Jacob deGrom may cut back his own workload if Mets can't work out extension by opening day

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Reigning Cy Young Award winner <a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/mlb/players/9701/" data-ylk="slk:Jacob deGrom">Jacob deGrom</a> is aiming for an extension worth around $30 million per year. (Getty Images)
Reigning Cy Young Award winner Jacob deGrom is aiming for an extension worth around $30 million per year. (Getty Images)

Reigning Cy Young Award winner Jacob deGrom knows how much he is worth and wants to come to a long-term deal with his New York Mets. If the two parties cannot come to an agreement by opening day, however, deGrom may use his leverage to keep his value high.

According to a report by the New York Post’s Mike Puma, deGrom will consider cutting back his own workload if he doesn’t land a long-term deal. The 30-year-old is under contract for $17 million this year and is scheduled to hit free agency after the 2020 season.

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This idea seems to have originated from his agent, Jeff Berry, who released a memo to major league players in late December that encouraged them to work together to earn higher pay within the rules the current CBA, which is set to expire in December 2021.

And as if things weren’t complicated enough, deGrom will be negotiating against his former agent, Brodie Van Wagenen, who goes from wanting to get deGrom as much money as possible to as little money as possible. Van Wagenen did not take part in deGrom’s arbitration case this year but will be involved in long-term discussions.

Berry’s memo comes on the heels of two of the slowest offseasons in recent memory. If 26-year-old superstars Manny Machado and Bryce Harper still can’t find deals to their liking in February, what should a 32-year-old pitcher expect?

“On the front end, teams manipulate service time in order to delay arbitration and/or gain a 7th year of team control,” Berry wrote in the memo. “These practices, despite undermining the integrity of the game and intent of the CBA, are considered ‘smart business’. On the back end, teams cite analytics and aging curves when devaluing veteran players. Teams currently extract the premium of a players’ career at relatively low costs while simultaneously depleting the player of much of his asset value before he’s able to market his services to other potential employers.”

Berry proposed that the MLB Players Association commission a study on “maximizing health and performance” of players “and mitigating age and usage related decline.” Last season, deGrom averaged more than 6 2/3 innings per start, and this plan could lead to him pitching deeper into games less and going through the lineup fewer times to lessen the chance of a catastrophic injury while keeping his rate stats high.

“Front offices are praised as ‘smart’ when working within the rules to extract maximum performance value for minimal monetary cost,” Berry continued. “Shouldn’t players also be ‘smart’ and likewise make calculated decisions within the rules to maintain and extend their maximum performance levels at maximum monetary values?”

Teams have put restrictions on players before, such as the Washington Nationals and oft-injured ace Stephen Strasburg, but this could be a new frontier for players. And if deGrom deploys the strategy successfully, he could inspire other players to fight back to earn fairer salaries.

How much money could deGrom command?

Although deGrom will only be paid $17 million in his second year of arbitration, he will soon be in for a big pay raise one way or another. The right-hander just set an arbitration record with a $9.6 million raise and could threaten Colorado Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado’s arbitration record of $26 million next offseason.

As a short hand, second-year arbitration players often make about 60 percent of what they’re worth on the open market, so that would translate to about $29 million if he were a free agent today. That lines up roughly with what free agent aces have made since 2016 with Max Scherzer ($30 million), David Price ($31 million) and Zach Greinke ($34.1 million) all making at least $30 million and Clayton Kershaw ($30.7 and $31 million) crossing that threshold on two separate contracts.

And deGrom would be worth every penny of that contract. He led the majors with a 1.70 ERA, 1.99 FIP, 216 ERA+ and 0.4 HR/9 last year and has a career 2.67 ERA in his five seasons. Furthermore, he has yet to face a major injury, perhaps omitting an elbow surgery in late September 2016 to address intermittent discomfort.

Of course, it’s worth considering that this winter’s top free agent starter, Dallas Keuchel, remains unemployed as teams report to spring training, and, again, Machado and Harper have yet to find deals that meet their liking. Surely deGrom wants to avoid the stress of free agency, but he’s willing to be very bold to make sure he realizes his value.

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