So it's come to this: The Mets, a team that ripped off 11 wins in their first 12 games, the best start in the 57-season history of the team, have to trade Jacob deGrom. They must.
They don't have to, of course. They don't have to do anything, and normally you wouldn't consider moving an elite starter who still has two more years of control remaining. You want to find those guys, not lose them. But these aren't normal times, are they?
The Mets lost 92 games last year. They might lose 100 this year, considering that they're playing .333 ball since their 11-1 start, the worst record in the National League. Their postseason odds are 0.4 percent, so 2018 is finished. Now, they could stand pat and hope that '19 plays out a whole lot better than '18 did, since Jeurys Familia, Asdrubal Cabrera and Devin Mesoraco are their only notable free agents right now. But is that really the best path forward?
We'll argue that it's not. We'll argue that the circumstances of baseball right now suggest that a trade in the next three weeks, while painful, is the best possible thing the Mets could do.
deGrom's value can't possibly get higher than it is right now
We probably don't need to recite all the numbers that show how phenomenal deGrom has been this year, but just in case: He's legitimately been one of the best starters in the game in 2018. Maybe the best.
deGrom is first in ERA among qualified starters at 1.79, third in FIP at 2.33 and ninth in strikeout percentage (31.2 percent). He's fifth in Expected wOBA, among those who have faced 200 batters. deGrom is getting Top 15 results on his fastball, his slider and his changeup; really, he's been so good that it's just about impossible for him to get any better.
... and that's sort of the point, really. This is Peak deGrom. This is the best it will ever be, and while there's no particular reason to expect he won't continue this way -- he's been very good for five seasons now -- there's not really a situation where his value gets higher. It can't.
There is, however, risk. There's risk because throwing a baseball at 96 mph is inherently a dangerous profession. There's risk because deGrom is already 30 years old, which is probably older than you think, and because it's not like he's never had arm issues before. In 2010, he had Tommy John surgery as a Minor Leaguer; in '14, he hit the disabled list with "rotator cuff tendinitis;" in ;16, his season ended early due to elbow surgery; and earlier this year, he missed time with a hyperextended right elbow.
Again, there's no imminent danger here. deGrom is fantastic, and you should expect him to remain so. But the value isn't going up, not with him pitching as well as he is, and with three pennant races to sell before he's a free agent. Whether it's due to health, performance or less contractual control, the value arrow only goes one way here.
The starting-pitching market is horrible
If deGrom were one of a few great pitchers available, you probably wouldn't bother. But here's what we know about the starting-pitching market in 2018: It's terrible. There's no Justin Verlander, Yu Darvish or Sonny Gray out there this time around. No, Madison Bumgarner isn't getting traded. Neither is Blake Snell; Chris Archer is possible, but unlikely.
The three most prominent names are probably Cole Hamels, J.A. Happ and Tyson Ross, and they simply haven't been all that good. None have an ERA below 4.28 (Hamels). None have a FIP below 3.97 (Happ). Combined, they have a 4.38 ERA and 4.52 FIP in 54 starts, which is to say that they've basically been James Shields (4.47/4.55) or Daniel Mengden (4.47/4.75). It's not great.
It's been especially bad for the trio over the past 30 days, in which they've made 15 starts, and been generally hammered: a 6.52 ERA, a 5.71 FIP and nearly two homers allowed per nine innings. They've allowed a .277/.355/.521 line in the past 30 days; they have essentially turned every hitter they've seen in the last month into Matt Carpenter (.258/.365/.513).
There's a very reasonable case to be made that Nathan Eovaldi is the best starter on the market, and he's a pitcher who has made all of eight starts in the past two seasons, due to a pair of elbow surgeries. If not him? Perhaps Garrett Richards, who has a ton of talent, but he has been healthy enough himself to make only 28 starts since the end of 2015 -- and he left Tuesday's start with another injury.
