Congrats to the New York Mets, who somehow convinced ace Jacob deGrom to skip free agency and sign the best contract in the entire league.
Two record-shattering contracts for Stephen Strasburg and Gerrit Cole have the baseball world abuzz. The two right-handers will combine to earn $569 million over the life of their contracts, $245 million for Strasburg, the World Series MVP, and a truly incredible $324 million, fully guaranteed for nine years for Cole, coming off a 326-strikeout season.
Despite their lengthy lists of MLB accomplishments, neither Strasburg or Cole has ever been able to call themselves the best pitcher in their league. Jacob deGrom, has, however, two times, in fact, and his five-year, $137.5-million extension that kicked in last season is officially the best contract in baseball.
For fans of the New York Mets, accustomed to seeing their front office bungle things on a consistent basis, this is a rare victory lap. DeGrom has won the last two NL Cy Young awards, posting a 2.05 ERA over his last 421 innings with 11.2 strikeouts per nine. He has three straight 200-inning seasons and has a 2.62 ERA for his six-year MLB career. He was worth 9.6 bWAR in 2018 and 7.3 last season.
This contract is such a steal for the Mets it’s borderline criminal. In a league where his former teammate Zack Wheeler will make $118 million over the next five years, deGrom is getting just under $4 million more per season on an annual basis. If the going rate for WAR is conservatively estimated at $4 million per win above replacement for starting pitcher, deGrom was worth $38 million more than Wheeler over the last two seasons alone. The Mets are already working with a surplus value on deGrom compared to Wheeler’s deal.
The deal looks even better because deGrom’s stock is miraculously still going up as he continues to master his breaking ball. He wasn’t fully himself in the first two months of the 2019 season, but ended the year on a 21-start rampage with a 1.85 ERA and allowed more than two earned runs in a start only three times. The Mets, being the Mets, were only 10-11 in those starts. deGrom’s final 15 starts of the year featured a 1.51 ERA with opponents hitting a measly .175/.229/.254. For the past two years, deGrom has been as close to a virtual lock for seven innings of two-run ball.
It doesn’t even make sense that this contract was possible. deGrom has a limited injury history, having made 30 starts in all but one of his five full MLB seasons. He was the NL Rookie of the Year in 2014 and was dominant in the playoffs in 2015. deGrom had a minor health hiccup in 2016, but still had a 3.04 ERA in 24 starts. The following year, he had his first 200-inning season and struck out 10.7 per nine. It’s been all up from there.
Strasburg opted out of a seven-year deal for $175 million despite having more injuries, only one 200-inning season and a higher career ERA. In the two years leading up to his first big contract, Strasburg logged 127.1 and 147.2 innings and made only 47 starts.
When working on deGrom’s extension, the Mets knew they had the leverage because he would not have reached free agency until he was set to enter his age-33 season. Age, however, may not have prevented deGrom from finding a huge payday as a free agent. Zack Greinke signed his six-year, $206.5-million contract after his age-31 season and is still going strong. Justin Verlander is working on a two-year, $66-million extension at the age of 36 and just won his second Cy Young.
For whatever reason, deGrom wasn’t willing to bet on his value continuing to climb.
With teams now more willing to put risk back on in free agency, the Mets fell backwards into the deal of a lifetime. Had he held out one more year, instead of signing at a moment in time when it looked like teams would never pay top dollar for a player in his thirties again, deGrom would have commanded another $40-50 million on a five-year deal.
For once in their history, everything came together to give the Mets a rare win when it comes to a player contract. Now all that’s left for fans to do is wait out another five years for Steve Cohen to come riding in and let them spend like a big-market franchise, at which point they’ll only owe Bobby Bonilla $1.2 million for another 10 years.