Texas Rangers starting pitcher Jacob deGrom, left, listens to new...

Texas Rangers starting pitcher Jacob deGrom, left, listens to new manger Bruce Bochy after trying on his new jersey during a press conference at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas, Thursday, Dec. 8, 2022.  Credit: Texas Rangers via Twitter

It was a little like living through an alternate reality, watching Jacob deGrom put on his Rangers jersey and smile as widely as we’ve ever seen him. But even that was nothing compared to the dissonance Mets fans had to feel when he opened his mouth and started answering questions at his introductory news conference in Arlington Thursday.

He wants to be a part of something special, he said. He wants to win a World Series. “It was the right fit,” deGrom said. Eventually, with some prompting, he thanked the Mets and their fans.

They’re all the right words, said in the correct order, but the result was a jumble that strained belief. DeGrom is 34 years old and the Rangers, having won just 68 games last year, are in rebuild mode. So much so that, eventually, general manager Chris Young was asked if a winning record is a realistic expectation this coming year (he said yes, and that they want to “push for a spot in the playoffs”).

Go ahead and imagine Billy Eppler reacting to a question like that. Or Buck Showalter. They'd be nothing short of aghast, and for good reason: Anything less than a winning season would be a disaster, and baseball's peculiarities notwithstanding, the Mets have a far better chance than the Rangers at the World Series run deGrom insists affected his decision.

Let’s get this straight: DeGrom had absolutely every right to take this mega-contract. When healthy, he’s the best pitcher alive, but though he says he’s ready to make 30 starts a year, the truth is that his age and his injury history complicate that goal. Getting a five-year deal – reportedly two years longer than the Mets offered – provides him and his family with a comforting extra layer of security. Now, add to that the fact that it’s worth $185 million with a sixth-year vesting option, and that Texas doesn’t charge state income tax.

These are excellent and legitimate reasons. So is the possibility that deGrom may want to raise his kids elsewhere, or that he just personally didn’t like playing here. If he pulled a Mike Hampton and started raving about the Arlington school system, that would have been OK, too.

But instead, deGrom’s professed reasons did a disservice to his legacy as a Met. Nothing is going to change the fact that he won two Cy Youngs in Flushing and displayed absolute domination time and time again. And people will certainly always remember the shaggy-haired kid who pitched in the 2015 World Series, and the beleaguered ace who couldn’t get any run support no matter how many zeros he put up.

That, though, is also the thing about reaching superstar status in a city where the highs are higher and the lows are lower: There’s so much farther to fall.

Now, despite his grand legacy, deGrom will also be remembered as the pitcher who essentially winked and nudged his way to a goodbye. Who, with a straight face, said his primary goal was to win, while also not engaging in any meaningful 11th-hour talks with a team that won 101 games last year, and whose owner, Steve Cohen, is considered the most financially aggressive in baseball.

And it was all avoidable. DeGrom could have at least feigned listening to a Mets counteroffer. He could have said thank you and goodbye of his own volition instead of waiting to get bailed out by a reporter who asked him how hard it was to leave the franchise where he spent nine seasons. Barring all of that, deGrom could have simply dispensed with the idea that this Rangers team gives him a better chance to win it all, instead focusing on their youth and promise.

It's a shame that he didn’t go that route – especially with everything he’d done to make the Mets a credible threat. Especially because there shouldn't even be a question about whether he gets cheered when he comes back to Citi Field next August.

Instead, he sat on the dais and treated it as if he was taking the mound. He toed the metaphorical rubber and went into his windup; and, in true deGrom fashion, he tried to make it look like a fastball for about 59 feet, right up to the point the slider broke and left everyone questioning reality.

And that's too bad. DeGrom's Mets legacy deserved so much better than that particular attempt at deception.  


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