ARLINGTON, Va. — During a marathon negotiation session Monday at Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport, the talks that yielded Jacob deGrom’s new contract, there were moments when the player at the center of discussions, deGrom, and his ultimate boss, Mets COO Jeff Wilpon, looked at each other and just smiled.
They were the ones who needed to sign off on any deal. But they weren’t quite the ones slogging through the details. They were just … there.
“There were times where it wasn’t our position to be speaking about something,” Wilpon said Wednesday at The Ritz-Carlton in Pentagon City, where the Mets held a news conference to discuss deGrom’s deal. “They would be talking and negotiating, and Jacob and I were like, ‘What are we doing in the room? We could leave.’ ”
For the Mets, general manager Brodie Van Wagenen was the lead man. For deGrom, it was his CAA agents, including Jeff Berry. Van Wagenen and Berry have known each other since 2001 and worked together closely until October, when Van Wagenen joined the Mets, leaving deGrom and his other clients behind.
And here they were, three days before the deGrom-imposed Opening Day deadline for an extension, in something approaching desperation mode to find common ground. This was their last best chance.
“I wasn’t going to let the plane take off until we were done with this deal,” Wilpon said. “We were holding him hostage.”
At one point, with stomachs growling, Van Wagenen left to find sustenance and returned with 7-Eleven taquitos. “That was the closest thing,” deGrom said. “At that point, I was willing to eat anything.”
By 6 p.m., some nine hours after they arrived, they had a handshake agreement and headed to New York City, so deGrom could take a physical Tuesday morning. The result: five years, $137.5 million and optimism from everyone involved that deGrom will be a member of the Mets for as long as he pitches.
“I look forward to being here for a long time — hopefully a lifelong Met — and bringing a championship to New York,” deGrom said. “That’s my goal here, to win in New York City and play for the Mets for the rest of my career. So we were sitting there with a common goal in mind and trying to figure out a way that worked.”
Assisting in finding a way that worked: David Wright, former Mets captain and current senior adviser to the COO and GM. Van Wagenen said that in recent weeks, Wright helped come up with the “creative deal structure” that eventually turned into deGrom’s contract, which includes an opt-out after 2022, a club option for 2024 and a reported $52.5 million deferred.
“David actually was on the white board with me in my office in St. Lucie and was crafting and sketching different variations of the deal,” Van Wagenen said. “We had to work on some gymnastics to get to the final finish line, but it was actually David Wright who helped construct one of the final deal structures.”
Added Wilpon: “He’s our secret weapon.”
Wright, it’s worth noting, still holds the record for largest contract in Mets history, an eight-year, $138-million pact signed after the 2012 season. That’s a half-million more than deGrom (and Johan Santana).
“Well, I called him. Funny story,” deGrom said. “I talked to him after [signing] and he said, 'You're still short of me on the biggest one.' ”
From the Mets’ side, the question remained: Why sign deGrom now — especially for that much money — when he was still two seasons away from free agency?
“Somebody said last summer that the Mets should either sign him or trade him,” a smiling Van Wagenen said, referring to himself, when he gave the Mets those options while speaking as deGrom’s agent during the All-Star break. “I carried that same mindset. It's hard to build a long-term sustainable winning plan with uncertainty for which players are going to be part of that team beyond one or two years.
“Had we not been able to sign Jacob long-term and there was no interest on his side to be with us, then of course we would have had to look at different scenarios as we try to build a long-term winner. Interestingly enough, both sides agreed he should be part of it.”