Mets shouldn't lose Jacob deGrom, and he shouldn't want to leave them

Jacob deGrom
Jacob deGrom / USA TODAY Sports/SNY Treated Image

As Jacob deGrom's seemingly mysterious free agency continues, there's what we know, what we've heard, what we don't know, and what has been written.

What we know is that deGrom opted out of his contract after the World Series in order to seek a bigger (and appropriate) payday on the open market. The five-year, $137.5 million extension deGrom signed with the Mets before the 2019 season did not age well, with other lesser pitchers (and every pitcher is lesser than deGrom) getting deals that dwarfed it soon after.

What we've heard is that deGrom doesn't love the hustle and bustle of New York and might prefer to play somewhere that is either closer to his Florida home or offers a lifestyle that's similar to the one he enjoys there.

What we don't know is what deGrom actually wants to do. He's said repeatedly that he loves pitching in front of Mets fans and has mentioned on numerous occasions that it would be cool to spend his entire career here. He also said before the 2022 season, as he was announcing plans to opt out, that he would do so with the idea of staying in constant contact with the Mets throughout the free agency process.

What I've written so far about deGrom has been measured. I've wondered, along with many others, if deGrom really wants to stay in New York. I've preached the importance of drawing a line in the sand when it comes to the potential contract the Mets give him, due in large part to the unknown surrounding his health after he missed the second half of 2021 and first four months of 2022.

Here's what I think...

Jacob deGrom should be a career Met.

To be clear, that doesn't mean I'm of the opinion that he would be crazy or a traitor to want to play somewhere else. He has earned the right to do whatever he wants. And it doesn't mean that the Mets should just hand him a blank check. What it does mean is that it would simply feel wrong for deGrom and the Mets to cease being deGrom and the Mets. There's just too much at stake for both sides.

Oct 8, 2022; New York City, New York, USA; New York Mets starting pitcher Jacob deGrom (48) throws a pitch in the first inning during game two of the Wild Card series against the San Diego Padres for the 2022 MLB Playoffs at Citi Field. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 8, 2022; New York City, New York, USA; New York Mets starting pitcher Jacob deGrom (48) throws a pitch in the first inning during game two of the Wild Card series against the San Diego Padres for the 2022 MLB Playoffs at Citi Field. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports / © Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

For deGrom, there's the ability spend his career with one team, to become the kind of Mets legend who doesn't exist. That is not a slight to Tom Seaver, but the Mets dealt The Franchise to the Cincinnati Reds in 1977. He is a forever Met and one of the best pitchers in baseball history, but he was not a career Met.

When talking about other Mets legends who have their numbers retired, there are zero who spent their entire career in Queens. David Wright's No. 5 will be up there one day soon and he spent his whole career here, but he was robbed of legendary status and a Hall of Fame shot because of injuries.

DeGrom is different. If he stays and finishes his career with the Mets, he will be truly one of a kind -- one of the best pitchers in baseball history who did it all in blue and orange.

DeGrom, who is entering his age-35 season, would also be returning to a win-now team if he re-signs with the Mets -- a team that won 101 games last season and is on track to becoming the perennial contender they were not during the middle chunk of deGrom's tenure here (2017 to 2021).

The above means that deGrom would have a chance to not only continue to be the most dominant pitcher in the sport, but do so while chasing a World Series title.

Who else could be in on deGrom?

The two teams we've heard connected to him the most are the Atlanta Braves and Texas Rangers, but Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic recently reported that it's hard to see deGrom landing with the Braves.

As far as the Rangers, that seems real. And deGrom has reportedly expressed interest in signing there. But should he?

Mar 13, 2022; Port St. Lucie, FL, USA; New York Mets starting pitcher Jacob deGrom (48) reacts after working out during spring training.
Mar 13, 2022; Port St. Lucie, FL, USA; New York Mets starting pitcher Jacob deGrom (48) reacts after working out during spring training. / Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports

In a tweet I fired off earlier this week, I made the case that it could be a real shame if deGrom winds up with the Rangers. That's because their last five seasons have looked like this: 68-94 in 2022, 60-102 in 2021, 22-38 in 2020, 78-84 in 2019, and 67-95 in 2018.

