It's possible that in just three years, the era of Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Steven Matz and Zack Wheeler with the Mets will be nothing but a memory.
It seems like just yesterday that the above group, plus Matt Harvey, were popping champagne bottles on their way to the World Series. The future was bright.
Zack Wheeler will be free to leave after this season. DeGrom, 30, can be a free agent two years from now, with Noah Syndergaard and Steven Matz up for free agency the year after that.
The hope is that -- at the very least -- deGrom will be inked to a long-term contract extension before he can sniff the open market. However, the longer both sides wait, the more he will be tempted by freedom.
This past week, deGrom and the Mets agreed to a historic one-year contract, avoiding salary arbitration with a one-year, $17 million deal.
The good news is that it hopefully showed him the Mets properly value his performance. The bad news is that by quickly reaching a record-setting deal, there is no longer any pressure on either side to lock in a contract extension. Instead, they can again continue to punt, especially now that both sides are seemingly satisfied with his current salary.
People familiar with their limited discussions tell me deGrom's people want at least a five- or six-year extension (depending on when it starts) that will pay him no less than the $25 million average annual salary that was given by the Phillies last winter to then-30 year old Jake Arietta.
Of course, these figures follow a year when deGrom dominated baseball and won the Cy Young Award. It'll be interesting to see how the terms and desire to reach a deal will change based on his performance this coming season.
On one hand, if he stumbles or gets injured, his price will go down, providing incentive for both sides to reach a deal. However, if he dominates and wins another Cy Young, will he become too expensive (or unwilling to negotiate) knowing at that point that he'll be just one year away from the open market?
For what it's worth, the largest contract in Mets history is David Wright's recently-settled $138 million deal that he inked after the 2012 season.
The point is, until a long-term deal is done with deGerom, the Mets would be wise to at least start preparing as if he'll be pitching for someone else in 2021. And along the same lines, they will very likely to need to replace Wheeler as soon as one year from now.
In the minor leagues, team sources say the entire organization feels good (though not great) about the potential of left-handed starters David Peterson, Anthony Kay and Thomas Szapucki. After them, the list is made up of longshots and teenagers.
The thing is, while the 23-year-old Peterson is the organization's top starting pitching prospect now that Justin Dunn has been traded, he has yet to pitch above Single A and is widely considered to be at best a future mid-rotation guy.
Szapucki, 22, is the most exciting of the bunch, having shown an impressive mid to -upper-90s fastball and commanding curve ball. But, he missed all of last season recovering from Tommy John surgery and the jury will remain out on him until he takes the mound this spring. He was once considered a possible top-of-the-rotation starer, but his recent surgery and time away have publications listing him as a reliever or back-rotation guy.
"He has Steven Matz upside," a team insider recently told me, noting the similarities in being a young lefty having Tommy John surgery early in his career.
Similarly, the 23-year-old Kay returned from Tommy John surgery in 2018 and had an encouraging season in High-A. He made it through 100 innings and again displayed his mid-90's fastball, curve, and changeup. If he can survive 2019, Mets insiders believe he will be ready for a mid-rotation role during 2020.
It's nice to have three possible solutions down on the farm. But, as the old baseball adage goes, there's no such thing as a pitching prospect. Remember, Harvey was a hot prospect and toast of the town, while deGrom never appeared on a Top 10 prospect. Look how that played out.
The point is, the Mets can't rely on Peterson, Kay or anyone else in their minor leagues, which is why they may want to consider trading Wheeler (ideally for pitching prospects), while signing someone to a three-year deal to overlap the potential loss of deGrom.
The same could be said about Syndergaard and/or Matz, but they are both under contract through 2021 and we, ownership, the players and Brodie Van Wagenen all expect those to be playoff seasons.
The other option, though, is controlling and expediting the situation by trading deGrom in 2019 if he hasn't agreed to an extension and the Mets fall out of contention.
Based on what the Rays got last summer for Chris Archer, the Mets have been justified asking for at least one elite, upper-level prospect in exchange for deGrom, as well as two, inexpensive, young, high-ceiling players already producing big-league numbers.
Of course, if the Mets are winning and deGrom hasn't signed an extension, he stays put and his entire situation gets dealt with next winter.
However, if the Mets are losing and again headed for less than a .500 record this coming season, trading deGrom could instantly restock the farm system and maybe even the big-league roster with the type of young pitching depth needed to weather a potential coming storm.
Matthew Cerrone (Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Contact) is lead writer of MetsBlog.com, which he created in 2003. He also hosts the MetsBlog Podcast, which you can subscribe to here. His new book, The New York Mets Fans' Bucket List, details 44 things every Mets fan should experience during their lifetime. To check it out, click here!