With deGrom locked up, Mets' future is now

Ready to build around ace, other extensions could come next

March 27th, 2019

WASHINGTON -- The way Brodie Van Wagenen puts it, ’s new $137.5-million contract was predicated not on external market forces, but on the Mets’ internal desire to keep deGrom in-house. Yes, the Angels extended Mike Trout. Yes, the Red Sox extended Chris Sale. Yes, the Astros extended Alex Bregman and Justin Verlander and yes, that probably added a bit more public pressure to the proceedings -- as if the Mets needed any. But the Mets extended deGrom mostly because they wanted him to stick around into his mid-30s.

“As we look forward to where we’re going, this is another key indication of our mission statement to win now and win in the future,” general manager Brodie Van Wagenen said. “You build business plans off guys like Jacob deGrom.”

That mantra -- “win now and win in the future” -- has been Van Wagenen’s rallying cry since his first days on the job. When asked then about deGrom’s chances to receive an extension, Van Wagenen said he wanted to identify the organization’s best players and find ways to keep them in-house for as long as possible.

deGrom was clearly one of those players, and one the Mets didn’t mind committing to long-term for three reasons. One is that he’s elite; the reigning National League Cy Young Award winner, deGrom posted a 1.70 ERA in 217 innings last year and has such a high ceiling that, in Van Wagenen’s words, “even at the inevitable time when he starts to age or decline … you still have a tremendous value and a tremendous player.” Secondly, deGrom’s spiking velocity -- his average fastball has increased each of the past two seasons -- gave the Mets an indication that he’s not particularly close to that decline. Finally, deGrom’s character -- “this guy’s got the heart of a champion,” Van Wagenen said -- kept the Mets comfortable.

The Mets, then, are building around deGrom, with a clear eye toward avoiding any sort of rebuild in the coming years. That means they may not be done extending players -- particularly not in these market conditions. Nearly every player of significant stature in the clubhouse said this spring that he would be willing to talk, though a few offer more intriguing cases than others.

stands out most, as an All-Star many evaluators feel is primed for a breakout season. Conforto has three years remaining under team control, and he is represented by Scott Boras -- an agent notorious for urging his players to reach free agency. But the Mets believe he is an ascendant star.

Another obvious extension candidate is , who urged his employers earlier this week to “quit all this fuss and pay the man already.” Now that the Mets did pay deGrom, Syndergaard could be next, even if his injury history will certainly give the team pause.

Other potential building blocks include outfielder , who continues to defy both internal and external evaluations of his game; shortstop , who may be hindered by the fact that many of the organization’s top prospects are also shortstops; and closer Edwin Diaz, who, as a reliever with four more years of team control, is probably the riskiest asset on this list. (Another risk is , whose lengthy injury history makes him an unlikely extension candidate.)

There’s also the matter of cash. Between deGrom and Robinson Cano, the Mets already have over $50 million committed to their 2022 and 2023 payrolls, though the deferred money on deGrom’s deal, plus the portion of Cano’s deal that the Mariners are paying, will offset that to some extent. The Mets have tens of millions more committed to next year’s budget, and they will likely need to spend additional funds on starting pitchers to replace Wheeler and Jason Vargas.

So while it’s possible deGrom was the first domino, it’s also possible he wasn’t. In either case, the Mets have a series of difficult decisions ahead of them.

“I’ll continue to try to find ways to have this team win, and we’ll do that around great players,” Van Wagenen said. “Fortunately, we’ve got a bunch on the roster and they’ve got several years still with us. Others have shorter-term timelines, and we'll evaluate those in real time. It was important to get this one done first.”