PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla.
At the 9:48 mark of Thursday’s interview, after 15 questions, a Mets spokesman abruptly cut off Jacob deGrom, thanking him for the time and cueing the pitcher’s exit from the conference room.
Later, when I suggested to deGrom that we were only getting warmed up about his contract stalemate with the Mets, he laughed, saying he also was surprised that the interrogation ended as soon as it did. He seemed ready for more.
That left me with the impression that deGrom doesn’t mind going toe-to-toe with the Mets in the public arena, and just how unproductive this already pointless exercise is getting less than a week into spring training.
From the media’s perspective, we really don’t have anything better to do on Valentine’s Day than smoke up this type of staredown.
But the Mets? Just how much of an appetite do they have for this narrative? And the optics of going to battle with their Cy Young Award winner — using his former agent as the spearhead — is just another reason for their frustrated fan base to question whether this season truly can be any different.
Brodie Van Wagenen has been the general manager for 3 1⁄2 months, but we still haven’t gotten used to the fact that he’s the Mets’ frontman preaching the company line, with deGrom on the other side. It’s just an awkward situation.
As friendly as Van Wagenen insists the two remain, his mission has fundamentally changed.
In his past life, his primary directive was to get every last dollar for deGrom or, if that wasn’t possible, to free him from Flushing. Now his chief concern is the greater good of the team, with deGrom only one piece, albeit a very important part.
Fortunately for the Mets, the polished Van Wagenen has enough agent left in him to play the role of deGrom’s BFF while also doing the GM shtick.
If he didn’t have a personal relationship with deGrom, he could harden his stance and declare that the only real deadline is the end of the 2020 season, when the pitcher will become a free agent. Case closed.
But we’ll take Van Wagenen at his word and believe that he’s interested in locking up deGrom with a longish extension, even if we can’t understand why the Mets have yet to make an offer, at the very least. As his agent, Van Wagenen certainly had a number in mind at the end of last season, so it’s not as if he’s coming in cold here. And deGrom’s CAA reps were Van Wagenen’s colleagues just a few months ago. Six weeks is plenty of time to get an extension done, if that’s truly what the Mets want to do.
“I think it is important to make sure that we have clarity of his situation going forward,” Van Wagenen said. “We want to have our eye on the prize in the near term and the long term, and don’t get tunnel vision of thinking that there is more negative impact or more drama than there necessarily is.”
Sounds as if Van Wagenen has the GM-speak down, because agents love the drama, just as he relied on it during his All-Star week offensive for deGrom last July and CAA has with its Opening Day deadline.
As far as we can tell, deGrom is fine with the drama, too. He repeatedly said Thursday how much he enjoys playing for the Mets, but he made sure to mention looking out for his family and his future (his $17-million salary for this season should make for a pretty good nest egg).
This is not a fight deGrom is shying away from, and we wonder how far he’ll push the issue. His current agent, Jeff Berry, suggested in a December memo that players protect themselves, such as using self-imposed limits on pitches or innings. When deGrom was asked Thursday if he would take such drastic measures if a deal is not reached, he didn’t say no.
“I think that’s going to be a discussion that’s going to have to be had with my agents,” he said. “I’m going to have to sit down with them and really see what they think is best for me moving forward.”
Not one of deGrom’s best moments, and Thursday’s dueling news conferences weren’t great for either side. Regardless of Van Wagenen’s spin, we’ll see what the Mets’ priorities are soon enough.