Danny Abriano, SNY.tv | Twitter |
Mets GM Brodie Van Wagenen said Tuesday that Jacob deGrom setting an Opening Day deadline on contract extension talks was a "mutual understanding," suggesting it shouldn't be viewed as a negative.
However, this situation certainly can't be viewed as a positive -- not on the heels of deGrom being disappointed last week with how the negotiations were going.
So now the Mets are in a precarious spot, under pressure to get something done with deGrom. And if they don't, there's a chance their dream rotation -- the area they've built their entire team around in an effort to contend now and in the future -- will fall apart sooner rather than later.
Yes, the Mets gave deGrom a record $17 million this season in his second-to-last year of arbitration, but the inaction between early in the offseason -- when Van Wagenen said the first of many times that he wanted deGrom locked up long-term -- and now is puzzling.
And yes, there are huge risks when it comes to signing any player to a lucrative, long-term extension -- let alone a pitcher who will be 32 years old when that extension starts. But there are many reasons why deGrom is a special case.
For one, though he would be 32 when an extension starts in 2021, deGrom -- who converted from shortstop to pitcher later in his baseball career -- doesn't have nearly the mileage on his arm that an ordinary pitcher his age would have. In addition, deGrom has already had and recovered from Tommy John surgery, he is fanatical when it comes to honing his craft, and is someone the Mets have said over and over is part of their future.
Oh, and deGrom is coming off one of the best seasons in the history of the sport, and has been one of the best pitchers in baseball since his debut in 2014.
If the Mets can't find common ground with deGrom, or they're simply unwilling to make a commitment to him, what could that mean for the futre of their starting rotation?
Zack Wheeler is set for free agency after this season, and the Mets are undecided about whether to commit long-term to him. Wheeler is roughly two years younger than deGrom, so maybe the Mets view him as a better long-term bet. But while Wheeler had a true breakthrough campaign in 2018, injury issues have plagued him throughout his career.
Wheeler should command a much smaller deal than deGrom in terms of both years and dollars, so perhaps the Mets will choose to lock him up instead. If they don't -- with Wheeler walking after the 2019 season and deGrom potenially walking after 2020 -- the Mets will be left with Noah Syndergaard and Steven Matz anchoring the rotation. And as of now, they can both leave via free agency after the 2021 season.
Could Syndergaard and the Mets agree to a long-term deal? Sure. Hitting free agency after his age-28 season, he might be the best option for an extension. Could the Mets extend Matz? Sure. But he is the biggest unknown of all of them.
Translation? Extending deGrom would not only be a prudent move on its own, it would be one that gives the Mets a hedge against the potential departure of Wheeler after 2019 and Syndergaard and/or Matz after 2021. No matter what happens, they will already have their anchor in place.
Going hand-in-hand with the above is the fact that the Mets don't currently have any starting pitchers in the minors who profile as top of the rotation arms. Nor are any of those pitchers particularly close to the majors.
David Peterson, whose ceiling is said to be that of a mid-rotation starter, has not yet pitched above High-A ball. Anthony Kay, whose ceiling is probably a bit lower than Peterson's, has also not yet pitched above High-A. Thomas Szapucki, who arguably has the highest ceiling of any starting pitcher in the Mets' minor league system, is just returning from Tommy John surgery and could be three seasons away from the bigs.
Franklyn Kilome is also in the minors, but he just had Tommy John surgery and will miss the entire season. Justin Dunn was traded to Seattle in the deal that brought Edwin Diaz and Robinson Cano to Queens.
Looking beyond the internal options, the Mets could always swing a trade for a young, high-upside starting pitcher under team control, but that's easier said than done. Then there's the free agent route, where Madison Bumgarner, Chris Sale, and others will be waiting after the 2019 season. But will the Mets really go there?
Van Wagenen said shortly after being named GM that he wants to set the team up to win now and in the future. They're set up to win now and could be primed for a big 2019. But the future? After doubling down on their rotation, a lot of that future success could come down to what happens with deGrom. And the Mets are now officially on the clock.