Many teams work to extend the contracts of their young budding stars before they peak so that they can pay for their best years below market rate. The players agree to it because it gives them more security than what a rookie contract and yearly arbitration provide. The Mets operate all too often not like most teams, and have a Cy Young sized problem on their hands.
As we all know, the issue with Jacob deGrom’s contract is that he is frankly too good right now for the Mets to get a bargain in extending him, and with the Mets having two more years of team control there is no incentive to do so. DeGrom, on the other hand, is worried that if he hits the market at age 32 his possible earnings will be limited. All of this is happening while the way by which the league values players is in turmoil.
If the last couple of offseasons have taught us anything it is that teams are wising up with free agent spending. The Mets were actually ahead of the curve in this with Sandy Alderson expressing his usual caution in dealing with the inflated market for free agents.
The still unsigned Dallas Keuchle is just 31 and three years removed from a Cy Young; if deGrom is unextended he’ll be 32 and two years removed from a Cy Young. The current market does not suggest much security for someone like deGrom, who is right now the best pitcher in the league.
But then you have to feel for the Mets too, because there hasn’t really been a proper time to extend their ace. His worst full season was 2017 when he finished with a 10.68 K/9, 3.50 FIP, and 8th in the Cy Young voting. They could have extended him after his 2014 Rookie of the Year campaign, but deGrom wasn’t your typical rookie.
Called up a month before his 26th birthday, deGrom was not considered as great as a prospect as his teammates Noah Syndergaard, Matt Harvey, Zack Wheeler, and even Raphael Montero. In fact, deGrom was originally going to try a relief role with the big-league club before being needed for a start. Instead of struggling he immediately succeeded at the highest level of the game.
And while the Mets have little payroll committed for the future, they can’t hand deGrom a blank check because they have to worry about possibly extending the aforementioned Syndergaard and Wheeler as well as Michael Conforto and Brandon Nimmo.
So, what does this all mean for when or if a contract extension will be made? And for how much money? Let’s take a look at a few comparable players.
The Mets probably wished they had locked up their ace like the Indians did back in 2014 with Corey Kluber. After wining the Cy Young on a league-minimum contract, Cleveland extended Kluber with a five-year $38.5 million contract that in hindsight seems like a bargain, but looking at little closer is fairer. While he could have made more on an inflated open market, the security the contract provided, in addition to the incentive potentials, kept Kluber in Cleveland. The contract will most likely end up being a seven-year $77 million as Kluber has maxed out the incentives and the Indians will likely exercise their team options for 2020 and 2021.
Combining to win the last three NL Cy Youngs, deGrom and Max Scherzer share many similarities on the field. The two power pitchers both somewhat unexpectantly became aces, and hit their prime in their later twenties. Both have only had success since then. Scherzer has earned $15 million in four of the five seasons since his 2013 Cy Young campaign, making deGrom’s $17 million 2019 salary seem fair when accounting for some inflation.
However, Scherzer’s contract with the Nationals jumps up to $35 million this year and for two more years afterwards giving him $105 million for his age 34-36 seasons. With the market of today and the Met’s spending habits (or lack thereof) deGrom cannot expect to command that kind of money.
Another Cy Young winner who is even closer in age to deGrom is Clayton Kershaw. While much more accomplished, Kershaw also inked a contract after a Cy Young season. His 2014 extension included six years of above $30 million, with a seventh year tacked on with his extension last November. Kershaw is a different story because he signed the first extension before deGrom was even in the league despite being only two months older.
These contracts were given back when teams valued players more on past success instead of on projected future output. That is why people have suggested for deGrom to take a stand and limit his innings to protect his arm and demand more money. While a possibility, it doesn’t seem the deGrom-Mets relations have fallen to this point.
DeGrom’s career has been as unique as it has been excellent, making projecting his next contract not only difficult but very important to his future and the future of his team. I think we can expect a deal reaching his age 35 season since he has yet to show injury concerns unlike Kershaw (only signed through age 33), and at around $17 a year with incentives like the Kluber deal. I also think a team option may be in order since the Mets have a lot of leverage with two years of team control remaining. This comes to five-years at $85 million, with incentives to make it up to $110 million and a club option for a sixth year. While a sizeable chunk of change, I think it would make sense for both the Mets and deGrom to make this deal to make him perhaps a Met for life. The Mets need a face after the retiring of David Wright, and deGrom needs contract security in this uncertain market.