Jacob deGrom hasn't pitched in a Major League Baseball game in 12 months, but it's never too early to look ahead to his potential free agency.
Per ESPN's Buster Olney, there's a "perception in some corners of the industry" that the Atlanta Braves could be the favorites to sign the two-time National League Cy Young winner if he opts out of his deal with the New York Mets after this season.
Speaking to reporters during spring training, deGrom declared his intention to become a free agent by opting out of his $30.5 million salary for 2023.
"That's the business side of baseball," he said. "As a player, you build in opt-outs—that's the business side. But for me, I don't want that to be any distraction."
It was a bold statement for deGrom to make because of his recent injury history. He had two different stints on the injured list last season because of a shoulder injury. The right-hander made his final start in 2021 on July 7, striking out 10 in seven innings against the Milwaukee Brewers.
The Mets placed deGrom on the injured list to begin the 2022 season. He threw his first bullpen session of 19 pitches (all fastballs) on June 4.
If deGrom is able to return without issue and pitch anywhere close to the level that he has throughout his career, he will be arguably the most sought-after free-agent pitcher available.
Prior to getting shut down last season, deGrom was on his way to winning a third Cy Young Award. He finished with a 1.08 ERA and 146 strikeouts over 92 innings in 15 starts and still finished ninth in Cy Young voting despite not pitching for the final 12 weeks in 2021.
Even if there are some injury concerns, deGrom could potentially try to structure a deal like the one Justin Verlander received from the Houston Astros in November. The 39-year-old signed a two-year, $50 million contract after not pitching in 2021 because of Tommy John surgery.
The second year of Verlander's deal is a vesting option that turns into a player option if he throws 130 innings this season.
Atlanta does have the potential to be a major player in free agency this offseason. The club could potentially clear more than $70 million between free agents and club options.
If nothing else, the possibility of Atlanta being in on deGrom adds more fuel to the rivalry between two NL East foes.