Do you remember the resounding Herschel Walker trade, the one that brought scads of draft picks and transformed the then-struggling Dallas Cowboys for a decade? Well, forget it. This isn’t football, and these aren’t the Cowboys.
Think more along the lines of the Tom Seaver trade or the David Cone deal. Talent for talent, those Mets transactions did not seem so bad, but each one eroded the team’s essence. As much as the club needs a makeover every now and then, you just can’t build on top of a cavity where the heart and soul should be.
Jacob deGrom showed again on Thursday afternoon why he is an untouchable, with seven stellar shutout innings in a 4-0. “Magnifico” Amed Rosario called the victorious outing, his meaning clear before his words were translated. The thing about deGrom is that he is just as much a competitor and leader when his teammates let him down. He is the Mets identity.
Even when the Mets don’t score four runs for him in the first inning, which they did Thursday (the first time they did so in his 160 career starts), even when they don’t play solid defense behind him (Rosario made two outstanding plays that were stark rarities in this Mets season), this clearly is deGrom’s team. He wants to keep it that way.
So he will. No matter what might happen before the trade deadline Wednesday, no matter what direction the club chooses to follow this offseason, deGrom will be king of the hill, top of the heap.
“He takes the right approach. He takes the approach that all of us should take. He controls what he can control,” Mickey Callaway said. “He can’t control if we score runs for him. He does a good job of separating that and understanding that, ‘All I can do is what I can do. I can’t worry about the things that may never happen. I can’t worry about the things that aren’t in my control.’ And he goes out there and has success.”
Luis Avilan, the eight-year veteran who finished the matinee win over the Padres, said of the starter, “Throughout my career, I’ve been with a lot of good pitchers and he’s right there. When I say that, I mean he’s in the top three. He’s unreal, he’s unbelievable.”
One school of thought suggests that deGrom, 31, is at peak value and could fetch a franchise-altering haul in a Herschel Walker-like trade. But that requires the huge leap of faith that agent-turned-general manager Brodie Van Wagenen could hit a home run. Also, Mets history says that in watershed moves, the sum of the parts does not make up for the hole.
Jeff Kent ultimately became a borderline Hall of Famer in other cities, but he and Ryan Thompson did not compensate for the loss of Cone in Queens. Same for ex-Reds Steve Henderson, Doug Flynn, Pat Zachry and Dan Norman, who couldn’t take Seaver’s place.
There is an odd dynamic on this Mets team. As poorly as it has played for the past three seasons, and as unsightly as this year has been, key players do not want to jump ship. Trade target Noah Syndergaard wants to stay, so does Zack Wheeler, the most likely to be an ex-Met by next Wednesday.
“I think it’s the personnel in the clubhouse,” deGrom said. “Everybody is rooting for everybody in here. The season hasn’t gone the way we wanted it to, but we have a good group of guys in here and we enjoy each other.”
Fact of the matter is that deGrom is the main reason the Mets are attractive to ballplayers. “He’s our leader, he’s our ace. He sets the tone and he has, for a long time in this organization,” Callaway said. “He’s going to be here a lot longer, doing the same thing.”
No matter what the Mets might be able to get in a blockbuster, deGrom’s presence is worth more than his absence ever could be.