Some Rangers fans took umbrage with that, replying (factually and fairly) that the Mets aren't exactly a juggernaut. But the Mets are sure as hell in a lot better position to contend than the Rangers, and the last time they lost as many games as the Rangers have lost over the last two seasons was nearly two decades ago.

Could Texas turn it around soon? Sure. But it's hard to envision it happening quickly.

What about other potential deGrom suitors?

The Los Angeles Dodgers, Houston Astros, and San Diego Padres are among the teams that make sense and can afford him. But they haven't been linked to him yet.

Is it tantalizing to think what else the Mets could do if they don't dedicate $45 million or so annually to deGrom over the next three years or more? Of course. It could possibly open up all kinds of possibilities, including a pursuit of Trea Turner or trade for Shohei Ohtani.

But again, deGrom should be a career Met.

With that in mind, how much is too much for deGrom?

I wrote earlier this offseason that the Mets should offer deGrom a three-year deal worth $132 million, which would make him the highest paid pitcher ever in terms of average annual value. While writing that, I said it would be tough to go to a fourth guaranteed year. I still believe that.

But unless another team is willing to go to four years at $44 million or more per year, the Mets should be able to put the best offer on the table. And perhaps they can sweeten it with a fourth-year vesting option based on total innings pitched over the first three years of the deal.

Jacob deGrom
Jacob deGrom / Vincent Carchietta - USA TODAY Sports

It is impossible to know if deGrom will stay healthy, which is the reason why the Mets and other teams will be cautious. As noted above, the second half of his 2021 season was derailed (due to elbow issues) and the first four months of his 2022 season were ruined (because of a scapula injury).

"DeGrom has missed substantial time in recent years, but his injuries don't necessarily indicate an anatomic weak point that should make us think he's injury prone," said Deepak Chona, MD, founder of SportsMedAnalytics and a Stanford and Harvard-trained orthopedic sports surgeon who does not personally treat deGrom. "It's unlikely that a stress reaction in his scapula is related to the elbow inflammation that sidelined him previously. Furthermore, both of these injuries generally heal well without any lingering performance or durability impacts.

"Could he get hurt again? Yes, absolutely. The forces of throwing a fastball put the shoulder and elbow at elevated risk in every pitcher. But there's nothing about his recent injury history to suggest that his risk is higher than any other pitcher of his age."

It also needs to be said that from deGrom's big league debut in 2014 through the middle of the 2021 season, he was one of the most reliable pitchers in baseball when it came to taking the ball. And he has less mileage on his arm than most other pitchers his age because he converted to pitching late after being a shortstop until his junior year of college.

While you think about what deGrom's future could hold, let's talk about his past.

He is the only one of the Mets' recent aces remaining. Matt Harvey was derailed by thoracic outlet syndrome and off-field issues. Noah Syndergaard was not the same after returning from Tommy John surgery. Zack Wheeler is excelling in Philadelphia with the Phillies. Then there's Jake.

Think about the deafening roars in the ballpark during deGrom's first start back this past August at a sweltering Citi Field. Think about the buzz in the stands in October as he made his first ever postseason start at Citi. Think about what he did in the postseason in 2015. Think about his two Cy Young seasons. Think about his otherworldly stuff and the way he makes the best hitters in the world look helpless at times.

Now think about deGrom leaving the Mets and doing what he's done for the last nine seasons for someone else. It really shouldn't happen.

Is part of this emotional and irrational? Yes. But the Mets shouldn't lose deGrom, and he shouldn't want to leave them. Not when the Mets are so close to their first World Series title since 1986. Not when deGrom can be the type of legend the Mets have never had.