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SportsColumnistsDavid Lennon

Little leverage now for Jacob deGrom’s agent

Jacob deGrom's agent is demanding a trade

Jacob deGrom's agent is demanding a trade or a contract extension. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

WASHINGTON -- It’s understandable that Jacob deGrom would be frustrated with his situation on the Mets, but he’s not the type of guy who voices such concerns publicly.

That’s what he pays his agent for, and Brodie Van Wagenen did an excellent job expressing it Monday, right in the middle of the All-Star media availability, a few feet away from deGrom’s booth at Nationals Park.

Bottom line, it’s Van Wagenen’s job to do what’s best for his client, and he’s very skilled at such things. With deGrom, however, he’s severely limited in that capacity. The idea of a sign-or-trade ultimatum doesn’t work when there’s a third, less appealing option still available, and that’s for the Mets to simply spend the time they have before making a decision.

The Mets could deal deGrom inside of the next two weeks or sign him to a long-term extension within the two-year window before he becomes a free agent. Both deGrom and Van Wagenen insisted Monday that he wants to stay in Flushing, but in the same breath, were perfectly fine with the prospect of being traded, too.

The middle ground, however, was deemed unacceptable.

“Just staying status quo,” Van Wagenen said, “I don’t think benefits anyone.”

I’m fine with Brodie’s plan. I think by now we’re all sick of this debate, and it’s pointless to rehash all the reasons why deGrom should be traded — or why he shouldn’t. We’ve been doing this for nearly three months. Everyone knows this argument as well as a McDonald’s menu.

But it’s not as simple as ordering a Big Mac and fries, despite Van Wagenen’s attempt to make this a black-and-white issue. Yes, the Mets would have the chance to vastly improve the organization if they traded a controllable Cy Young favorite.

The downside? They’d be trading a controllable Cy Young favorite. That’s not Van Wagenen’s problem, obviously. If he can’t get deGrom, say, a five-year, $150-million extension — sounds like a fair number to us — then the next-best thing is ushering him to a contender. But the agent can’t do that himself, and we don’t see how applying media pressure to the Mets is going to work, either.

Van Wagenen was correct in pointing out that deGrom has been a good solider amid the Mets’ losing. Most reasonable pitchers would be losing their minds if they had a 1.68 ERA in 19 starts and five wins. Chris Sale shredded uniforms with a knife because he didn’t like the White Sox throwbacks.

Along those same lines, however, Van Wagenen did hint that deGrom’s steely demeanor may weaken some under this continued duress — if his uncertain status isn’t resolved. That would run contrary to what we know about deGrom, but in negotiations, you try to exploit whatever edge you might have.

“You don’t want frustrations to start to creep into his performance,” Van Wagenen said. “I don’t see that happening this year at all because he is so focused, and he is so professional, and he does have a desire to be a part of this. But if that’s not in the cards, then I can’t imagine that situation being productive heading into 2019.”

Translation: My client is going to be very, very unhappy heading into next season without a contract extension. But if the Mets are serious when they tell us they plan to be a contender in ’19 and beyond, then it’s only logical to make sure deGrom is the ace of that staff. The front office knows that. But they also know deGrom is 30, and based on their disastrous history of pitching injuries, have to be gun-shy of spending big to lock him up for another three to five years. Look at Yoenis Cespedes, another Van Wagenen client. The Mets made him the game’s highest-paid outfielder (4 yrs/$100M) and he’s played in 46 percent of their games in the 1 1⁄2 seasons since.

These are all calculated risks, and for the Mets — a team operating with a three-headed GM structure at the moment — no one is going to put their name on a deGrom decision yet, not even COO Jeff Wilpon, who has the last word on such things. Credit Van Wagenen for trying to speed things up, but he has only slightly more influence on the process than a WFAN caller right now.

“I would love to play here for my whole career,” deGrom said. “I think it’s just kind of deciding what we see as the future.”

From where the Mets stand now, they can’t see the future yet. Or just choose not to.


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