It's grim, and the list of contenders who couldn't use starting help probably begins and ends with Houston and Cleveland. This isn't a case where, say, the Orioles may have trouble getting a ton of value for Zach Britton because 20 other relievers are out there. If deGrom is available, he's the only marquee starter out there. He might be the only good starter out there. It makes a valuable pitcher all the more appealing.
The return could be tremendous
Because deGrom is so good, and is under control for two more seasons beyond this one, and would be in a starting market almost devoid of talent, the return should be spectacular.
It's always difficult, if not impossible, to predict what that might be, but we can at least look back to a few recent similar situations to find out.
Perhaps the best comparison here is to the Chris Sale trade, since he had three reasonably priced years of control left (and, of course, is one of baseball's elite aces) when the White Sox dealt him to the Red Sox after the 2016 season. Boston gave up two Top 30 prospects in Yoan Moncada, Michael Kopech -- Moncada was actually No. 1 overall at MLB Pipeline -- along with Luis Alexander Basabe and Victor Diaz.
You might also look at last summer's trade of Jose Quintana, also from the White Sox. While he's not quite at deGrom's skill level, the Cubs acquired 3 1/2 years of his services, and it cost them No. 8 overall prospect Eloy Jimenez and No. 63 Dylan Cease, as well as Matt Rose and Bryant Flete.
It might not be a Top 5 prospect for deGrom, just because the teams with those players (like the Blue Jays, Reds, White Sox and Padres) aren't ready to make such a move. But it's easy to see them looking to Milwaukee, led by infielder Keston Hiura (No. 30) and righty Corbin Burnes (No. 56), who was just called up and could step into the Mets' pitching plans immediately. Maybe you bet on blocked young ready-now outfielders like Domingo Santana, Keon Broxton or Brett Phillips.
Imagine the Dodgers worrying about Clayton Kershaw's opt-out and moving names like outfielder Alex Verdugo (No. 27) and catcher Keibert Ruiz (No. 44) to help both this year and in the future. Maybe the Angels have had enough of wasting Michael Trout's prime and are willing to move outfielder Jo Adell (No. 36), who has hit .313/.364/.597 across two levels this year.
Maybe the Yankees get so desperate that you get them to part with Miguel Andujar, Justus Sheffield and/or Clint Frazier. Maybe the Astros, with 40 percent of their rotation headed to free agency, decide to plan ahead and make baseball's best rotation even better, in return for ready-now names like outfielder Kyle Tucker (No. 8) or Yordan Alvarez (No. 51) or pitcher Forrest Whitley (No. 9).
It's impossible to guess right now, obviously, but it would take "an overwhelming deal" to move deGrom, said assistant GM John Ricco. He's right. It should. And it would.
It doesn't have to be a rebuild
There's a school of thought that says that if the Mets trade deGrom, they should completely blow it up and start over. But that's unlikely to happen for a variety of reasons, from the New York market to the construction of their roster to the fact that there are actually going to be a ton of starting pitchers available this winter.
None of these guys are deGrom, of course. But imagine whatever return there is for him, with one or two of these names lined up behind Noah Syndergaard, Steven Matz, Zack Wheeler, etc.
Dallas Keuchel, Charlie Morton, Patrick Corbin, Giovany Gonzalez, Marco Estrada, Happ, Eovaldi, Lance Lynn, Brandon McCarthy, Richards, Ross, Thomas Pomeranz, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Carsten Sabathia and even Kershaw, assuming he opts out.
It would be painful, Mets fans. We understand. We also remember how much it hurt nearly six years ago when the team traded defending NL Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey to Toronto for a package headlined by prospects, one of whom was Syndergaard, who the Mets really ought to look to extend if they dealt deGrom.
Of course it hurts. But two straight 90-loss years are going to hurt, too, and trying again with basically the same roster doesn't seem like it's going to work. It's an idea worth exploring, just because of how well deGrom is pitching and how the market is coming together.