When we began this blog fourteen years and one day ago, we didn’t have Jacob deGrom to root for and write about. Jacob deGrom was a high school kid four months shy of his seventeenth birthday and nine years away from making himself known to us. But had Jacob deGrom been a 2005 Met coming off a Cy Young season and glimpsing forward toward eventual free agency, I would have fiercely believed there was no way he and the Mets would part ways. Maybe eventually, after his next contract played out to everybody’s satisfaction, but not while he was in his prime, not when he was so comfortable in orange and blue, not while the Mets were benefiting so bountifully from his excellence.
Here in 2019, as FAFIF’s fifteenth Spring Training gets underway, we have the actual Jacob deGrom coming off an actual Cy Young season, yet I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s wearing some other team’s threads by this time in 2021, if not sooner. Maybe that won’t happen. Maybe the Mets and their ace will stare deeply into each other’s eyes and realize they’re unquestionably better together than they are apart, sealing their sentiments not with a kiss but the appropriate extraordinary dollar amount.
But maybe not. I’m leaning that way based on the inability of the two parties to have gotten anywhere despite the installation of deGrom’s former agent as Mets general manager (there’s a sentence you don’t expect to type). Jake and Brodie Van Wagenen blandly platituded this week, save for the modest dollop of newslike information that Jake wouldn’t rule out seeking an innings limit  to preserve his right arm so it is fit to carry a boatload of money wherever he might happen to encounter it in due time.
If that characterization sounds a bit harsh, well, everybody’s a professional here. Everybody but the fans. Jake’s a pro’s pro. I don’t really expect him to put himself on ice for self-preservation’s sake (he’s welcome to skip a start between the division clinching and the postseason). I’ve seen nothing out of him across five superb years of pitching to suggest he’ll put forth anything less than a full-tilt effort when on the mound. Still, “I think that’s a discussion that’s going to have to be had with my agents” is a far cry from “just give me the ball, Skip.”
I don’t blame Jake, even with a $17 million arbitration award in his pocket, for theoretically hedging his bets. He’s the best pitcher in the game, but the game is weird right now. The game is weird enough right now that Jacob deGrom has to be asked whether he might want to keep his innings in check in the season ahead because, $17 million notwithstanding, way more money might be sitting on another table elsewhere. There are enough variables floating around to make nothing automatic, not for the star performer who says he loves being a part of the only team he’s ever known in the bigs, not for the team that has seen him succeed wildly whenever he’s performed for them.
Still, what’s the point of being a Major League Baseball franchise if you’re not going to secure the best talent possible, especially when that best talent already dresses in your clubhouse and doesn’t appear in any rush to leave it? In a perfect world, Jake remains a Met more or less forever. Nobody connected to the Mets wants another outcome. But anybody watching the Mets these past fourteen seasons — or any team in this era — knows other outcomes are waiting to engulf and devour what is ideal. Ideal is Jake continuing to pitch and pitch very well for the Mets well beyond 2020. His early Tommy John surgery and his relatively late promotion to the majors implies less wear and tear than your typical thirtysomething pitcher. Jake is hardly typical of his breed to begin with. If you’re gonna sign any pitcher up for keeps, sign this pitcher up for keeps.
Or don’t. Because maybe the best pitcher in the game in 2018 will never be quite as good again. Maybe? Probably. Getting a six-month ride of 1.7 earned runs allowed per nine innings seems a ton to ask for more than once in a lifetime. But if you got something approximating last year mixed in with what you got the four years before, you’d take that, right? DeGrom doesn’t have to learn to pitch. Doesn’t need to mature. Doesn’t need to get used to New York. That’s worth plenty, you’d think. Even if we are to assume that a pitcher who passes age 32, 33 and so on might have a little less on the ball every year, we would also figure this pitcher will know what to make of what he has.
Yeah, that would be swell. So would David Wright gracefully entering the penultimate year of his long-term contract in tandem with Yoenis Cespedes continuing his more compressed megadeal uninterrupted. Wright’s a front office guy now and Cespedes is guessing when his heels will be up for baseball activities. On some since-erased drawing board in St. Lucie, they were marked down as batting third and fourth in 2019.
Emotionally, which is where fandom comes in, I know I would cringe hard at Jacob deGrom buttoning another jersey over his shirt and tie and announcing that, though he’ll always cherish the memories he has as a Met, he and his family are grateful for this opportunity with this new team in this new city and he can’t wait to get out there and pitch for these great fans.
It’s as likely to happen that way as it’s not. In 2005, despite a lifetime to that point of seeing almost all of my favorites slip or storm away, I would not have accepted this a fifty-fifty likelihood. Intermittently since 2005 I’ve generally refused to accept lurking departures as faits accomplis. The Mets would never let their homegrown batting champion go away. The Mets would never let their first twenty-game winner in more than twenty years go away. The Mets would never do less than everything they can to keep their best players on the team.
Handshakes and lifts to the airport aren’t a 21st-century invention, but perhaps my acceptance that they’re inevitable is. I’m heading into my fifty-first season as a fan. I’m still a little shaken that the Mets traded Ron Swoboda after my second, never mind Tom Seaver in the middle of my ninth. This has been going on forever. What hasn’t is my preparing myself to sort of shrug the day Jacob deGrom becomes an ex-Met, should that day occur. I won’t like it. I will despise it. But I half-expect it. I will reason that though I will always cherish the memories he brought us as a Met, I really look forward to this new season.
Will I really? That’s a discussion that’s going to have to be had with my agents.