The best pitcher in baseball will be a free agent this offseason.
Two-time Cy Young Award winner Jacob deGrom plans to opt out of his contract with the New York Mets following the 2022 season. On his current contract, he would earn $30.5 million to pitch for the Mets next season. The right-hander seems confident he could command much more on the open market.
If and when he does hit free agency, deGrom will have no shortage of suitors. While he has missed much of the past two seasons with injuries, he is still the most talented pitcher on the planet. In 200 career starts, he has a 2.50 ERA.
Over the past 100 years, just two pitchers have started that many games with an ERA of 2.50 or lower: deGrom and Clayton Kershaw.
Although the Mets ace comes with some serious risk, his upside is unparalleled. Any contending team with money to spend and a free space in their starting rotation should give deGrom's agent a call.
The Philadelphia Phillies are one such team.
After the season, Zach Eflin, Kyle Gibson, and Noah Syndergaard will all become free agents. The Phillies will need to find two more starting pitchers to slot into the rotation alongside Aaron Nola, Zack Wheeler, and Ranger Suárez.
Philadelphia will also have significant money to spend this offseason. In addition to Eflin, Gibson, and Syndergaard, the contracts of relievers Corey Knebel, Brad Hand, Jeurys Familia and David Robertson will all be gone after the season.
Position players Didi Gregorius and Odúbel Herrera will be off the payroll too. Jean Segura could also hit free agency if the team chooses not to pick up his club option for 2023.
With those ten players leaving, the Phillies will have approximately $76.5 million in luxury tax payroll coming off the books. That's more than enough to sign deGrom and fill their other holes without going over the second CBT threshold.
So, Philadelphia has both the roster space and the payroll flexibility to sign deGrom. What's standing in their way?
For one thing, many sources expect Dave Dombrowski will instead use his new budget to go after one of the premiere shortstops on the market. In that scenario, the Phillies would slide Bryson Stott over to second base and officially move on from Segura.
A move like that makes a lot of sense. Stott is a much better defensive player at second than he is at short, and there is an abundance of shortstop talent available this offseason. Players like Trea Turner, Dansby Swanson, and Carlos Correa would all be terrific additions to Philadelphia's lineup.
At the same time, there remains a solid chance the team decides to stick with Stott at shortstop. He has been improving defensively at the position, and his bat is slowly starting to come alive against big league pitching.
If the Phillies are happy with Stott at short, Dombrowski would be wise to focus his resources on starting pitching instead. And if he's in the market for starters, why not go after the best possible option?
Truth be told, there is another major reason Dombrowski might avoid the best pitcher on the market: he has only made 14 starts in the past two years. No one doubts deGrom's abilities, but many will be scared off by his injury history. It's a perfectly reasonable cause for concern.
Philadelphia has always been hesitant to award long contracts to pitchers, let alone pitchers at high risk for injury. If deGrom is looking for a long-term contract, this franchise probably won't be the one to give it to him.
Be that as it may, the Phillies might actually be better suited than most teams to weather an injury. They already have two aces in Nola and Wheeler, so they would have arms to anchor the rotation even if deGrom goes down.
They also have two top pitching prospects in Mick Abel and Griff McGarry who could be knocking on the big league door by next summer. If deGrom gets hurt midseason, it could be the perfect opportunity to give Abel or McGarry a big league cup of coffee.
Furthermore, there is the fact that deGrom is so good, he does not even need to pitch a full season in order to be a valuable asset to the team. He made just 12 starts in 2021 and still earned a Cy Young vote. He ranked among the top ten NL pitchers in both FanGraphs WAR and Baseball Reference WAR that season.
Simply put, deGrom would make Philadelphia a better team. If his injury issues are behind him, he could make them one of the best teams in baseball. He's a bit of risk, but he's the kind of gamble worth taking.
The Phillies are not going to be the favorites to land deGrom. They already have two of the best starting pitchers in baseball, so another ace isn't atop their list of needs. There is also the possibility that ownership wants to get back under the luxury tax for next season, and deGrom could be asking for a record-breaking average annual value on his next contract.
This organization is usually cautious when it comes to free agent pitchers, and deGrom's injury history will surely give the front office pause. Plus, with so many talented arms in the farm system, Dombrowski might prefer to spend his budget on position players instead.
Despite all that, there is still a chance deGrom is wearing red pinstripes next spring. As the Nick Castellanos signing this past offseason proved, Dombrowski is full of surprises and ownership is willing to go over the luxury tax for the right players.
A rotation fronted by deGrom, Nola, and Wheeler could be the greatest one this team has ever assembled — and that's really saying something. With that rotation, Philadelphia would be back in contention for the NL East crown, and they would be practically unstoppable in the postseason.
Long story short, it's unlikely the Phillies sign deGrom. And it would be a big risk if they did. But it would also be one of the most exciting and impactful free agent signings in franchise history. Sometimes, those are the kinds of moves a good baseball team just has to make.
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