From spring training, Jacob deGrom made it clear that he intended to opt out of the final year of his five-year, $137.5 million contract. So it came as no surprise when the right-hander officially announced that he was opting out on November 7, setting up an intriguing offseason dilemma for the Mets.
When New York extended deGrom, he was coming off winning the National League Cy Young award in nearly unanimous fashion. The extension, which seemed for a few stressful weeks like it would not happen, materialized a few days before the end of spring training and was viewed as a relative bargain given his historic 2018 campaign. It was, essentially, a hometown discount compared to what he could have gotten on the open market, especially after repeating as a Cy Young winner in 2019. In the years that followed, Trevor Bauer, Gerrit Cole, and Max Scherzer signed lucrative contracts that surpassed deGrom’s AAV, and though he would never admit it, one has to imagine this ate away at the right-hander as he reviewed the terms of his ongoing agreement.
That long-winded recap brings us to where we are today. deGrom made $36 million in each of the past two seasons, but only made a combined 26 starts after making over 30 starts in 2017, 2018, and 2019 (and 12 starts in the truncated 2020 seasons). Injuries kept him out for the entire second half of 2021 and the first four months of 2022, but in both seasons, he was still elite when he pitched, dialing his fastball up over 100 mph with consistency while mixing in a 90-plus mph slider.
Still, the decision on whether to bring deGrom back or let him walk has split the fanbase and has been the basis for much debate on social media. There are two very distinct viewpoints: let him walk and repurpose that money elsewhere to fill the team’s many holes, or keep a franchise cornerstone locked in as a Met for what would effectively be the remainder of his career.
I can’t refute any argument made from am emotional perspective. deGrom has had a great journey as a Met, from unheralded, afterthought prospect to gutsy postseason hero to all-time great career peak. He’s he best pitcher in baseball when he’s on the mound, period full stop. There’s an undeniable, irresistible energy to basically expecting that today is the day we get a perfect game every time he takes the mound. Losing that, no matter how justified, will be painful.
But from a practical standpoint, it’s pretty well justified. deGrom has tossed only 156.1 innings over the last two seasons. Given the pandemic season, the last time we’ve seen him throw anything close to a traditional starter’s workload was way back in 2019. Since then, we’ve had fairly systemic injury concerns, with back, hamstring, and oblique issues providing the more benign background to multiple more alarming elbow, forearm, and shoulder incidents. He’s well past the 7-year “expiration date” for his Tommy John surgery, throws harder than any starting pitcher in history, and has a rail-thin frame that’s shown major cracks as he heads into his age-34 season.
We may have also seen the first signs of deGrom slipping when he was on the mound this season as well. Don’t misinterpret that to mean he was bad - deGrom still ran a K:BB ratio off nearly 13:1 with a 59 DRA- in his 64.3 innings of work. He really wasn’t able to hold his stuff into starts, however, with batters teeing off for a .394 wOBA the third time through the order. Batters began squaring up his fastball a bit more, too, posting a slugging percentage against over .400 for the first time since 2016. This is all over a fairly abbreviated sample of course—one or two homers stay in the yard and these numbers look a lot different. But if you go looking for them, there are more reasons to doubt Jake than in years past.
It’s impossible to have this conversation without discussing deGrom’s likely contract. MLBTR predicts a three-year, $135 million contract in free agency, basically in line with the deal the Mets gave out to Max Scherzer last year. Justin Verlander, fresh off a unanimous AL Cy Young, is expected to sign for roughly the same amount. Based on name recognition alone, that seems warranted, perhaps even light given that Verlander and Scherzer are/were several years older during their respective free agencies. However, both were coming off complete seasons and, in light of Verlander’s strong return from 2021 Tommy John surgery, did not have the same lingering injury questions deGrom does.
Consider instead what the Mets could do with $40M in AAV. Sticking the MLBTR’s contract predictions, that’s enough to cover both Carlos Rodon (5/$140M) and Jose Quintana (2/$24M). That could cover Brandon Nimmo (5/$110M), Zach Eflin (2/$22M), and most of David Robertson (2/$16M). It could get you Carlos Correa (9/$288M) and leave a prospect like Brett Baty available in trades for pitching. Without going so far as to say that deGrom isn’t worth $40M in AAV, it does seem like there are alternative ways to use that money, and the Mets have plenty of other needs that require additions.
The Mets have a long, infamous history of passing on top-end free agent to pursue mid-market free agents, touting their intellect as they sign the more “cost-effective” contract only to watch their new acquisition immediately fall off a cliff. Signing James McCann instead of JT Realmuto is the latest iteration of this, but there are plenty of others; Wilson Ramos (Yasmani Grandal), Jason Bay (Matt Holliday), and Rick Porcello (Zack Wheeler), just to name a few. deGrom is a unique situation, a truly one-of-a-kind player with particularly challenging health questions. I won’t argue with someone who says it’d be better to sign Jake and hope he’s healthy for the postseason because that’s the highest concentration of talent you can have for a big game. For me, however, the risk that he’s dealing with the latest arm malady are too great, and pursuing other options (Rodon being my preferred target) seems the more logical choice.
