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SportsColumnistsDavid Lennon

Mets' stalling tactics could backfire in Jacob deGrom contract situation

Last summer, when he was deGrom's agent, Brodie Van Wagenen wanted his client re-signed or traded. Now that he's the Mets' GM, he's finding out that getting a deal done is very complicated.

New York Mets GM Brodie Van Wagenen during

New York Mets GM Brodie Van Wagenen during a spring training workout, Tuesday Feb. 12, 2019 in Port St. Lucie, FL. Photo Credit: Newsday/Alejandra Villa Loarca

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. — Brodie Van Wagenen, the agent, wanted Jacob deGrom re-signed by the Mets or traded months ago. He told us precisely that in D.C. the day before his client was scheduled to pitch in the All-Star Game at Nationals Park.

In other words, the Mets were behaving negligently in their handling of deGrom, then his client, by procrastinating with their ace’s future, to the detriment of both the team and the pitcher.

So what’s Van Wagenen’s excuse for doing so now?

It’s one thing to pull off a grandstanding ploy in the middle of the All-Star festivities, hoping to kick the Flushing beehive for a reaction. But to come up with $150 million or so, from the historically frugal Wilpons, in this battleground baseball economy, for a 30-year-old pitcher coming off an epic Cy Young season is much easier said than done, as Brodie the GM is discovering.

Frankly, the Mets couldn’t even figure out how to immediately respond to Tuesday’s development, when word leaked that deGrom’s CAA reps had set an Opening Day deadline for contract negotiations. While this is the sort of stuff that happens this time of year, Van Wagenen initially chose to punt on any public comment until Thursday, which is his already planned kickoff news conference for spring training.

But after hours of bobbing and weaving numerous reporters on various fields, Van Wagenen finally opted to face the deGrom music head on, which made the most sense. We know this is a complicated issue, and signing any thirty-something pitcher to a long-term deal, even someone as uber-talented as deGrom, is not without significant risk.

Let us remind you again, however, that Van Wagenen used to be deGrom’s agent, remains on supposedly good terms with his new reps at CAA, and repeatedly claims that locking up the Cy Young winner is a top priority heading into this season. When considering all of those factors, six weeks should be plenty of time to determine whether the Mets are going to follow through on this.

Now it just feels like the Mets are stalling, especially after deGrom’s camp insists the team told them back at the winter meetings, in early December, that an offer would be forthcoming — and have yet to produce one, according to a source. Truth is, deGrom had zero leverage back in July when Van Wagenen stumped for him and continues to have zero now, aside from his ticking free-agency clock.

The Mets know that, as do deGrom’s reps, which is why CAA has to resort to the same type of strategy Van Wagenen did all those months ago. By attaching a deadline, and raising the doomsday scenario of deGrom leaving Flushing someday, it gets everyone fired up and hopefully prods the Mets into more fruitful conversations that speed up the process.

As far as the team is concerned, their deadline is the end of the 2020 season, when deGrom becomes a free agent. Until then, he has to continue to perform like a Cy Young contender, and stay healthy for two whole seasons, which is not easy to do these days, especially in Flushing.

That’s the harsh reality. But for the immediate future, in the spirit of compromise, Van Wagenen did his best to gloss over any appearance of conflict with his old CAA pals.

“We continue to have dialogue, and this concept of an Opening Day deadline for contract discussion is a mutual understanding,” Van Wagenen said. “The last thing either side wants to do is have it be a distraction once the season starts.”

Good luck with that. As long as deGrom remains unsigned, this conversation will continue to come up, probably every time he takes the mound. It was deGrom’s current agent, Jeff Berry, who penned a memo this winter that suggested players be more vigilant in looking out for themselves, perhaps going to such extremes as limiting their innings to preserve their value as they get closer to free agency.

Could deGrom be that proactive, for his own personal gain — and to the Mets’ detriment? It’s certainly possible, and another gamble Van Wagenen is taking the longer this plays out.

“He knows we care about him,” Van Wagenen said. “We know how important he is to the organization, and I think it will be my job to make sure there is no strained relationship, no matter what takes place as we continue to move forward.”

There really is only one guaranteed way to do that. Pay him. Sooner rather than later. As a former agent, that’s something Van Wagenen should still understand.

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