PORT ST. LUCIE — Now this is a bluff The Post would love to see called.
If Jacob deGrom doesn’t get his desired long-term extension by his Opening Day deadline, would he actually take the Nationals Park mound on March 28, clock six shutout innings while throwing 62 pitches and then, when asked about pitching the seventh, borrow an old Herman Melville line and declare, “I would prefer not to”?
Very likely not, as this exaggerates the sort of measures deGrom’s current head agent, Jeff Berry of CAA, proposed in an industry memo last year. Yet by throwing down the gauntlet in their discussions with the Mets, whose general manager, Brodie Van Wagenen, just happens to be deGrom’s former head agent, deGrom and company have rolled a hand grenade into this upbeat Mets spring just as pitchers and catchers reported.
And the sobering reality is that neither the Mets nor Van Wagenen has earned the right to call such bluffs. They should buy high on deGrom, advance these slow-moving discussions and give him the five-year, $155.5 million extension The Post’s Joel Sherman outlined in November and hope that commitment puts them in a position to be bolder the next time.
“I think it’s for everyone’s best interests so that the focus once the season starts is on the performance of the team,” Van Wagenen said Tuesday at First Data Field of the deadline, first reported by The Post’s Mike Puma, which the GM described as “a mutual understanding.” He continued, “I think everybody feels like we’ve got a chance to play meaningful games right out of the gate, and we don’t want to have anything standing in that way.”
For sure, the Mets have much invested in succeeding this season, having turned to baseball senior citizens Robinson Cano and Jed Lowrie and given up interesting young talent in trades with Seattle (for Cano and closer Edwin Diaz) and Houston (for J.D. Davis). They don’t need an unhappy deGrom.
On the other side of the equation, deGrom has something to lose, too, if he doesn’t complete the deal this spring. Considering that he put up one of the better seasons in recent baseball history as he won the 2018 NL Cy Young Award, the right-hander is statistically unlikely to replicate that effort. As he enters his age-31 season, with two more years before free agency, he has to know that he risks a value depreciation as time marches forward.
Enter new deGrom agent Berry’s Jerry Maguire-esque proposal, in which he wrote: “Front offices are praised as ‘smart’ when working within the rules to extract maximum performance value for minimal monetary cost. Shouldn’t players also be ‘smart’ and likewise make calculated decisions within the rules to maintain and extend their maximum performance levels at maximum monetary values?”
While it’s very difficult to envision the low-maintenance clubhouse leader deGrom taking such a daring, potentially illegal step — and Van Wagenen, for what it’s worth, declared the Mets’ desire to keep deGrom upright and successful for as long as possible — how much fun would it be to see even the possibility of it arise?
Alas, these are not the Red Sox, Dodgers or Yankees, consistently successful teams with highly experienced baseball operations officials. If they viewed such a deadline as a threat to be ignored, they’d receive much benefit of the doubt. These are the Mets, who have tallied losing records in eight of the 10 past seasons. This is Van Wagenen, a rookie executive whose energy and outreach should be appreciated but whose on-the-field accomplishments currently stand at zero.
The last time deGrom publicized an ultimatum-ish request, it was Van Wagenen, the day before last season’s All-Star Game, who said that the Mets should either extend his client or trade him. The Wilpons chose to maintain the status quo until they hired a new GM … who turned out to be Van Wagenen.
This GM should get this done and elevate his first winter grade from a B to an A-. The good news for Van Wagenen is that the CAA culture he helped create calls for players to forgo free agency if their original team offers a fair contract. If the Mets can’t offer a fair package to their ace, putting any tension to rest and firing up their fans, then they deserve whatever negative consequences arise from such an important blown deadline.
This post was originally posted at https://nypost.com/2019/02/12/jacob-degrom-picked-the-right-team-and-gm-to-threaten/. WGEH does not own this content and is not responsible for it.