Mets ace Jacob deGrom hints at reducing workload if he doesn't get a contract extension

Baseball is in the air. Spring training camps across Arizona and Florida opened this week, and in another week Cactus League and Grapefruit League games will begin. You won't have to wait much longer for real, live baseball.

The New York Mets began spring training Wednesday and news quickly spread that Jacob deGrom's Cy Young award had been damaged as it was shipped from New York to his home in Florida. Check it out:

Probably not a good omen at the start of the spring training. The good news is deGrom's award is being repaired and the Mets can look forward to another two seasons with their ace. DeGrom is under team control as an arbitration-eligible player through 2020. After that? It's unclear.

Earlier this week new Mets GM Brodie Van Wagenen, deGrom's former agent, confirmed deGrom has set an Opening Day deadline for contract extension talks. He said he doesn't want it to be a distraction during the regular season, which is something we usually hear during contract talks this time of year. That gives the Mets until March 28 to sign deGrom to what figures to be a lifetime contract.

On Wednesday, deGrom addressed his contract status further, telling reporters that he might reduce his workload during the regular season should an extension not get done. He wants to make sure he protects his arm. Mike Puma of the New York Post has the details:

"You play this game because you love it and then you have an opportunity to look out for your family and your future, so you have to see what's right for you to do, and I think that's a discussion that's going to have to be had with my agents," deGrom said Thursday at First Data Field, following the first official workout of spring training for Mets pitchers and catchers. 

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"I would like to be part of this team's future," deGrom said. "I would like the feeling to be mutual, but that is just something that we are going to have to see. The main goal is just to get ready for the season and make sure I am ready to go out there and pitch." 

The Mets are quite familiar with self-imposed workload limits. Back in 2015 Matt Harvey and agent Scott Boras were quite open about protecting his arm in his first full season following Tommy John surgery. Harvey did pitch in the postseason en route to the team's NL pennant win, though his workload was a constant distraction that loomed over the team.

DeGrom, 30, threw 217 innings last season and he's thrown at least 190 innings in three of the last four seasons. He had surgery to treat a nerve issue in his elbow late in 2017 and also had Tommy John surgery late in 2010. Every pitcher should want to protect his arm, though there is a complicated dynamic here. The Mets went all-in this offseason. Would the staff ace really demand his workload be reduced when the team is in the race?

Presumably deGrom and his agent, Jeff Berry, are seeking Stephen Strasburg money. That is seven years and $175 million. The market was (much) different when Strasburg signed his extension three years ago, plus he was one year away from free agency, not two like deGrom, which gave Strasburg increased negotiating leverage. DeGrom and Berry can ask for Strasburg money. It's difficult to see them getting it in this climate though.

Very few starting pitchers at deGrom's service time level have signed long-term extensions in recent years. Most sign short-term two-year contracts that buy out their final arbitration years and zero free agent seasons. That gives the player a nice little guaranteed payday and the team cost certainty for two years. Here are the last three starters at deGrom's service time level to sign long-term extensions:

  • Matt Harrison (January 2013): Five years and $55 million with one option.
  • John Danks (December 2011): Five years and $65 million.
  • Justin Verlander (February 2010): Five years and $80 million.

Verlander is the only one of those three who is comparable to deGrom but remember where Verlander was in February 2010. He had a a 3.92 ERA (115 ERA+) and 15.3 WAR in 840 career innings, and was still two years away from his MVP/Cy Young season. DeGrom currently has a 2.67 ERA (143 ERA+) with 25.7 WAR in 897 2/3 innings, and he's won a Cy Young. He's been quite a bit better than Verlander through the same point in his career, plus we have almost a decade of inflation to consider.

That said, Verlander signed his extension when he was 26 years old. DeGrom is now 30 and that will work against him because teams are not paying top dollar for players on the wrong side of 30. And, if you're the Mets, you have to know deGrom will never have more leverage than he has right now. He was historically great last season and is coming off a Cy Young win. What are the odds he pitches that well again?

My guess is no, if push came to shove deGrom would not demand his workload be reduced during the regular season, especially if the Mets are in the race. This sounds like a textbook negotiating ploy and hey, maybe it'll work. Either way, I'm certain the Mets want to make deGrom a Met for life. The question is whether they can get it done before Opening Day 2019.

CBS Sports Writer

Mike Axisa joined CBS Sports in 2013. He has been a member of the BBWAA since 2015 and has previously written about both fantasy baseball and real life baseball for MLBTradeRumors.com, FanGraphs.com, RotoAuthority.com,... Full Bio

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