Back in March, Jacob deGrom made it clear he planned to opt out of his current contract with the Mets, joining the free-agent ranks at the end of the 2022 season.
Despite missing the first four months with a stress reaction in his right shoulder, deGrom reiterated his intentions in late July, serving notice to the baseball world that he will be available this fall. And now that the Mets have been eliminated by the Padres in the Wild Card Series, deGrom’s looming free agency becomes one of the biggest storylines in the game.
Though some of deGrom’s aura of invincibility seemed to wear off a little in September, he still posted a 3.08 ERA in 11 starts while striking out 42.7% of the batters he faced. (For context, San Francisco’s Carlos Rodón led qualified starters for the season with a 33.4% strikeout rate.) And while deGrom wasn’t his sharpest in Game 2 of the Wild Card Series, he still limited the Padres to two runs over six innings in the Mets’ lone win of the postseason.
deGrom declined to divulge much about his free agency plans in the aftermath of New York’s elimination at the hands of the Padres. When asked if he thinks he will be back with the Mets, he told reporters, "I don't know. I'm not going to discuss any contract stuff. We're disappointed we lost the baseball game tonight.
"I haven't really thought about it," deGrom added. "It's disappointing that we lost tonight. That was the goal, to move on. The plan was to be going to L.A., and that's not what we're doing, so I haven't really thought about it right now."
The Mets signed deGrom to a five-year, $137.5 million extension in March 2019, though the deal included more than $50 million in deferments, lowering the present-day value of the contract by nearly $30 million.
Under his current deal, deGrom would earn $30.5 million in 2023, while the Mets would hold a club option worth $32.5 million in 2024. After watching New York shell out $130 million over three years to sign Max Scherzer -- a 37-year-old three-time NL Cy Young Award winner -- last offseason, the 34-year-old deGrom -- who owns a pair of Cy Youngs himself -- should be able to command a significant deal of his own.
Unlike Scherzer, however, deGrom brings an injury history that could cause some potential suitors to think long and hard about a long-term contract. Who might those potential suitors be?
Here’s a look at seven possible landing spots for deGrom, listed in order of most likely to least:
New York Mets
The only team deGrom has ever played for, the Mets certainly figure to make their pitch to keep the right-hander in Queens. Owner Steve Cohen has the financial wherewithal to pay deGrom whatever the market will bear, but no team knows the ins and outs of the pitcher’s health the way the Mets do, which will make their approach to the negotiations interesting.
Should the Mets lose deGrom, could Cohen pivot and use that money to address the team’s offense with a big bat such as Aaron Judge?
Los Angeles Dodgers
Even after a 111-win season, the Dodgers have some serious work to do with their rotation this winter. Walker Buehler will miss the 2023 season following his second Tommy John surgery, while Clayton Kershaw, Tyler Anderson and Andrew Heaney will each hit free agency. That leaves Julio Urías, Tony Gonsolin and Dustin May in the rotation, and while that trio is talented, adding deGrom would keep Los Angeles in its familiar role as NL favorites.
San Diego Padres
The Padres have more than $50 million coming off the books this offseason, and with both Mike Clevinger and Sean Manaea headed for free agency this fall -- not to mention Yu Darvish and Blake Snell potentially doing the same at the end of the 2023 season -- general manager A.J. Preller could look to fortify the top of his rotation this winter. Preller has never been afraid to make a big splash, and signing deGrom would certainly fit into that category.
San Francisco Giants
The Giants are said to be intent on pursuing Judge, but if they fail to land the slugger, could they change course and try to sign deGrom to lead the rotation? Rodón is likely to opt out of the final year of his deal, leaving San Francisco in need of an ace. With only $70 million in salary guaranteed in 2023 and $20.5 million in 2024, the Giants have plenty of payroll flexibility.
New York Yankees
If the Mets might possibly take a run at Judge, why wouldn’t the Yankees do the same with deGrom? His ability to handle the New York spotlight isn’t in question, which can be a big issue for the Yankees when considering free agents. The Yankees figure to make Judge their No. 1 priority, but if they lose the slugger, anything can happen at that point, including the idea of pairing deGrom with Gerrit Cole atop the rotation.
What would Mets fans hate more: losing deGrom to the Yankees or the Braves? In early July, reports surfaced that Atlanta might be one of the frontrunners for deGrom after he opts out, though that might require the Braves opening 2023 with the highest payroll in team history. With Dansby Swanson headed to free agency, figuring out their shortstop situation might be a bigger priority than adding another frontline starter. deGrom is a native of north Florida, and there has been some speculation that playing for a team close to home could hold some appeal.
This might seem like a far-fetched scenario ... but would it be? Baltimore took a big step forward in 2022, winning 83 games while hanging in the AL Wild Card race until the final days of the season. With less than $10 million in guaranteed salary on the books for 2023 and beyond, adding a bona fide ace to their group of young players would be a sign from the Orioles to the fan base that they’re serious about contending.