Back at the start of spring training, when Jacob deGrom’s camp set the Opening Day deadline for any extension talks, the Mets still had two options.
One, make their ace happy by paying him a lot of money a full two years ahead of free agency, which would mean buying high coming off his historic Cy Young season.
Or two, punt. See if deGrom could be that caliber of pitcher again, and perhaps most important, stay healthy, before digging deep for the cash.
The second is usually the Mets’ default position, and frankly, there was an argument to be made for either side. Both had their risks, and potential rewards.
Hometown: DeLand, Florida
New contract: Five years, $137.5 million
Awards: 2014 NL Rookie of the Year, 2018 NL Cy Young
Career stats: 55-41, 2.67 ERA, 1.072 WHIP, 1,000 strikeouts
But as that Opening Day deadline fast approached, it became increasingly clear that only one option remained. The choice was gone, as the outside pressure caused by MLB’s extension craze combined with the building heat in the Mets' clubhouse (thanks, Noah Syndergaard) to push the Mets to agree on Tuesday’s five-year, $137.5-million deal for deGrom.
The fact the contract wasn’t finished until roughly 48 hours before the deadline is a fair indication of just how far the Mets had to be shoved. His $17 million raise for this season was partly meant to buy some time, a goodwill offering, but the Mets still had a six-week window to lock him up further. Not to mention having his former agent, Brodie Van Wagenen, as the GM while his old agency, CAA, still repped deGrom in these negotiations.
We knew all that from the jump. What we didn’t know Feb. 12, or anyone even predicted, was the industry’s sudden, speedy trend toward contract extensions -- no doubt the fallout from two straight nuclear winters of a glacial free-agent market. Before Tuesday, during the previous month, MLB clubs had handed out roughly $1.45 billion to 13 players already under their own control, coming in rapid fire, all with varying degrees of service time.
The extensions to young pitchers such as Luis Severino ($40M), Aaron Nola ($45M) and even the AL Cy winner Blake Snell ($50M) didn’t move the needle much for deGrom, who at 30 was two years away from free agency. But when Chris Sale got his five-year, $145 million extension from the Red Sox over the weekend, followed up by Justin Verlander’s two-year, $66 million add-on, those backed the Mets into a corner.
If the Red Sox could determine an acceptable price for a perennial Cy Young contender in Sale, who turns 30 this weekend, with 585 more innings on his arm than deGrom, then the Mets had the road map drawn for them -- and no exit strategy. Unless Van Wagenen knew something injurious about his former client that everyone else didn’t, the Mets had to realize a Sale-type extension was their only recourse. Anything less wouldn’t satisfy deGrom, and in turn, the blowback for the franchise -- on the eve of a new, supposedly different era -- would be a noisy, distracting narrative.
We got confirmation of the latter Sunday, when Syndergaard stood in front of the microphones and promptly ripped into the Mets for dragging their feet with their ace. As we’ve come to expect, deGrom had remained mostly diplomatic on the negotiations -- other than the early misstep about self-imposed innings limits -- but Syndergaard seemed to speak for the players in airing his frustration.
“They should put all this fuss [to the side] and pay the man already,” Syndergaard said Sunday. “Jake is the best pitcher in baseball right now. He deserves whatever amount he’s worth. I want to keep him happy so when it does come time for him to reach free agency, he stays on our side, with the Mets.”
By then, neither the Wilpons nor Van Wagenen should have needed any further coaching on the matter. But the Mets’ hierarchy, even with the winter’s personnel change, remains very sensitive to public perception, and a fan favorite like Thor spouting off is not the fuse you want to have sparked days away from thye season opener.
No wonder that Van Wagenen and Jeff Wilpon hunkered down with deGrom and his CAA point man, Jeff Berry. during the Mets’ visit to Sarasota on Monday, their last spring training stop before heading north. A source confirmed that the group huddled for most of the afternoon to hammer out the deal, eventually getting the total to match Johan Santana’s club record of $137.5 million from 2008.
Now, deGrom will be a Met at least through the 2022 season -- the contract includes an opt-out for that year -- at a guaranteed $107 million, as compared to $105 million for Sale during that same period. If his 2024 option is picked up, deGrom will pocket $170 million over six years, and will be 37 by its conclusion.
Certainly a fair investment if deGrom stays in the Cy Young hunt, and helps keep the Mets in contention. But in the end, it had to happen. And it did, with 48 hours to spare.
Starting pitchers who have signed contract extensions recently:
Chris Sale, Red Sox — 5 years, $145M
Jacob deGrom, Mets — 5 years, $137.5M
Miles Mikolas, Cardinals — 4 years $68M
Justin Verlander, Astros — 2 years, $66M
Kyle Hendricks, Cubs — 4 years, $55.595M
Blake Snell, Rays — 5 years, $50M
Aaron Nola, Phillies — 4 years, $45M
Luis Severino, Yankees — 4 years, $40M