There was always a price to be paid for Jacob deGrom’s supernatural ability that had nothing to do with the $185 million he chased all the way to Texas.
And the toll was extracted from a slender frame that stretched 180 pounds over a 6-foot-4 slingshot, with every fiber of that mechanism pushed to the max.
Six trips to the IL during his nine years with the Mets, and it felt like twice that amount if you tally up the starts missed due to an abundance of caution, the anxiety caused by the slightest tweak or twinge.
But these were not isolated incidents or freak occurrences. Every elbow flare-up or bout of shoulder tendinitis or stress reaction involving a scapula. This was all part of the same kinetic chain, and fault lines were consistently forming, cracks along the surface that ultimately would trigger the Big One.
The Mets had to know it was coming, that deGrom’s video-game velocity and physics-defying torque would keep causing parts of him to break, only because it seemed medically impossible for that not to happen. And there’s little doubt deGrom was keenly aware of that inevitability, too.
So with that history — including a previous Tommy John surgery way back in 2010 — no one would say it’s shocking that deGrom is now headed for a second TJ procedure, as the Rangers announced Tuesday afternoon. That figured to be on the table from the minute deGrom landed on the IL in late April with what Texas described as right elbow inflammation. Maybe it was in the back of deGrom’s mind even earlier than that.
Because deGrom, who turns 35 in another week, always pitched like he only had so many bullets in that magical right arm. Whether it was his supply for the month or innings on any particular night. He won back-to-back Cy Young awards with two of the most electrifying seasons a pitcher could ever have. Just pure, unbridled dominance.
But after this third-place Cy finish during the 2020 pandemic-shortened campaign, deGrom’s body was emptying of those bullets. Not all at once, but in sporadic bursts, and the times in between were taken up by visits to the MRI tube.
That was also around the point where deGrom’s contract situation began to cause a widening rift between himself and the team. When deGrom was sidelined by right forearm tightness during the second half of the ’21 season, Sandy Alderson — team president filling in as GM — actually revealed that his ace was dealing with a partial UCL tear.
DeGrom vigorously denied Alderson’s claim. After all, he was only one year away from free agency. But deGrom never pitched again that season, and when he showed up for spring training the following February, he looked stronger — like a man on a mission.
But once again, deGrom’s body couldn’t hold up, and when his right shoulder buckled under the strain — due to the stress reaction in his scapula — he returned more than a month beyond the original timeline. Was deGrom worried about putting those free-agent dollars in jeopardy?
Definitely possible. He made only 11 starts, including one more in October, and that was enough to convince the Rangers to give him a five-year, $185 million deal. As crazy as that contract seemed at the time, the math on it now is mind-boggling.
With deGrom now out for the rest of this season, after going 2-0 with a 2.67 ERA in six starts, and likely all of the next one too, the Rangers will essentially be paying him $61.7 million a year for the serviceable part of that deal. And what’s reasonable for Texas to expect from deGrom then?
Because it’s deGrom, everyone wants another glimpse of the comet — this truly rare generational talent — so they always believe he’ll be back. No matter how bright those red warning lights flash, and no matter how often. Or how illogical it is to count on deGrom being healthy when he hasn’t provided any recent evidence to support those claims?
"I'd have days where I'd feel really good, days where I didn't feel great. So I was kind of riding a roller coaster there for a little bit," deGrom told reporters Tuesday in Arlington, Texas. “They said originally there, we just saw some inflammation. . . . Getting an MRI right after you pitch, I feel like anybody would have inflammation. So, you know, I was hoping that that would get out of there and I would be fine. But it just didn't work out that way."
As for the on-the-rise Rangers, they were eager to make a big splash last winter, and wound up getting soaked by deGrom instead. It was bound to happen to some team. Those who have witnessed deGrom at the peak of his powers — with a triple-digit fastball and wicked slider that made hitters hopeless — would feel compelled to make a similar mistake.
When deGrom was on the mound, you could argue no one was better. The challenge, more and more, was getting him there. And now no amount of money or optimism is going to make that possible for a while.