Mets pitcher Jacob deGrom at spring training camp, Sunday March...

Mets pitcher Jacob deGrom at spring training camp, Sunday March 13, 2022 in Port St. Lucie Fla. Credit: Newsday/Alejandra Villa Loarca

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. — The Jacob deGrom contract watch is coming back.

DeGrom said he plans to opt out and become a free agent after this season, then be in "constant contact" with the Mets — with whom he would like to remain — while looking for a new deal. He doesn’t want to negotiate an extension during the season, preferring instead to hit the open market for the first time in his career.

"I won’t talk any more on this, but that’s the business side of baseball. As a player, you build in opt-outs and that’s the business side of it," deGrom said Monday after his first bullpen session of spring training. "I don’t want that to be any distraction. I’m excited about this team. I’ve said it before: I love being a Met. I think it would be really cool to be one for my entire career. But the plan is to exercise that option and be in constant contact in the offseason with the Mets and Steve Cohen and the front office."

That deGrom intends to pass on the last one or two years of his current contract is less a surprise and more the obvious choice if he has a healthy and reasonably good season. He is set to make $33.5 million this year, then would be owed $30.5 million in 2023 with a $32.5 million team option for 2024.

Those numbers don’t even make deGrom, the best pitcher in the world in recent years, the highest-paid pitcher on his team. Max Scherzer, his new co-ace, signed a three-year, $130 million deal in November. That is the largest contract awarded to a free agent in Mets history, and the average annual value of $43.3 million is the highest in baseball history.

"The guy is a future Hall of Famer," deGrom said. "To be around people like that and push each other, teach each other as much as we can, I think it’s going to be really exciting . . . To see what ownership is doing, going and getting guys, this is going to be an exciting place to be."

In the event of more injuries or a bad season, deGrom still can fall back on his existing deal.

But he said his right arm is healthy and he had a normal offseason, which is progress after he missed the entire second half of 2021 because of a series of physical problems. His elbow hasn’t actively bothered him since "some time after the All-Star break," he said, noting separately that he is "very confident" he can make 30 or more starts and throw 200 or more innings despite significantly lesser workloads the past two seasons.

Team president Sandy Alderson last year characterized deGrom’s issue as a minor tear of the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow. That is the body part that sometimes requires Tommy John surgery.

"My elbow feels fine," he said. "I have been told that the UCL is perfectly fine."

DeGrom is behind schedule relative to a normal spring training, having thrown about a half-dozen bullpen sessions but not having faced hitters yet. He is scheduled to do so late this week.

Mets starter Jacob deGrom talks about his confidence level in his elbow now as well as the chance to pick the brain of new teammate Max Scherzer. Credit: Newsday / Tim Healey/Tim Healey

That didn’t prevent manager Buck Showalter from nonchalantly calling deGrom the Mets’ Opening Day starter, though.

DeGrom is slated to become the first Mets pitcher to start four consecutive openers since Dwight Gooden (1988-91).

"We hope that we have a plan set up where he can do that," Showalter said. "How far we get, because of the lockout, might present some challenges. But right now, we’re treating him as you would a normal starter, with certainly some knowledge of the things that have gone on in the past and what to look for. Leaning on him. It’s an important year for the club and Jake’s a big part of that. So looking forward to, knock on wood, getting through this unscathed."

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