Jacob deGrom plans to opt out, but wants to stick around
By James Wagner
Before the 2019 season, the New York Mets signed ace pitcher Jacob deGrom to a five-year, $137.5 million contract extension that allowed him to opt out after the 2022 season. At the time of the deal, deGrom was coming off a dominant season in which he won his first National League Cy Young Award and finished fifth in NL Most Valuable Player Award voting.
Since then, deGrom has been both excellent (a 2.08 ERA over three seasons and the 2019 NL Cy Young Award) and compromised (an elbow injury forced him to miss the final three months of the 2021 season).
After reporting healthy to Mets spring training in Port St. Lucie, Florida, deGrom made two declarations about his future earlier this week: He plans to use his option and he hopes to stick around.
“For me, I don’t want that to be any distraction,” deGrom said. “I’m excited about this team. And I’ve said it before: Love being a Met and it would be really cool to be one for my entire career. The plan is to exercise that option and then be in constant contact in the offseason with the Mets and Steve Cohen.”
Cohen, the Mets’ billionaire owner, has already shown a willingness to open his checkbook for talented players, from starting pitcher Max Scherzer to outfielder Starling Marte to shortstop Francisco Lindor. DeGrom, though, has been the face of the organization during much overhaul in recent years.
David Wright is gone. So are all the other members of the Mets’ Big 5 rotation, including Noah Syndergaard, who departed for the Los Angeles Angels this winter. DeGrom is not only the longest-tenured Met but he has been their best player based on wins above replacement in six of the past seven years.
By opting out of his contract, deGrom, who turns 34 in June, will be banking on his ability to stay healthy to try to earn a new deal that nets him more than the $30.5 million left over the final year of his existing contract. (The number would jump to $63 million if the Mets exercise their club option for 2024.)
Production has never been a question with deGrom — he has a career 2.50 ERA in just over 1,260 career innings — and he was a late bloomer anyway, winning the 2014 NL Rookie of the Year Award at age 26.
“At the appropriate time, we’re going to play this season and then we’ll figure that out,” Cohen said over the weekend. “Jake will do what he does. We love Jake.”
DeGrom was on track to perhaps win his third Cy Young last season when he felt discomfort in his right forearm, a scary proposition for any pitcher but particularly for one who had Tommy John surgery in 2010 and a separate surgery to repair nerve damage in his elbow in 2016. DeGrom didn’t pitch in a game after July 7 and finished with a 1.08 ERA over 92 innings.
Mets President Sandy Alderson said late last season that deGrom had a partial tear in the ulnar collateral ligament — the part of the arm repaired during Tommy John surgery — but insisted that it was “perfectly intact.”
On Monday, deGrom threw a bullpen session in front of Mets coaches and reported feeling “really good.” He said he enjoyed a normal offseason and had already thrown at least five bullpen sessions before arriving at a spring training that was delayed and truncated by a labor dispute.
DeGrom said he was thrilled to start a season of high expectations for the revamped Mets, to see Cohen spend lots of money to improve the roster, and to pitch in the same rotation as Scherzer, a three-time Cy Young Award winner who signed a three-year, $130 million deal in November.
“I love competing against him but now to learn from him, the guy is a future Hall of Famer,” deGrom said.
Manager Buck Showalter said that he expected deGrom to start on opening day on April 7 against Washington but the Mets will keep a close eye on him as he returns from his injury and a long lockout during which team officials couldn’t communicate with players. DeGrom hasn’t logged 200 innings since 2019. His fastball averaged an eye-popping 99 mph last year, and Monday he said that he believed he could still throw that hard and stay healthy during the season.
First baseman Pete Alonso said he was shaken up emotionally but fine physically after being part of a “brutal” car accident in Tampa, Florida, just as he was beginning his drive to Mets camp from his hometown across the state. He said another driver ran a red light and hit his truck, which flipped over three times, and he had to kick the windshield out to get out. Alonso said he, his wife (who was driving in a separate car behind him) and the other people in the cars were OK. “I’m just really thankful to be alive and I’m really thankful to be healthy,” he said.