It Should’ve Been In Queens
It should’ve been in Queens.
Jacob deGrom is probably my favorite pitcher over the past twenty years. Every five days, he would take the mound in Citi Field and absolutely electrify. You knew by watching him pitch, something special was going to take place.
On May 15, 2014, I was lucky to have been in attendance for his Major League debut against the New York Yankees. Originally supposed to be a spot-starter, DeGrom showed immediate poise on the mound, throwing seven innings of one run ball, even getting the first base hit of the afternoon for the Mets. From pitch one, he was different.
After winning the 2014 National League Rookie of the Year, DeGrom had a solid 2015, leading him to a spot in the All Star Game, where, on ten pitches, he struck out the side. On the national stage, fans were mesmerized.
Going on a miracle run in the second half of the season, the Mets made the playoffs and won the National League East. DeGrom’s grit and determination through Games 1 and 5 of the NLDS propelled them to the next round. His stellar Game 2 was key to a four game sweep of the Cubs to go the World Series. Although the Mets faltered in five games, DeGrom’s stock was on the rise.
After a solid 2016 season, DeGrom had to get surgery on his right elbow in September, missing the Mets Wild Card game against the San Francisco Giants. He started off slow in 2017, but after a bad game against, coincidentally, the Texas Rangers, Terry Collins had a conversation with DeGrom on the bench, seemingly soothing a dejected pitcher.
From his next start on, DeGrom became DeGrom. He regained his form throughout the rest of 2017, cut his hair on the last day of the season, and went into Spring Training in 2018 on a purpose.
For the next few years, Jacob DeGrom became the best pitcher in baseball, winning back-to-back National League Cy Young Awards in 2018 and 2019. He was throwing harder with vicious sliders and fastballs, exerting excellent control. Dude was blowing people away with strikeouts left and right. Although the Mets seemingly could never score when DeGrom was pitching, he kept his quiet intensity going on the mound. As Gary Cohen said repeatedly on SNY, he was a “master of his craft”.
Look at his stats from 2018 through 2021.
2018: 32 starts, 10-9, 1.70 ERA, 1 complete game, 217 innings pitched, 269 strikeouts
2019: 32 starts, 11-8, 2.43 ERA, 204 innings pitched, 255 strikeouts
2020 (60 Game Season): 12 starts, 4-2, 2.38 ERA, 68 innings pitched, 104 strikeouts
2021: 15 starts, 7-2. 1.08 ERA, 1 complete game, 92 innings pitched, 146 strikeouts
2021, in particular, was interesting, as DeGrom started out on a historic pace. At the All Star break with a 1.08 ERA, DeGrom was doing things unheard of in the modern era of baseball. He was dominating everyone in front of him. However, a few games into the second half of the season, DeGrom was shut down for the year with arm issues. If DeGrom stayed healthy, it was very possible that he would have been able to keep up the pace, at least in my mind.
In retrospect, the season-ending injury was the beginning of the end of his Mets tenure.
Before the 2019 season, new Mets General Manager Brodie Van Wagenen, formerly DeGrom’s agent, negotiated a five-year, $137.5 million contract with the Mets ace, including an opt-out clause after the 2022 season. This deal not only made DeGrom one of the highest paid pitchers in baseball, but also saved the Mets a lot of money on payroll, due to financial woes with the Wilpon family.
Near the end of the 2020 season, Steve Cohen, thankfully, bought the Mets franchise from Sterling Equities, and the team went from struggling with cash flow to absolutely flush with money. This will play into this story later.
Right before the MLB lockout in December 2021, Max Scherzer signed with the Mets for a two-year deal worth $43.3 million a season with an option for a third. Once the lockout ended, DeGrom, with class, stated publicly that he would be opting out of his contract by the end of the 2022 season, and, in my opinion, rightfully so. He wanted to get compensated more, especially with the contracts given to Gerrit Cole on the Yankees, Stephen Strasburg on the Nationals, and Scherzer, his own teammate.
Then, DeGrom hurt his shoulder at the end of Spring Training, a stress reaction to his right scapula to be exact.
After missing most of the year, DeGrom made his season debut on August 2, 2022. In 11 starts, DeGrom went 5-4 with a 3.08 ERA with 102 strikeouts. Although he struggled a little bit, his strikeout count was ridiculous.
During the Wild Card Series against the Padres, DeGrom made his final start on October 8, 2022 in Citi Field in Game 2. He kept the Mets in the game, giving up two runs and having eight strikeouts in six innings, picking up the only Mets win in the postseason.
Once the Mets were eliminated, DeGrom lived up to his word and opted out of his contract, becoming a free agent.
The Mets, as much as they wanted to make him a lifer, were unsure about keeping him long term due to the injury concerns over the prior two seasons. They didn’t want to commit to a mass amount of money and years, which as a fan, I completely understand. A lot of Met fans, however, didn’t believe in that philosophy, especially with an owner like Mr. Cohen unafraid to opening his purse to spend.
Also, the Mets front office was concerned about how hard he was throwing. Getting older and increasing his speed with his fastball every year, the wear and tear over the previous two years was beginning to show. DeGrom, ever the competitor, seemed stubborn to that, preparing himself to throw even harder, which further worried Mets management.
The Mets decided to offer their ace a three year, $120 million contract. DeGrom declined, deciding to bet on himself, and signed with the Texas Rangers on a five year deal worth $185 million.
The DeGrom era in Queens was over. As a huge fan of him, I was crestfallen. But, as is life, baseball and the Mets moved forward, and so did DeGrom.
In six starts in 2023, DeGrom went 2-0 with a 2.67 ERA with 45 strikeouts in 30.1 innings. And then, DeGrom announced on June 6 that he would need Tommy John Surgery, rendering him out for at least a year.
As a Met fan, this hurt a lot, seeing our old ace out indefinitely, bordering on sports fandom heartbreak. For Mets management, there was a sense of sad validation, as DeGrom’s arm just wasn’t able to hold up the immense strain from throwing as hard as he was.
Regardless, last week, the Texas Rangers won the World Series for the first time in their history.
A picture with Jacob DeGrom with the Commissioner’s trophy made the rounds. I smiled, happy that DeGrom, although hurt, was a World champion. However, I felt down.
For years, I wish Jacob DeGrom would have that moment as a Met. Sadly, it took him leaving to live his dream. As a Met fan, I speak on behalf of all of us saying that we love that DeGrom got his glory, even elsewhere. But one truth, selfishly, remains from my heart:
It should’ve been in Queens.