very good. He was not the issue though. Texas looked at his past and is hoping that he can reclaim some of that success he once had.
Mahle was a 7th round draft pick back in 2013 out of Westminster High School in Westminster, California. He had sub 3.00 ERA's in every level of the minor leagues. It took him four years from the time he was drafted to when he made his debut at the end of August in 2017. He was brought to the Reds as a starter and made four starts between August 27th to September 13th. In those four starts Mahle had a 2.70 ERA, a 1-2 record, and struck out 14 while also walking 11.
Mahle continued having success with the Reds. His best season was 2021. He bounced back from an awful 2019 season that saw him record 12 losses to only three wins while also carrying a 5.14 ERA. In 2021 the next full season Mahle was very good. He made 33 starts, had a 13-6 record, a 3.75 ERA, and 210 strikeouts to 64 walks. He pitched like a number two or three starter. It looked like he would be a stalwart in the Reds rotation for seasons to come.
The Reds continued to fail to build a winning team. Mahle became a trade chip at the 2022 trade deadline. He still had a season and a half until he hit free agency. The Reds chose to trade Mahle to the Minnesota Twins for three prospects, two of which that made an impact in 2023. They were able to acquire Christian Encarnacion-Strand and Spencer Steer. Strand hit. 270 with 13 home runs in just 63 games. Steer played his first full season in 2023 and hit .271, with 23 home runs, and 86 RBIs. It was a franchise-changing trade that the Reds won.
Mahle went to the Twins and made nine starts since the 2022 trade deadline. He made four starts in 2022 and then five in 2023 before needing Tommy John surgery in May of 2023. Mahle has been on the mend since then. His last start was April 27th. He pitched well that night before being removed from the game. Coincidentally enough Jacob deGrom's last start in 2023 was the very next night.
What is the plan for Mahle?
It has not come out yet the structure of Mahle's contract. I am going to guess that the majority of the contract will be paid out in 2025 when he should be fully healthy. According to Jeff Passan $5 million in incentives have been built into the contract based on how many innings he pitches in 2025.
This is a longer-term play for Texas. While they are hoping Mahle can return in some fashion in 2024 they are planning on him being an important part of the rotation in 2025.
The 2025 rotation is currently pretty bare. Max Scherzer and Andrew Heaney will be free agents after this next season. Nathan Eovaldi could potentially be a free agent. Mahle if healthy will join the rotation that currently only has Dane Dunning locked in for that season. Mahle will be given the time to rehab and slowly build back arm strength. Anything they get from the right-hander in 2024 will be a bonus.
Mahle when he is healthy and on is a solid starting pitcher. He is a four-pitch starter. He has a four-seam fastball, splitter, cutter, and sldier. When healthy his fastball averages 94mph, while all of his other pitches average in the mid 80's. In 2021 each of his pitches had a whiff percentage of 25% or higher. In 2023 before getting hurt his split finger was by far his best pitch. It had a 37% whiff rate and a .211 batting average against. Texas is hoping to get the pitcher that dominated in 2021 with a healthy reconstructed elbow. He is still just 29 years old and will not turn 30 till September.
Texas might have just gotten a steal in free agency. This appears to be how they are going to attack free agency. They are going to stay away from the high-priced targets and try to find value deeper down on the list of free agents. Texas is back to doing what they did from 2017-2019 except this time they are doing it already having a World Series trophy to display.