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Looking back at Jacob deGrom’s tenure in New York

The right-hander has flown south to Texas and, as a Mets fan, it sucks.

Wild Card Series - San Diego Padres v New York Mets - Game Two Photo by Dustin Satloff/Getty Images

On Friday, Jacob deGrom signed a five-year, $185 million deal (plus a conditional sixth-year option that brings the deal up to $222 million) with the Rangers. The move officially ended his nine-year tenure with the Mets, one that saw him win the 2014 Rookie of the Year Award, back-to-back Cy Young Awards in 2018 and 2019, and established himself as the best starting pitcher in baseball.

From a baseball perspective, it’s hard to blame either side. deGrom, who turns 35 next June, has made 26 starts since the beginning of 2021, so $185 million in guaranteed money is an easy call. It’s a significant pay bump from the $137.5 million extension he signed with New York after the 2018 season, and while he would never admit it, it’s easy to imagine he regretted that decision after seeing comparable starting pitchers sign more lucrative deals in the following years.

Meanwhile, the Mets offered a three-year, $120 million contract, and it’s easy to understand their hesitance to go to a fourth or fifth year with a pitcher whose injuries they are all too familiar with—Buster Olney’s piece seemed to confirm the team had no intentions of going much higher on deGrom, despite not being offered the opportunity to counter. The Mets’ luxury tax payroll is already approaching $245 million when accounting for arbitration raises, and if the Mets intend to try and stay close to that $290 million threshold, signing a pitcher with deGrom’s recent injury history to a lucrative contract is a big gamble. The Mets now have some added wiggle room to improve the club and inject the roster with some new blood.

With all that said, the deGrom departure sucks. We can talk about how the payroll flexibility (*shudders*) will benefit the team in the short-term. We can talk about the potential for injuries keeping him off the field for much of his new contract. We can talk about the team constructing an even better rotation than one that would have been handicapped by deGrom’s contract, or using the extra funds to shore up their bullpen or strengthen their lineup. But for now, I can’t look at things from a rational and logical perspective, because all I can see is a future where we will never see deGrom pitch in orange and blue again. We will never hear “Simple Man” play at Citi Field before deGrom dominates. An entire generation of younger Mets fans will be robbed of the opportunity to experience deGrom’s brilliance for themselves. The sheer joy of watching him pitch was something that has defined the past decade of Mets baseball, and that chapter has now closed.

deGrom represented the last holdover of the team’s promising young aces. It’s an era, like many before it and likely many after it, that brought forth false hope and unrealized expectations, and ended without a World Series title. deGrom was third in the procession: He was preceded by Matt Harvey and Zack Wheeler and followed by Noah Syndergaard and Steven Matz. Of the five, he came with the least fanfare but ended up as the best of the bunch. He now finds himself, at worst, as one of the ten best players to ever put on a Mets uniform.

A former shortstop who transitioned to pitching during his junior year at Stetson University, deGrom was picked by the club in the ninth round of the 2010 MLB Draft and didn’t debut until 2014. By that time, Matt Harvey had already captivated the baseball world as The Dark Knight and started an All Star Game at Citi Field, while Zack Wheeler, who was acquired from the Giants in the Carlos Beltran trade, had also showed promise in his early days. deGrom, meanwhile, entered 2014 as the 15th ranked prospect in the system by Amazin’ Avenue and 14th ranked prospect in the system by MLB Pipeline. On both lists, Syndergaard was ranked at the top, with Matz also ahead of deGrom.

