Ranking Jacob deGrom's Potential Landing Spots amid Mets Opt-Out Rumors

Zachary D. RymerSeptember 6, 2022

Ranking Jacob deGrom's Potential Landing Spots amid Mets Opt-Out Rumors

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    Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

    If Jacob deGrom is with the New York Mets come Opening Day of 2023, it may be because they were able to fend off other suitors for him in free agency this winter.

    The two-time Cy Young Award winner still has a player option on his contract, plus a club option for 2024. Yet deGrom made it clear in March that opting out and testing the open market was "the plan." On Thursday, Jon Heyman of the New York Post reported that the right-hander is still expected to do so.

    He also wrote that "some believe [deGrom] will shoot to become the first $50 million player" in Major League Baseball. That's per year, of course.

    A $50 million average annual value would be no small step up from the current high-water mark of $43.3 million, set by the three-year, $130 million deal that Max Scherzer signed with the Mets last December.

    So, is deGrom actually worth that much per year? And either way, which teams could conceivably make a run at him on the open market?

    Albeit with a hefty dose of speculation, let's take a whack at answering these questions.

Is deGrom Really Worth $50 Million Per Year?

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    Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

    Short answer? Sure.

    One might disagree if one is inclined to get hung up on deGrom's age- and durability-related red flags. He's already 34 years old, and elbow and shoulder injuries have limited him to just six starts since the second half of last season.

    When deGrom is healthy, though, he's a pitcher unlike any other in today's game.

    The last five seasons have seen deGrom pitch to a 1.94 ERA, translating to a 204 ERA+ worthy of peak Pedro Martínez. He's struck out nearly seven times as many batters (829) as he's walked (122) in this span, and his recent injuries clearly haven't robbed him of the stuff and command that have made these numbers possible.

    Since his long-awaited return from the IL on Aug. 2, deGrom has been sitting at 99.4 mph with his fastball and 93.1 mph with his slider. To boot, his ability to disguise and spot those two pitches remains uncanny:

    Rob Friedman @PitchingNinja

    Jacob deGrom, 99mph Fastball and 93mph Slider, Overlay <a href="https://t.co/i4bC5i0d1q">pic.twitter.com/i4bC5i0d1q</a>

    Assuming he does opt out after the conclusion of the 2022 season, nobody would be able to fault deGrom for thinking he can do better than the $63 million he otherwise would have made through 2024 under his current deal. And if anyone in baseball is a candidate to land a $50 million AAV, it's surely him.

    As for which teams might be ready, willing and able to sign deGrom to that kind of contract, it goes without saying that deep pockets are a must. If a team also has luxury tax flexibility—the tax is calculated according to AAV, after all—and a supporting cast capable of attaining deGrom's unfulfilled quest for a World Series ring, even better.

    With these things in mind, let's rank 10 plausible bidders for his services on the 2022-23 market.

10-6: Giants, Red Sox, Astros, Atlanta, Phillies

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    Stephen Maturen/Getty Images

    10. San Francisco Giants

    Current Record: 65-68, Third in NL West

    2023 Luxury Tax Allocations: $99.2 Million

    The Giants are more than $130 million south of the $233 million luxury tax threshold for 2023, and that's with left-hander Carlos Rodón and third baseman Evan Longoria in the mix. The former is likely to exercise an opt-out, according to Heyman, while the latter's $13 million option might be declined by the Giants.

    But while all this hints at plenty of financial space for deGrom, the Giants' precarious contention timeline looms as a potential deal-breaker. They'd be better off making long-term maneuvers, up to and including a mega-deal with Linden, California native Aaron Judge.

    9. Boston Red Sox

    Current Record: 67-69, Fifth in AL East

    2023 Luxury Tax Allocations: $128.9 Million

    The Red Sox have a long list of pending free agents, and shortstop Xander Bogaerts is likely to join it by way of the opt-out in his contract. As Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic argued, the pressure will be on Boston to make good use of its upcoming flexibility.

    Like the Giants, however, the Red Sox are also in a bit of a limbo with their contention window. That could be a turn-off for deGrom even if Boston makes a run at him, though the club's respected farm system could perhaps sway him to take a chance.

