Mets must be aggressive after losing franchise icon to Rangers
After Friday night, there is a massive void in the New York Mets’ pitching staff.
Jacob deGrom, whose dominance across his nine seasons in New York put him on the pantheon of all-time Mets starting pitchers, vanished to the southwest with a five-year, $185 million deal with the Texas Rangers. It came with little warning.
DeGrom’s legacy with the Mets included a Rookie of the Year Award, two Cy Young Awards, one trip to the World Series and a career ERA of 2.52 and 10.9 strikeouts per nine innings — both top marks in franchise history.
He delivered a haymaker to Mets’ fans dreams that unlike past greats Tom Seaver and Dwight Gooden, he would spend his entire career in New York after his move to the American League West.
After back-to-back injury-riddled campaigns led the 34-year-old to throw 156⅓ innings across the last two seasons, the belief was that deGrom would command a large deal over three years … maybe four years.
He ended up with five fully guaranteed years and an option for a sixth after declining the $30.5 million player option to finish out his final year of his previous five-year deal with the Mets.
Sometimes a swift strike can jar you awake.
While Mets fans lament the loss of one of the figureheads of their franchise over the last decade, the front office, including second-year general manager Billy Eppler and owner Steve Cohen, must use the loss of their longtime ace as motivation to act aggressively in constructing a championship contender, particularly on the pitching side.
On Thursday, Eppler said that deGrom’s intentions to stay with the Mets would not impact how they approached free agency.
‘We are positioned to be able to execute other things if it makes sense and we get close enough,’ Eppler said. ‘We don’t need one thing to happen first before other things can become a reality.’
Friday night’s news, however, may have very well represented a call to action when it comes to rebuilding the top of the Mets’ rotation. The only remaining starting pitchers from last season’s 101-win team are Max Scherzer, Carlos Carrasco and platoon pitchers Tylor Megill and David Peterson.
The silver lining amid the bleak news for the Mets is that deGrom is the first major domino to fall in the starting pitching market.
The signings of Tyler Anderson, Martin Perez and Zac Eflin came toward the middle of the collection of available arms. The top names — Justin Verlander, Carlos Rodon and Kodai Senga — have yet to find their landing spot, and the Mets have talked to each of those candidates.
Each pose their own risks. Verlander, who won the American League Cy Young this past season, will be 40 next season and missed all of 2021 after Tommy John surgery. Carlos Rodon is coming off back-to-back All-Star campaigns but the beginning of his career was marked by major injuries to his elbow and shoulder.
Senga, while flashing a dominant fastball in Japan, is an unknown commodity at the major-league level.
DeGrom is among the most dominant pitchers in the game when he is on the mound, but he comes with his own series of unknowns after three straight short season.
At $37 million per season, he is now receiving the second-highest annual salary in MLB history behind Scherzer, who is earning $43.3 million per year. The Mets, according to the New York Post’s Joel Sherman, were believed to have offered deGrom $120 million over three years.
Now, they will look to allocate that expected payroll hit elsewhere. And they can be a little more aggressive in their push to find a running mate with Scherzer atop the rotation.
In addition to the aforementioned trio, the Mets could potentially have more flexibility to bring back either Taijuan Walker or Chris Bassitt – two of their most dependable starters this past season.
Outside options to fill the middle of the rotation could include Jameson Taillon, Nathan Eovaldi and Andrew Heaney.
While the Mets bring back the core of their lineup, they can also go all in on trying to preserve one of their other lifelong Mets in center fielder Brandon Nimmo. That, along with locking up Edwin Diaz, which the Mets did immediately after the World Series, were believed to be the team’s top priorities in free agency.
The 29-year-old center fielder is believed to be the second-best outfield commodity in this season’s free agent class behind Aaron Judge. Several teams, including the Rockies and Blue Jays, are believed to have interest in bringing in Nimmo, and a bidding war could see Nimmo’s value exceeding $100 million.
But after losing the services of deGrom, the Mets would assuredly hope to avoid losing two of their top pieces off last season’s team.
DeGrom’s exit, while a gut-punch, opens up a world of possibilities for the Mets with the baseball world set to close in on San Diego for the Winter Meetings beginning on Sunday.
The time to act is now.