My reasoning is one that is not going to be rooted entirely in analytics, numbers and statistics, or even best business practices. I am making my argument almost solely from the selfish perspective of a Mets fan who has had the pleasure of watching Jacob deGrom from his very first start (which I was in attendance for) until what may be his last start as a Met (also in attendance): The Mets should do whatever it takes to re-sign him for the next few years and keep him in orange and blue for the rest of his career.
Let’s start with the baseball-centric perspective: deGrom is still a damn good pitcher. In fact, you could make a strong case that he’s the best available starting pitcher, and the Mets need three of them to join Max Scherzer and Carlos Carrasco and fill out their rotation. Last year, deGrom proved that, if he is healthy—I fully understand the magnitude of this ‘if’—he is still one of the best in the game. Before getting injured in 2021, he was on pace to put together one of the most historic seasons in major league baseball history, one not seen before in our lifetimes.
Ideally, the Mets will add another ace to pair with Max Scherzer at the top of the rotation, and as of now, there’s really three options via free agency: deGrom, Justin Verlander, and Carlos Rodón. Verlander is seeking a Scherzer-inspired contract, and I would argue that deGrom, at his age, with his talent, and with his familiarity to New York, is a smarter investment. Verlander, who is coming off a Cy Young award, turns 40 before the season begins, and the risk of decline is ever-present. As for Rodón, I have always been a big fan of the left-hander and would gladly welcome him in a Mets uniform, but the main argument against him is the same one against deGrom: the injury history is a legitimate concern. Between the three of them, deGrom has the edge in my book, though the team should make it a priority to sign one of the three this offseason.
But more than deGrom’s talent and fit on the roster, the Mets are just a more fun team to watch when deGrom is on the mound. I have been told that watching Jake pitch is akin to experiencing Tom Seaver or Dwight Gooden in their respective primes. Fans turn out to the ballpark specifically to watch deGrom make opposing batters look silly and dazzle the home crowd with his ho hum brilliance. The 2022 season was not short on highlights, but Jake’s home return was right near the top. When the Citi Field P.A. blared “Simple Man” in his start against the Braves, the excitement was palpable. All he did after that moment was retire the first 17 batters he faced en route to another truly masterful performance.
Baseball is supposed to be entertaining and fun, and it’s the simple pleasures that really set it apart from other sports. “Simple Man” hitting the eardrums before watching deGrom dominate on the Citi Field mound is such a uniquely-beautiful experience. I want him back for similar reasons that I really wanted Edwin Díaz back this winter: Yes, obviously he is an elite talent, but I also really wanted to hear “Narco” for the next few years and wasn’t ready to let go of that.
deGrom has become the key figure of this era of Mets baseball, as much as Tom Seaver was for the late 60s/early 70s, Mike Piazza was for the late 90s/early aughts and David Wright was for the entirety of his career. He has a chance to further cement himself as a franchise cornerstone, a player who spent the entirety of his career in one place, which is rare in this day and age. When all is said and done, he should see his number 48 hanging up there besides Seaver, Piazza, Jerry Koosman, Keith Hernandez, and, eventually, David Wright.
I prefaced this by saying the argument would be rooted as much or more in the fan perspective than the business perspective. It will likely cost upwards of $40 million annually for three-five years to keep deGrom a Met for life. That’s a hefty price, and the Mets have a lot of holes to fill on their roster. They need almost an entire rotation and bullpen, a center fielder, and a Designated Hitter. But even before signing any real free agents, the Mets are close to $250 million in committed payroll. It will be almost impossible to field a competitive team without approaching a payroll close to $350 million—surpassing the $290 million threshold almost feels like a foregone conclusion at this point. So if you go to $350 million, you might as well go for broke and go all in. Do whatever it takes to field a team that will again push 100 wins, and deGrom gives the Mets the best chance to do that.
As of today, deGrom remains a free agent, and where things go from here is anybody’s guess. The Mets will likely need to commit at least three years—and, in all likelihood, four—at an AAV approaching or surpassing Scherzer’s current contract. Whether the Mets are willing to go there, or whether they would find it too prohibitive with their current payroll plan, remains to be seen. One thing all of us can agree on is that it will be strange seeing deGrom in anything other than a Mets uniform.
Taking into account all the factors surrounding his free agency, what would you like to see the Mets do with Jacob deGrom?
This poll is closed
Bring him back
Let him walk