    8. Houston Astros

    Current Record: 87-48, First in AL West

    2023 Luxury Tax Allocations: $85.9 Million

    Speaking of decorated aces with opt-out clauses, it sounds as if Justin Verlander has eyes on exercising the opt-out that he triggered when he surpassed the 130-inning threshold in August, per Rosenthal. If he does, the Astros will have an opening for a No. 1 starter in their rotation.

    DeGrom would obviously fit nicely in such an opening, and the Astros surely need no introduction as a World Series contender. It's nonetheless hard to shake the notion that even if Verlander does opt out, he'll promptly end up back in Houston on a new deal anyway.

    7. Atlanta

    Current Record: 84-51, Second in NL East

    2023 Luxury Tax Allocations: $152.9 Million

    Back in early July, there was a bit of a stir when ESPN's Buster Olney tweeted about Atlanta possibly being the favorites for deGrom if he followed through on his intentions to opt out:

    Buster Olney @Buster_ESPN

    There is a perception in some corners of the industry that if Jacob deGrom follows through with what he said in the spring and opts out of his Mets' contract, the Braves will be the favorites to land him.

    There was room for skepticism even at the time, however, and even more so now that Atlanta has committed $284 million to third baseman Austin Riley and rookie center fielder Michael Harris II. Meanwhile, young starters Max Fried, Kyle Wright, Spencer Strider, Mike Soroka and Ian Anderson are also under team control for 2024 and beyond.

    6. Philadelphia Phillies

    Current Record: 73-61, Third in NL East

    2023 Luxury Tax Allocations: $130.4 Million

    Even though the Phillies rank fifth from the top for luxury tax allocations for 2023, that still puts them more than $100 million below next year's threshold. Plus, they could gain an extra $17 million by declining second baseman Jean Segura's option.

    If the Phillies were to channel this flexibility into a run at deGrom, the idea would be to arrange a super-trio of him, Zack Wheeler and Aaron Nola while simultaneously robbing the Mets. Yet this may be little more than a fun thought, as it's hard to imagine the Mets letting deGrom defect to Atlanta, the Phillies or any other National League East rival.

5. New York Yankees

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    Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images

    Current Record: 81-54, First in AL East

    2023 Luxury Tax Allocations: $122.4 Million

    The Yankees as a possible fit for deGrom? Look, you knew it was coming. You also have to admit it's a darned intriguing idea.

    Signing deGrom away from the Mets would be the kind of flex that Yankees owner Hal Steinbrenner arguably needs to make to prove that his organization is still king of the hill in New York. It would also mean arranging a deGrom-Gerrit Cole super-duo the likes with which few, if any, other American League rotations could contend.

    The financials should also be possible, and not just because these are the Yankees we're talking about. They have a fair amount of salary set to come off their books this winter, which isn't even counting the extra $12.2 million they could free up by taking the $2.8 million buyout on right-hander Luis Severino's $15 million option.

    But now for the cold water.

    As SNY's Andy Martino wrote in July, Steinbrenner and Mets owner Steve Cohen have a "collegial" relationship that could get in the way of, say, deGrom and Judge switching sides. The Yankees indeed figure to be more preoccupied with re-signing Judge, which Heyman says is something that "most expect" to happen even after extension between the two sides talks famously stalled in April.

4. St. Louis Cardinals

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    Scott Kane/Getty Images

    Current Record: 79-56, First in NL Central

    2023 Luxury Tax Allocations: $55.5 Million

    This season will mark the end of an era for the Cardinals. It's the last go-round for slugger Albert Pujols and catcher Yadier Molina. Right-hander Adam Wainwright said it's "almost certainly my last year" on the R2C2 podcast in January.

    On the plus side, those three alone account for $30 million in salary that will come off the Cardinals' books this winter. Factoring in the $21 million they'll be getting from the Colorado Rockies to cover Nolan Arenado's $35 million salary if he indeed forgoes his opt-out, per Heyman, the Redbirds project to have some money to invest this winter.