Nevertheless, deGrom, sporting flowing locks and with a clean-cut, baby face, was called upon in an emergency capacity in 2014 in a home start against the Yankees. One night prior, the Mets saw another debut from a promising prospect—Rafael Montero, who was ranked as the 3rd best prospect in the team’s system at the time and has since re-invented himself as a relief pitcher. There was significantly more hype around Montero’s outing. The Mets lost both games, but it was deGrom’s start that caught everyone’s eye. deGrom hurled seven innings of one-run ball and picked up a loss for his troubles, which foreshadowed much of the rest of his Mets career. From there, he stuck in the rotation, finishing his rookie campaign with a 2.69 ERA, a 2.67 FIP, and 144 strikeouts in 140 13 en route to winning the NL Rookie of the Year award.

deGrom proved his rookie campaign was no fluke in 2015. The budding ace was paired up with Harvey, who was returning from Tommy John Surgery, atop the rotation, and they were later joined by Syndergard and Matz. The young rotation flourished and had their most promising run of success en route to the Mets winning the National League Pennant. But while deGrom was the least heralded of the bunch, he was by far the best in 2015, and his All Star Game appearance helped serve as something of a coming out party in the larger baseball landscape. He struck out all three batters he faced on 10 pitches, and from that point forward, everybody remembered his name.

deGrom reached 30 starts for the first time in his career, compiling a 2.54 ERA and 2.70 FIP while striking out 205 batters in 191 innings. In his first postseason, he tied a franchise postseason record by striking out 13 in Game 1 of the 2015 NLDS against the Dodgers, and followed that up with a gutsy Game 5 effort—one that won’t soon be forgotten—to push the Mets into the NLCS. He was equally brilliant against the Cubs, but faltered against the Royals in the Fall Classic as the Mets fell in five games. So it goes.

The right-hander was solid in 2016 but suffered through his first real injury-plagued season, he was officially shut down in September to undergo surgery to repair his ulnar nerve cut. He still made 24 starts and posted a 3.04 ERA and a 3.32 FIP with 143 strikeouts in 148 innings. He returned in 2017 and had his most pedestrian season, but he was one of the few Mets to escape the injury bug en route to 31 starts and a 3.53 ERA in a career-high 201 13 innings. Somewhat ironically, he put forth his worst start against the Rangers on June 6, allowing eight earned runs on 10 hits over four innings. During the start, cameras caught Terry Collins consoling a visibly perturbed deGrom, and from that point forward he was terrific, posting a 2.85 ERA and 145 strikeouts over his final 19 starts.

That brings us to 2018, when deGrom transformed from a mere ace to the best pitcher on the planet. During the previous offseason, a picture of deGrom surfaced showing the right-hander without the luscious long hair that had come to define his image. Sure enough, he reported to spring training with his new short hair, and he took off from there. He put together one of the best seasons by a starting pitcher that we’ve ever seen, finishing with a league-best 1.70 ERA, 1.98 FIP, 0.41 HR/9, and 8.8 fWAR while striking out a career-high 269 in 217 innings.

He recorded 29 consecutive starts of three earned runs or fewer and 24 consecutive quality starts to close out the year, both major league records. He was as automatic as a pitcher could possibly be. And for some reason that even the smartest scientists have yet to figure out, the Mets could not score when he pitched. He ended up with a 10-9 record which, once and for all, debunked the long-running myth that starting pitcher wins mean anything. He won the award going away and finished fifth in NL MVP voting. In a lost season, deGrom was must-see TV.

His encore in 2019 wasn’t quite as scintillating, but equally rewarding. He became the first Met to win back-to-back Cy Young Awards, a feat not even The Franchise accomplished. He led the league in strikeouts with 255 and finished with a 2.43 ERA, a 2.67 FIP, and a 0.97 WHIP. His chances of winning the award looked tenuous even heading into August, but he rattled off eight straight starts of seven innings to close out 2019, posting a 1.77 ERA and 2.32 FIP in those appearances. He finished the year on a 23 inning scoreless streak to help lock up the award. He fell short of his quest for baseball immortality in 2020, finishing third in Cy Young voting after posting a 2.38 ERA and a 2.26 FIP in 68 innings across 12 starts. He once again led the league in strikeouts with 104, but unlike the previous two seasons, he faltered down the stretch, which cost him any realistic chance of a three-peat.

