With the Winter Meetings set to begin Sunday in San Diego, we're taking a close look at some of the most prominent players eligible for free agency.
deGrom made it known last spring that he planned to opt out of the final year of his contract with the Mets, and not even a four-month stint on the injured list was going to change his mind.
The two-time National League Cy Young Award winner made only 11 starts in 2022, and although his final ERA was an un-deGrom-like 3.08, the right-hander looked as good as ever during his first seven outings, posting a 5-1 record with a 1.66 ERA, 63 strikeouts and four walks in 43 1/3 innings.
deGrom’s Statcast numbers were also gaudy during the regular season: He ranked in the top 3 percentile in strikeout rate, walk rate, fastball velocity, fastball spin, whiff percentage and chase rate.
In other words, if deGrom can stay healthy, he remains one of the best arms in the game. That, of course, is a big if.
New York wants deGrom back, though the club has been exploring other options -- Justin Verlander, Carlos Rodón and Kodai Senga, specifically -- in the event that the Mets' longtime ace departs for another team. Owner Steve Cohen has the ability to pay whatever he wants for deGrom, but the Mets have other rotation holes to fill this winter. They also know more about deGrom’s physical condition than any other club, so it will be interesting to see whether they’re willing to give him a Max Scherzer-like contract to keep him in Queens.
Texas has been attached to virtually every free-agent pitcher this offseason -- and with good reason. After signing Corey Seager and Marcus Semien for $500 million last winter, then hiring three-time World Series-champion manager Bruce Bochy this offseason, the Rangers are clearly in win-now territory. That means upgrading the starting rotation, preferably with a bona-fide ace such as deGrom.
With Walker Buehler likely to miss all of 2023 recovering from Tommy John surgery, the Dodgers must address the rotation this winter. Clayton Kershaw appears to be headed back to Los Angeles, but Tyler Anderson signed with the Angels and Andrew Heaney is a free agent, leaving Julio Urías, Tony Gonsolin and Dustin May to join Kershaw in the starting five. Adding a No. 1 starter like deGrom would help the Dodgers enter the season as favorites in the NL West for yet another year.
Mike Clevinger signed with the White Sox, and Sean Manaea is still a free agent, leaving a couple of spots in the rotation for the Padres to fill. Add in the fact that Yu Darvish and Blake Snell are both set to become free agents next winter, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see general manager A.J. Preller look to add a front-line starter to the group as the Padres look to chase down the Dodgers.
Aaron Judge remains the Giants’ top priority, but San Francisco is likely to make a couple of big free-agent moves. With Carlos Rodón opting out and joining deGrom on the open market, the Giants are looking for somebody to lead the rotation. If they fail to land Judge, could deGrom be that starter?
Like the Giants, the Yankees are focused on Judge at the moment, but what will general manager Brian Cashman do if he isn’t able to re-sign the reigning AL MVP? There isn’t a comparable slugger, so what about signing deGrom to pair with Gerrit Cole atop the rotation? deGrom is New York-tested, thrives in the spotlight -- and just imagine the back pages if he moved across town to the Bronx.
Tampa Bay has been in contact with deGrom’s camp, though big-money free agents don’t typically land with the small-market Rays. deGrom grew up about two hours from Tampa, and the lack of state income tax could help the Rays convince the pitcher to take a few million dollars off his asking price. This one feels like a long shot, but one worth monitoring.
Atlanta has been mentioned as a potential deGrom suitor since the summer, though the Braves’ willingness to pay the pitcher could depend on what happens with shortstop Dansby Swanson. Max Fried, Spencer Strider, Charlie Morton and Kyle Wright already form the core of a strong rotation, but the Braves would make a huge statement in the NL East if they were to add deGrom.
GM Mike Elias has stated that he plans to be involved in the free-agent market for the first time since taking over in Baltimore, and signing deGrom would be a huge statement for the emerging Orioles. Baltimore is looking to add one or two starters in addition to a bat or two, so it’s unclear whether spending $40 million per year on deGrom is realistic. Still, after the Orioles’ surprising 83-win season, they could surprise some folks with their offseason moves.
deGrom topped the 200-inning mark in each season between 2017-19, then threw 68 innings in 12 starts during the pandemic-shortened 2020 campaign. Injuries have limited him to just 26 starts since the beginning of 2021, however, raising questions about his durability as he hits his mid-30s. Given the stress that his otherworldly fastball can put on his arm, teams might be wary of committing to deGrom into his late 30s.
FOR COMP'S SAKE
Last winter, the Mets signed Max Scherzer to a three-year, $130 million deal, establishing a new average annual value (AAV) of $43.3 million. Scherzer was entering his age-37 season, while deGrom is entering his age-35 campaign, though Scherzer came with fewer health questions. deGrom could look for more years than Scherzer received, but the AAV could exceed his, setting a new benchmark in the process.