Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

Mets Need to Prove They're a Big-Market Team in Handling of Jacob deGrom

Danny Knobler

The real issue with Jacob deGrom and the New York Mets is the same one the Mets so often face, the one they never seem to completely answer.

Are they willing to act like a big-market team?

A big-market team should be willing to sign a Cy Young-winning pitcher to a long-term contract. But a big-market team also shouldn't be afraid of any artificial deadlines along the way.

For all the talk of an Opening Day "deadline" in the deGrom negotiations, the only real deadline is the end of the 2020 season, when deGrom would be eligible to leave as a free agent. And even then, the Mets would still be able to sign him until someone else does.

Yes, it could cost more by then. Yes, it could cost more by next winter, if deGrom comes anywhere close to replicating a 2018 season in which he had a 1.70 ERA and struck out 269 in 217 innings.

Big-market teams don't need to worry much about things like that. They can afford to wait, because if the price goes up, they can afford to pay it.

The New York Yankees often operate that way.

With the Mets, you're never sure they could afford it. You're not even sure they can afford to sign deGrom for whatever the price would be now, and their lack of a contract offer at this point in the offseason raises uncomfortable questions.

Even though the Mets have signed some stars before free agency (David Wright, 2012) and others after they reached that point (Yoenis Cespedes, 2016), their fans understandably wonder whether the owners are willing to fully commit. Just this winter, the Mets took on a big contract when they traded for Robinson Cano, but they stopped short of engaging with Bryce Harper and/or Manny Machado, the two biggest impact players on the market.

And, of course, they have yet to make an offer to deGrom, as both sides acknowledged to reporters Thursday.

There's still plenty of time between now and Opening Day for the Mets to make an offer, plenty of time for counteroffers, plenty of time for this all to become a non-issue and for the Mets and deGrom to schedule a press conference to announce he has signed.

But if they decide not to meet whatever deGrom's price is now, so what? He's still going to pitch for them in 2019, with a $17 million salary that represents an appropriate raise over the $7.4 million he made in 2018. He's still under control for 2020, too.

When Brodie Van Wagenen was Jacob deGrom's agent last year, he tried to pressure the Mets into a deal. Now, he's the Mets general manager. Jeff Roberson/Associated Press/Associated Press

And while there's been lots of talk about a memo written by Jeff Berry, now serving as deGrom's agent, that's most likely a non-issue as well. The memo, as published by ESPN.com in December, outlines all sorts of "player-first" strategies players and their union could use to counter what some of them see as unfair practices by management.

The most relevant tactic in this case would be for a pitcher approaching free agency to limit his innings if it might help him make the case for a better contract as a free agent. Asked about that possibility at Mets camp Thursday, deGrom didn't run away from it.

"I think that's a discussion that's going to have to be had with my agents," he said, according to Mike Puma of the New York Post.

So we're supposed to believe that deGrom would ask out of games early even if it might impact the Mets' position in a pennant race? Sorry, not buying that one (and if he did, is that the kind of guy you want to sign long-term?).

OK, so what about this deadline, the one first reported by the Post and later confirmed by Mets general manager Brodie Van Wagenen? Should it scare the Mets or their fans that deGrom doesn't want negotiations to continue into the season?

No, because he's not eligible for free agency this year. And while players are often more reluctant to sign long-term deals in the winter before free agency (next winter, in deGrom's case), would deGrom really refuse to negotiate next winter when the option would be to become a free agent at age 32 at a time when free agency isn't favoring older players?

Mets owners Jeff Wilpon and Fred Wilpon (with Brodie Van Wagenen) haven't been able to shake the perception they're running the Mets like a mid-market team. Frank Franklin II/Associated Press/Associated Press

Any frustration deGrom is feeling right now would be understandable. The Mets told him more than two months ago they'd get him some kind of contract offer soon, according to a person familiar with the talks. Both sides said Thursday there has yet to be a long-term contract offered.

It would make sense for the Mets to engage, not just because they said they would but because they need to find out for sure if what they're willing to pay is anywhere near what deGrom is willing to sign for. But even with an Opening Day deadline, they still have well over a month to do that.

The only risk of keeping him without signing him long-term is they could be convinced they can't afford to pay him enough to stay. Small-market teams think that way and get pushed into earlier extensions.

Big-market teams shouldn't. They should get an extension done if the numbers make sense and not because of fear of an artificial deadline.

But there's that question again, the one that still doesn't have an answer:

Are the Mets willing to act like the big-market team they should be?

                      

Danny Knobler covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report.

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