At the end of the day, what choice did the Mets have? Not that signing Jacob deGrom to an extension was a bad decision: Locking up your ace long-term can never be said to be the wrong call. But there was no alternative here for the Mets, no reality in which they could get away with letting deGrom reach free agency. For a franchise synonymous with clownish dysfunction, there was only one outcome that wouldn’t have led to ruin and lamentation.
Luckily—and given this team’s reputation, amazingly—the Mets for once did the smart, sensible and drama-free thing. On Tuesday morning, with just 48 hours to go until a deGrom-imposed Opening Day deadline to get a deal done, New York did just that, signing the defending NL Cy Young winner to a five-year, $137.5 million contract. The move keeps deGrom from reaching free agency, as he was set to do after the 2020 season, and ends a weeks-long stalemate between player and front office that stood out during a spring in which seemingly every other team was enriching its own stars. Now deGrom—a former ninth-round pick out of tiny Stetson University in Florida, and as far from a prospect as one could get after Tommy John surgery in 2011—joins the ranks of baseball’s elite in salary.
He deserves it, too. Coming off one of the best seasons a pitcher’s had in history, the 30-year-old righthander has established himself as one of the league’s top hurlers. His 2018 stats are plain stupid: a 1.70 ERA, 216 ERA+ and 269 strikeouts in 217 innings, rightfully earning him Cy Young honors despite a 10–9 record that might be the most damning thing about last year’s Mets. He’s arguably the best thing a frequently moribund franchise has produced since the halcyon days of David Wright, and he wasn’t someone the team could let go, even if it did mean lavishing a nine-figure contract on someone entering his 30s.
Maybe it was a hefty price to pay, but the Mets had to do it. For too many years, this team has floated on the edge of relevance and spent its seasons as fodder for tabloid jokes because of its stinginess toward its stars before alienating them. Letting deGrom go would have been both, and failing to reach an extension would’ve been the cap on a miserable week full of self-inflicted wounds.
Start with the saga surrounding veteran catcher Devin Mesoraco, who re-signed with the Mets this offseason expecting to make the team (and claims he was promised as such) only to be told last week that he was headed to Triple A. Mesoraco refused, asking to be released; instead, the Mets placed him on the restricted list, essentially strong-arming him into retirement. On top of that, there was the silliness surrounding the team’s trip to Syracuse for a preseason workout—one that brought out some pointed anger from Noah Syndergaard, who blasted the decision to practice in a football stadium with inadequate facilities instead of heading home to New York. (That criticism seems more than fair given the substandard equipment the Mets are apparently using.)
It was almost a trifecta, as the Mets’ odds of signing deGrom seemed to drop by the day. Per SNY’s Andy Martino, deGrom and his agents—which, notably, up until last October included current Mets general manager Brodie Van Wagenen—were hoping to get a deal done during Winter Meetings, only to get no offer from New York’s brass. And as little as three days ago, deGrom told reporters he was increasingly pessimistic about signing an extension. Understandably so: According to The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal, all the Mets had offered at that point was a three-year, $88 million deal.
That was never going to do it, regardless of what reservations the front office had about guaranteeing $100 million-plus to a pitcher who wouldn’t hit free agency until 33 years old. But what else were the Mets going to use that money on? The team has eschewed spending big for elite free agents seemingly forever: Even this winter, under new management, New York was never a player for either Bryce Harper or Manny Machado. The odds of signing deGrom’s replacement through the open market—a place other top-tier options are now avoiding like the plague—were slim to none. Nor are there other obvious extension candidates on the roster beyond Syndergaard, who’s under team control through 2021. And the Mets especially couldn’t get away with stiffing deGrom as every other All-Star around him gets paid to stay put.
So the Mets did the right thing, and what’s most notable about this move is how crazy that feels. It was easy to imagine a future in which Opening Day rolled around with deGrom still unsigned, the fans in a frenzy, and the prospect of the team losing its best player for nothing all too likely. But this move suggests that, with Van Wagenen at the helm, things may be heading in a positive direction in Queens (or at least trending toward a kind of normalcy that’s been long absent).
The Mets don’t necessarily deserve kudos points for doing what they should have; to paraphrase tortured Mets fans Chris Rock, you’re supposed to take care of your players. Nor does extending deGrom (or the mostly solid moves made this winter) mean that Van Wagenen’s work is done. But we should at least recognize that, given the choice between a smart decision and a bad one, New York finally picked the former, to the benefit of the franchise and the likely relief of all its beleaguered fans.