Yesterday’s news that Jacob deGrom and his representatives would be unwilling to negotiate an extension during the regular season suddenly adds a looming tension to the Mets’ efforts to extend their ace pitcher. But that tension has arguably already been simmering underneath the surface throughout this entire offseason, as the two parties have seemingly engaged in a very limited amount of negotiations over a possible agreement.
That lack of progress is disappointing in large part because it initially seemed as though things would go differently. When Brodie Van Wagenen became the Mets’ new general manager last October, he boldly professed his desire to sign deGrom to a long-term extension: “You want to try to identify the best players and keep them for as long as possible,” he said. “I believe Jacob deGrom is an incredible talent and I hope to keep him for a long time.”
This was undoubtedly music to the ears of Mets fans, who had just witnessed deGrom put up one of the greatest single-season performances in franchise history. Ponying up the cash to keep him in New York beyond the two years of team control that the Mets currently have would be an ideal way for Van Wagenen to introduce himself to the fanbase and to Major League Baseball at large—to loudly proclaim that the franchise under his direction would not be prone to the same money-pinching timidness that they were all too often accused of during the Sandy Alderson years. It would have been a statement that the Mets would be committed to holding onto their elite homegrown players and building a perennial contender going forward.
In spite of Van Wagenen’s declaration, however, pitchers and catchers have now officially reported to Port St. Lucie, and deGrom remains unsigned. Over the past few months, there have been occasional whispers about talks between the two sides—most notably including a meeting between the Mets front office and deGrom’s representatives during the Winter Meetings—but there has been no indication that they have moved any closer to coming to an agreement. The first rumors of discord occurred last week, when the New York Post’s Joel Sherman reported that the deGrom camp was disappointed at the lack of substantive effort on the Mets’ part to work out a new deal.
In the same report, Van Wagenen indicated that he was still determined to lock his ace pitcher up at some point, and he made similarly optimistic comments in the wake of yesterday’s news, while also promising that the organization’s relationship with deGrom would not become strained by the negotiations. The Mets’ general manager also indicated that, contrary to reports earlier in the offseason that his status as deGrom’s former agent would force him to recuse himself from any contract negotiations, he would be actively involved in the effort to come to an agreement on an extension. One could perhaps hope that his shift in that department indicates that he and the rest of the front office are preparing to more seriously engage in a dialogue with his star player.
Still, Van Wagenen’s efforts up to this point have simply not contained the same level of urgency and commitment that his rhetoric has suggested, and fans who were initially encouraged by his comments could be forgiven for wondering just how serious he is about his willingness and ability to keep deGrom in a Mets uniform beyond 2020. On the one hand, the two sides can negotiate through February and March, and that is to say nothing of the fact that they will also have all of next offseason to continue talking in the event that a deal is not agreed upon before the season begins. There is still plenty of time for something to be worked out.
That being said, given the optics of the Mets having hired deGrom’s former agent as their GM and the forthrightness with which Van Wagenen has proclaimed his desire to keep the star pitcher around, the fact that virtually nothing has changed over the past few months was already more than a little concerning. Yesterday’s news takes that concern to a different level, and it should act as a wake-up call for the organization. Since being hired, Van Wagenen has promised that the front office would operate differently than the way it has in the past, that they would be aggressive and ambitious in pursuing a championship-caliber team.
Dragging his feet on extending one of the best players the Mets have had in years, however, suggests a different approach. It suggests the same kind of cautiousness, the same unwillingness to take big swings and invest in the team’s success, which has typically been the norm for the organization for the past decade. If Van Wagenen really wants to prove that his presence will result in a genuine shift in the way the franchise operates, signing deGrom to an extension is one of the single most effective ways to accomplish that goal.
A team obviously needs to do its due diligence anytime it’s considering handing out a contract of the size that deGrom would demand, so perhaps some measure of caution is not the end of the world. But Van Wagenen will eventually need to prove that his statements up to this point have not been filled with empty promises. And if he wants his tenure in New York to be successful, it would be in his best interest for deGrom to remain in orange and blue for the foreseeable future.
It goes without saying that the stability and dominance he provides on the mound are things that would be nearly impossible to replace, but so, too, would the stature that his presence provides to the organization. With David Wright having finally officially retired, one would be hard-pressed to identify any other player who could credibly be identified as the face of the franchise, and teams that wish to be taken seriously as contenders will typically do everything in their power to keep their franchise players around. Unless deGrom’s contract demands are wholly unreasonable—and we don’t currently have any reason to believe that they are—Van Wagenen and the Mets would be well-advised to ramp up their efforts to ensure that he will remain at the top of their rotation for years to come.