When deGrom returned in 2021, he kicked off with one of the most impressive first halves in baseball history. In 15 starts, he posted a 1.08 ERA, a 1.24 FIP, a 0.55 WHIP, and 146 strikeouts in 92 innings. His numbers were truly breathtaking and, had injury misfortune not befallen him, he could very well have completed one of the greatest seasons by a starting pitcher in the history of the sport. Aside from his usual ho hum brilliance, he dialed up his fastball, regularly hitting triple digits. After averaging 95.93 mph on his fourseam fastball to this point in his career, he averaged 99.40 mph over the course of the season. Triple digits became a regular occurrence, as radar guns everywhere were set ablaze by his fastball.

However, he landed on the IL at the start of the second half and never returned. deGrom, who had only missed a start here or there in the previous three seasons but had otherwise made a combined 76 starts (out of, realistically, a possible 79 or 80), would not start again in 2021, and would not be seen again for 13 months. Sandy Alderson, without the right-hander’s permission, told the press that the issue could be traced to a partially torn UCL, with deGrom denied. While it’s hardly the only thing that factored in the right-hander’s departure, you could trace a lot of the distrust between deGrom and the organization back to this moment.

deGrom arrived at spring training ready to go in 2022, but more injury issues sidelined him into August. When he returned, he was once again terrific. In his first start, he allowed one earned run over five innings, and he was treated to an offensive no-show from his club. In his first home start, with the goosebumps-inducing return of “Simple Man”, deGrom retired the first 17 Braves he faced and struck out 12 as he earned his first win since June 21, 2021 (also against Atlanta). In his next start, he struck out 10 Phillies over six shutout frames.

Things more or less continued at this cadence, but he endured a disastrous start against the Athletics in which he was tagged for five earned runs in four innings and walked four batters after only walking four up until that point in the season. He followed that up with a subpar outing in Atlanta in a weekend where the Mets blew their chance of winning the NL East.

Despite all that, deGrom was finally able to make his first home playoff start, pitching Game 2 of the 2022 Wild Card round against the Padres. He ended up picking up the team’s lone playoff win, hurling six innings of two-run ball. Like his start back in L.A. in 2015, he didn’t have his best stuff, but he persevered to keep his team in the ballgame long enough for the offense to break through. He struck out eight and earned his fourth postseason victory in what, we now know, would be his final start with the organization.

So here we are. deGrom won’t pitch on the Citi Field mound again as a Met. He might return to pitch when Texas visits Citi Field in August. There will undoubtedly be a video tribute—the Mets already shared one on social media—and the Mets may even play “Simple Man” when he takes the hill, as they did with Jimmy Hendrix’s “Voodoo Child” when Mike Piazza made his return to Shea Stadium in 2006. In the future, he will enter the Mets’ Hall of Fame, though his chance at getting his number 48 retired has likely gone by the wayside with his premature exit.

There are rumblings that deGrom had issues with the organization, didn’t like talking to the media, didn’t like New York, and we’ll likely never hear the full story because the right-hander is famously not fond of talking to the press. There will likely not be any juicy Syndergaard or Stroman-esque sound bites post-exit. He will probably thank the Mets and the fans, either in a statement or at his introductory press conference, and then he’ll go back to work in his understated way, preparing for another season and trying to hone his craft on his quest to remain one of the best in the game.

Meanwhile, with the Winter Meetings upon us, the Mets will likely move fast to fill the void left in their rotation. The club wants a second ace to pair with Max Scherzer. It could be Justin Verlander, or it could be Carlos Rodón. It’s hard to imagine the club won’t end up with one of those two hurlers. The focus will now shift to a deGrom-less future in Queens, and everyone will move on. This is the way sports works, and come next season, we will continue rooting for the laundry.

Whoever takes deGrom’s place atop the rotation will get our full support and love because, at the end of the day, winning cures all. But that doesn’t mean losing deGrom doesn’t suck. It’s too early to analyze his Mets’ legacy and try to rank where he stands among the greats of the franchise. The time for that will come some day. But no fan should let the end of his time here mar what he was: an all-time franchise legend. He was the best in the game, and for a little while, he was ours. That’s something we won’t soon forget. It’s just a damn shame we couldn’t get to experience his full career in orange and blue.