The Mets now have a back-to-back Cy Young winner in Jacob deGrom, only the 11th pitcher to accomplish the feat in the 63-year history of the award.
That means they already possess one of the most coveted treasures in the sport, and if he were available on the free-agent market this winter, like a Gerrit Cole or Stephen Strasburg, the Mets would almost certainly be outbid for his services.
So give Brodie Van Wagenen credit, as well as the Wilpons for opening their checkbook in this case. They all were smart enough to capitalize on deGrom’s willingness to stay in Flushing, and so far, he’s made their $137.5-million bet pay off big-time. For the second season in a row, they’ve had the best pitcher in the National League, by a 29-1 margin in first-place votes.
That’s the good news. But in celebrating deGrom, we know you can’t help obsessing over the flip side, on the opportunity lost, and how greatness is ultimately a finite resource. The Mets have deGrom, now 31, for at least four more seasons, with a $32.5-million team option for a fifth.
The past two years? To put it bluntly, deGrom’s spectacular performances were wasted. As deGrom was crafting his Cy Young resumes, the Mets were going 28-36 in his starts, failing to reach the playoffs on both occasions.
It’s a shame, really. And when you factor in Pete Alonso also becoming a nearly unanimous Rookie of the Year (again with the 29-1 thing) this week, after a record-setting 53-homer season, what the Mets squandered in 2019 finally comes into aggravating focus. Only seven teams have claimed both the CYA and ROY in the same year, and the Mets are just the second to not make the playoffs (we’re discounting the ’94 Royals due to the strike-shortened season). The 1976 Padres — featuring Randy Jones and Butch Metzger (a ROY co-winner) — were the other.
The Mets deserve to be proud of their awards this week. But deGrom and Alonso, along with their many fans, realize that this is the time to capitalize on their special talents, and a window like this doesn’t stay open forever. Van Wagenen and the Wilpons need to fully grasp that concept as well as they work to assemble a contending team this winter. Signing deGrom has to be the springboard to even greater things, such as the one trophy that outshines the individual awards.
“When we look at the win-now and the win-future mantra that we have, it requires having sustainability of the talent,” Van Wagenen said Tuesday, “and I think Jake's contract extension was such a big priority of our business because it allowed us a longer runway from which we can build a competitive team. Having Jake at the front of our rotation, now signed for the next four years, is something that allows us to build a team around as we go forward.”
I get Brodie’s point, but the talk of “longer runways” and “team-building” doesn’t sound soon enough to me. DeGrom already is coming off two Cy Young seasons, and it’s not logical to expect him to keep up this amazing pace. Greg Maddux and Randy Johnson are the only two pitchers to string together three consecutive Cys — in the process of claiming four straight. Both managed to earn a World Series ring during that run. That needs to happen for deGrom, but he can’t do it alone.
“The way I kind of view it is, if I can kind of live up to my personal goals then I'm going to be helping the team the best way I can,” deGrom said. “Ultimately it's a team sport and the main goal is to win a World Series.”
So here’s where the team part comes in. As Van Wagenen tries to find upgrades for the Mets this offseason, and the Wilpons mull over the financial commitments, they have to take the same approach they did in signing deGrom. It’s never easy to invest $137.5 million in anything, but giving it to deGrom was something the Mets knew they had to do in order to be a competitive team in the future.
The same goes for enhancing the current roster. If spending more can better ensure that deGrom’s efforts — and Alonso’s homers — won’t be wasted again, then the Mets can’t worry about nudging past a $208-million luxury-tax threshold. Worry less about the win-future mantra and help deGrom get the Mets back to October as soon as possible, then keep doing it with him fronting the rotation.
DeGrom is a special, once-in-a-generation pitcher. A second Seaver. And it would be criminal for the Mets to look back and again have to mourn what might have been.
Jacob deGrom is the 11th pitcher to repeat as a Cy Young winner:
*Sandy Koufax, Dodgers 1965-66
Denny McLain, Tigers 1968-69
Jim Palmer, Orioles 1975-76
Roger Clemens, Red Sox 1986-87
Clemens, Blue Jays 1997-98
Pedro Martinez, Red Sox 1999-2000
Greg Maddux, Cubs-Braves 1992-95 (4)
Randy Johnson, Diamondbacks 1999-2002 (4)
Tim Lincecum, Giants 2008-09
Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers 2013-14
Max Scherzer, Nationals 2016-17
Jacob deGrom, Mets 2018-19
*One award for both leagues.