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DeGrom Before the Storm

All-Star Jacob deGrom [1] got taken deep by All-Star Mike Trout in the third inning of Tuesday night’s All-Star Game. Regrettable outcome, as was the final score [2], but somehow everybody was elevated by the experience. Trout doesn’t need much more elevation, except for maybe a deep postseason run or two so casual onlookers in all time zones can get a feel for what harder-core baseball fans have been telling each other for the balance of this decade about the greatest player of the contemporary era. Trout hitting a pitch very hard and very far is his version of plucking a business card from his wallet and shaking hands.

DeGrom’s pitches prior to the one Trout sent on a tour of the left field bullpen at Nationals Park landed where Jake intended. Mookie Betts flied out to Bryce Harper in center (who was in the midst of a scintillating chat with Joe Buck while patrolling his pasture). Jose Altuve popped to Nolan Arenado at third. Then a one-and-two count on Trout, prelude to an immaculate frame, it seemed…until the Angel from South Jersey reached to the outside of the plate as if for the last slice of pork roll. That’s a tough spot from which to pull a pitch, especially from where Trout was fishing. Nevertheless, Mike caught it and released it into the wild.

Officially, it was a 92 MPH sinker that didn’t sink as desired (or perhaps a changeup that went through one too many changes). “He hits the low ball well,” the lone 2018 Met All-Star said later. “Two strikes, probably should’ve gone fastball up. But he got me.”

It happens. It happened a lot to pitchers on both sides of the All-Star divide. The game ended after only ten innings were played and ten homers were hit. The American League prevailed, 8-6, as the American League tends to do these days. Perhaps it’s the recent Midsummer Classic sample size (AL 6 NL 0, dating to 2013) combined with this last year-and-a-half of shall we say Mets baseball that’s led me to expect the worst from whichever team I’m rooting for in a given moment, but I expected the NL to lose. The NL, if you read what Players Association executive director Tony Clark had to say Tuesday, may be stumbling toward acceptance of the abomination of the designated hitter [3] (ptui!). If that’s how they’re gonna be, the National League probably doesn’t deserve much in the way of institutional allegiance.

DeGrom, though, deserves all the adulation we can muster. As if standing up for the integrity of baseball, Jake gathered himself after Trout’s trip around the bases and struck out the American League’s DH, J.D. Martinez. Thus the inning ended honorably if not spotlessly.

Given his lack of Met accompaniment, Jake’s imperfect outing constituted our All-Star highlight for 2018 — that and Nationals fans booing him during the introductions (not a classy response, but respectful of his status within the division in its own way). Now the best pitcher in the National League can get back to doing that for which he is suddenly most famous: being the subject of trade talk.

One night among his peers. Now a return to the mire.

Jacob deGrom will be a Met until he isn’t, which is a time span that appears likely to fall short of forever. DeGrom’s agent, Brodie Van Wagenen, expressed sentiments Monday that it sure would be nice if the Mets and his client could forge a “long-term partnership that would keep him in a Mets uniform for years to come.” So far, so good…which would also understate deGrom’s tenure as a Met to date.

Ah, but when was the last time you learned a player’s agent’s name and came away with “good” as the predominant adjective? Van Wagenen went on to make his larger point [4]:

“If the Mets don’t share [the] same interest, we believe their best course of action is to seriously consider trade opportunities now. The inertia of [the] current situation could complicate Jacob’s relationship with the club and creates an atmosphere of indecision.”

Meaning? Meaning almost every possible outcome will probably take a turn we don’t care for.

• The Mets trade deGrom soon, as in before July 31. We’d hate that. I don’t care if we got back the next Mike Trout. As soon as your premiere player is no longer yours, something’s missing.

• The Mets trade deGrom eventually, as in the offseason. We’d hate that. The haul could restock the system and project to pay dividends down the road, but we’d still feel a tangible loss. No more Jacob deGrom, except in memory. The next time we see him, he’ll be wearing the uniform of fill-in-the-blank. Cringing yet?

• The Mets don’t trade deGrom but don’t move to extend him. That would hang over our heads, especially now that the agent has spoken and it’s obvious a bone of contention exists between team and star. Without resolution, there is uncertainty. The statements grow less anodyne. The parties become more touchy. The agent lurks in our consciousness. The tension rises.

• The Mets let deGrom walk following the 2020 season. Pending the course of the next two campaigns, we’d likely hate that, no matter the juicy draft pick it would net us. Compensatory draft picks once in a blue moon grow up to become David Wright. Often they become Kevin Plawecki, and that’s if you’re lucky. Meanwhile, deGrom — two-time (at least) All-Star, Rookie of the Year, perennial Cy Young candidate, winning pitcher thrice in the postseason — becomes an ex-Met.

• The Mets sign deGrom to a lucrative long-term contract. Everybody’s happy…until it sinks in just how long the contract is for and how much the contract is for and how the length and the size of the contract impact the Mets’ ability to enhance the rest of the roster. Performances drop off. Injuries occur. Things go wrong. It happened with Piazza, Beltran, Santana, Wright. It’s happened with Cespedes. And none of them was a pitcher beyond 30 years of age. Past disaster is by no means indicative of future debacle, but after what we’ve been through, we have evolved into a breath-holding people. As with rooting for the National League in All-Star Games, there is a tendency to wait in expectation of what is about to go awry.

Or, you know, things could work out fine somehow. It’s possible. It’s just hard to imagine. In the meantime, Jacob deGrom is still a Met, still pitching sensationally, still getting out most everybody who isn’t Mike Trout, which leaves a pretty large pool of hitters flailing at his stuff.

We can deal with that for now.