PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. — Jacob deGrom wants long-term security, and he wants it soon.
The Mets' ace and reigning NL Cy Young Award winner informed the team within the past week that he has decided on Opening Day as a deadline to complete a contract extension, sources confirmed Tuesday. General manager Brodie Van Wagenen, formerly deGrom’s agent, called it “a mutual understanding.”
If there is no deal by then — March 28 — the club will have to wait until the offseason, at which point deGrom will be just one year from free agency, to try again.
Van Wagenen said talks with deGrom’s CAA agents, led by Jeff Berry, are ongoing.
“It was organic. It was a conversation,” Van Wagenen said of the deadline’s origin. “From an agent’s perspective, I would agree as well that you want to have the dialogue be timely. There’s no reason to have it carry in and have it be a cloud that hangs over the regular season.
“It’s for everyone’s best interest, so the focus once the season starts is on the performance of the team. I think everybody feels like we’ve got a chance to play meaningful games right out of the gate, and we don’t want anything to stand in the way.
“Jacob, as I’ve said many times before, we care about him. He knows we care about him. We know how important he is to the organization. It will be my job to make sure there is no strained relationship no matter what takes place.”
Further, the Mets said months ago an offer would be coming, a source said. COO Jeff Wilpon met with deGrom’s camp at the winter meetings two months ago.
DeGrom did not participate in the Mets’ informal workout Tuesday but has been present at their First Data Field facility in recent days. He is scheduled to speak to reporters Thursday after the team’s first official workout for pitchers and catchers.
“Jacob showed up to camp the same Jacob deGrom he’s always been: smile on his face, loose, happy, throwing bullpens that are dazzling everybody,” Van Wagenen said Monday on WFAN. “We love him. He knows it. And he’s going to get all the attention he deserves — not just from fans, the public, the media, but he’s going to get the attention he deserves inside these walls.”
Van Wagenen said he is participating directly in contract extension talks with deGrom. That was not true during arbitration settlement negotiations — he recused himself because of the unusual dynamic of switching sides from agent to team executive — when deGrom ended up with a $17 million deal for 2019. That $9.6 million raise from his 2018 salary is the largest ever for an arbitration-eligible player, an acknowledgment of deGrom’s historic season that the Mets hope will generate some goodwill and momentum when it comes to a longer deal.
“For a decision that is going to impact our short- and long-term future as much as Jacob will, I’ll be involved in that process,” Van Wagenen said.
This saga began last July at the All-Star Game in Washington, when Van Wagenen — speaking as deGrom’s agent — said the Mets should sign him to a long-term deal or trade him. About three months later, the Mets hired him as GM.
DeGrom, a two-time All-Star and the 2014 NL Rookie of the Year, is scheduled to hit free agency at age 32 after the 2020 season. Last season was his best yet, when he had a 1.70 ERA (best in the majors), 0.91 WHIP and a career-high 217 innings in a career-high 32 starts.
Van Wagenen has been consistent in saying the Mets want to keep him around, but it’s mostly been just talk.
“Jacob knows what we need from him in 2019, he knows what our desire is long-term, and whether or not we can make that become a reality, time will tell,” Van Wagenen said on WFAN. “But Jacob knows how I feel about him. He knows what this organization thinks of him. And he’s got to be a big part of our success going forward, not just in ’19.”
With David Lennon
What will it take to get Jacob deGrom signed to a long-term deal. Here's the highest-paid pitchers in baseball by average annual value with their ages on Opening Day and the number of Cy Youngs they have won:
Player 2019 Salary (millions) Age Cy Youngs
1. Zack Greinke $34.41 35 1
2. David Price $31 33 1
Clayton Kershaw $31 31 3
4. Max Scherzer $30 34 3
5. Jon Lester $25.83 35 0
6. Justin Verlander $25.71 36 1
7. Felix Hernandez $25 33 1
Stephen Strasburg $25 30 0
Jake Arrieta $25 33 1
10. Patrick Corbin $23.33 29 0
11. Masahiro Tanaka $22.14 30 0
12. Jordan Zimmermann $22 32 0
13. Johnny Cueto $21.66 33 0
14. Yu Darvish $21 32 0
15. Rick Porcello $20.62 30 1
16. Jeff Samardzija $18 34 0
17. Homer Bailey $17.5 32 0
18. Nathan Eovaldi $17 29 0
Jacob deGrom $17 30 1