deGrom deal talks getting into crunch time

Pitcher says dialogue continues as Opening Day deadline nears

March 23rd, 2019

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Since the start of Spring Training, 17 big leaguers have signed contract extensions with their clubs. It's been a Who's Who of baseball's biggest stars: Mike Trout, Paul Goldschmidt, Alex Bregman, Nolan Arenado, Justin Verlander, Blake Snell and more.

Notably absent is Jacob deGrom, whose former agent, Brodie Van Wagenen, implored the Mets either to sign him or trade him eight months ago. Now the Mets' general manager, Van Wagenen has done neither. deGrom's new lead agent, Jeff Berry, set an Opening Day deadline for the reigning National League Cy Young Award winner to sign a deal, lest he enter his second-to-last year of team control without any future guarantees.

That deadline is now five days away.

All of it has created a climate in which deGrom, who tuned up for his Opening Day start with three hitless innings Saturday in a 12-2 Mets win over the Braves, is losing at least some hope that he can remain with the team for the long term.

"Probably not as [optimistic]," was how deGrom defined his attitude on Saturday. "We'll just have to see."

According to deGrom, his camp and the Mets have maintained a dialogue on a possible extension. But nothing appears imminent and, while talks can always catch fire in an instant, March 28 is drawing perilously near. Already, deGrom says he's "really not been trying to think about it," because "it's getting close to Opening Day and I think my focus is on that right now."

"I'm just trying to get ready to pitch this year, and put us in a position to win," he added. "The rest of the stuff is kind of out of my control."

Still, deGrom sees what's gone on around him, with many of the game's brightest stars -- including the reigning American League Cy Young Award winner, Snell -- inking extensions. Wary of free agency and happy with their current clubs, players are increasingly foregoing the open market in favor of long-term security.

"You see guys signing," deGrom said. "I think I see them too. I guess we wait."

Signing an extension is a path that deGrom began considering seriously for himself last summer, in the midst of a career year that saw him go 10-9 with a 1.70 ERA. After the season, deGrom signed an unguaranteed, $17 million contract to avoid arbitration, earning a record increase over his previous contract. He'll be due for another significant pay bump in 2020, after which he can become a free agent for the first time in his career.

But at that point, deGrom will be 32 years old, presumably with an additional 400-plus innings of mileage on his arm. He has incentive to sign a deal now and the Mets, given deGrom's importance to their fan base and history, have incentive to keep him.

"I said I would like to be a Met [for the] long term," deGrom said. "I've really enjoyed playing here, so we'll just have to see where it goes. I'm not going to get into any details of anything, but I just don’t know where it's going to go."

Until or unless something changes, deGrom will focus his energies on facing the Nationals next Thursday in his first career Opening Day start. He'll oppose Max Scherzer in a matchup of the two most recent NL Cy Young Award winners.

"I'm looking forward to it," deGrom said. "I'm really excited about it. I think that's the way I'd want it."