John Harper, SNY.tv | Twitter |
All along, Brodie Van Wagenen and Mets ownership had to know this Jacob deGrom contract impasse could explode into a firestorm with the potential for clubhouse reverberations.
Maybe they weren't counting on contract extensions becoming all the rage throughout Major League Baseball this spring, making the Mets look as if they're behind the curve in dealing with not only deGrom but other core players such as Michael Conforto, Noah Syndergaard, and Zack Wheeler.
At the very least, however, they should have known how intently deGrom's teammates would be watching to see if he got the extension he wants and deserves.
Besides being the best pitcher in baseball last season, deGrom has succeeded David Wright as the most widely-respected teammate in the clubhouse, admired for his work ethic and leadership qualities as well as for his immense talent.
And then there's the whole Van Wagenen angle to this saga: if the new GM can't get a deal done for his former client, how is anyone in that clubhouse supposed to take him seriously when he repeatedly promises to create a players-first culture with the Mets.
All of this was bound to bubble to the surface at some point, and now it has, in the form of some high heat from Syndergaard on Sunday that in some ways could be boiled down to four words:
"Pay the man already."
Those words were at least partially in response to baseball's latest high-profile contract extensions -- to Chris Sale and Justin Verlander, both aces like deGrom.
And while neither of those cases is exactly like that of deGrom, who is two years away from free agency as opposed to one, both the Red Sox and Astros are betting big on pitchers in their 30s -- significant since age is the essence of the argument against extending deGrom before it's necessary.
"Jake is the best pitcher in baseball," Syndergaard told reporters in Port St. Lucie. "I think it's time he gets one too."
That said, it's also possible Syndergaard was just in the mood to vent, considering that he also called out management for the team's travel itinerary leading up the season opener in Washington, D.C. on Thursday -- namely busing three-plus hours to Sarasota for Monday's final Grapefruit League game and then flying to Syracuse for a team workout on Tuesday as a courtesy to the organization's new Triple-A affiliate.
"I don't think that's what championship teams do," he said.
He referred specifically to the lack of major-league "amenities" in Syracuse that would make for a less-than-optimal workout, and he has a point, but suffice it to say that he and his teammates will survive being inconvenienced a bit without long-term ramifications.
His criticism of the organization in the deGrom matter, however, could resonate for who knows how long. For the moment it surely turns up the heat on the Mets as the Opening Day deadline for negotiations looms.
Syndergaard too is a former Van Wagenen client, and as such this couldn't be more awkward for the GM. Obviously it's not his call, but if he can't convince ownership to pony up for something like a five-year, $125-$150 million deGrom deal before Thursday, his players-first mantra is going to ring hollow in the clubhouse.
For some GMs that wouldn't matter so much. But Van Wagenen has talked about creating a new culture with the Mets as if he's still advocating for players as an agent, wanting to instill an all-for-one vibe between the boss and employees.
Now, however, Syndergaard's comments amount to open contempt for management, and the possibility for a lingering distraction. The 6-foot-6 righthander may be the only player with the stones to express it as he did on Sunday, but there's no doubt that others feel the same way.
Will that have an effect on the season, tangible or intangible? Maybe, maybe not, but why do the Mets want to even mess with such a possibility at a time when they claim to be all-in on winning in 2019 -- having traded top prospects for Robinson Cano and Edwin Diaz as evidence.
I've said all along there's an argument to be made for waiting a year on deGrom to reduce the injury risk that comes with a long-term deal, but only if the Mets are willing to pay more to keep him as he gets closer to free agency.
The problem is they already had a perception problem in that regard among fans, and that was before so many teams found ways to do extensions with players in the last several weeks.
Indeed, if the Mets are serious about trying to have a sizeable window to win championships, they ought to be trying to lock up Wheeler, Conforto, and Syndergaard, in addition to deGrom.
Risk comes with the territory, but it's worth noting that so does the insurance money the Mets have collected on Wright and Yoenis Cespedes in recent years.
In truth, the bigger risk -- at least in terms of clearing a path toward a championship -- is not getting a deal done with deGrom. If the Mets' brass somehow thought otherwise, surely it knows better now, after Syndergaard came up and in with a little chin music on Sunday.