    A contract for deGrom would be as good a place as any for St. Louis to put those plentiful dollars. He'd slide into Wainwright's shoes ahead of Miles Mikolas, Jordan Montgomery and Jack Flaherty, making for a potential super-rotation.

    Being backed by Arenado and current NL MVP front-runner Paul Goldschmidt could be still another selling point for deGrom, and then there's the team's impressive cache of young hitters. Dylan Carlson, Brendan Donovan, Nolan Gorman and Lars Nootbaar already have good things going in the majors. Meanwhile, super-prospect Jordan Walker looms in the minors.

    But given that Matt Holliday's seven-year, $120 million contract from 2010 is still the biggest free-agent deal in the team's history, it's just not really like the Cardinals to make such a huge splash on one free agent. They may be more likely for an aggregate splash on smaller deals with multiple players.

3. San Diego Padres

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    Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images

    Current Record: 74-62, Second in NL West

    2023 Luxury Tax Allocations: $159.3 Million

    In reality, the Padres' luxury tax allocations for next season should actually be much lower than its projection. It's beyond likely that they'll choose to pay the $1 million buyout on Wil Myers' $20 million option for next season.

    As for what will come after that, president of baseball operations A.J. Preller will almost certainly be focused on his starting rotation this winter. Joe Musgrove, Yu Darvish and Blake Snell are all controlled through next season, but MacKenzie Gore is out of the picture, and Mike Clevinger and Sean Manaea are due for free agency.

    This, naturally, is where deGrom could come in.

    As his past dealings include $300 million contracts for Manny Machado and Fernando Tatis Jr. and the recent blockbuster trade for Juan Soto, going all-out for the best pitcher in baseball would fit with Preller's general style. He could further hope to sell deGrom on being a San Diego legend if he were to help deliver an elusive championship to the city.

    Compelling, to be sure, but the Padres might nonetheless be out of luck if deGrom finds himself drawn to brighter lights and a more direct route to the World Series.

2. Los Angeles Dodgers

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    Harry How/Getty Images

    Current Record: 92-42, First in NL West

    2023 Luxury Tax Allocations: $86.2 Million

    If you can't beat 'em, sign 'em?

    This might be reason enough for the Dodgers to pursue deGrom. He's dominated them throughout his career, posting a 2.71 ERA in 11 regular-season starts and allowing just two runs over 13 innings against them in the 2015 National League Division Series. them in the 2015 National League Division Series.

    Further, the rotation should be the primary target for upgrades as the Dodgers seek to make the most of their upcoming flexibility this winter. Longtime ace Clayton Kershaw and fellow lefties Andrew Heaney and Tyler Anderson have dates with free agency, while Walker Buehler will miss 2023 recovering from Tommy John surgery.

    Though there would still be room for an additional starter, signing deGrom would give the Dodgers a dangerous foursome of him, Julio Urías, Tony Gonsolin and Dustin May. The team's hitters would surely approve, right Mookie Betts?

    SNY Mets @SNY_Mets

    "He's pretty much the best, maybe the best to ever pitch."<br><br>- Mookie Betts on Jacob deGrom <a href="https://t.co/BRXpz4geZS">pic.twitter.com/BRXpz4geZS</a>

    As winners of three of the last five National League pennants and the 2020 World Series, the Dodgers wouldn't need to sell deGrom on their contention bona fides. And yet, even that, plus the truckload of money they can offer him, might not get him to move across the country.

1. New York Mets

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    Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

    Current Record: 85-50, First in NL East

    2023 Luxury Tax Allocations: $178.8 Million

    Though the idea of deGrom leaving the Mets can't be dismissed, it's not what the man himself wants. He said back in March that he wants to be a Met for life:

    SNY @SNYtv

    Jacob deGrom says "the plan" will be to opt out of his contract after the season, but he wants to be in constant contact with the Mets about returning:<br><br>"I love being a Met, it would be really cool to be one for my entire career." <a href="https://t.co/yV1lGNsAiu">pic.twitter.com/yV1lGNsAiu</a>

    The feeling is mutual, as Cohen made clear to Zach Braziller of the New York Post in August: "Listen, he certainly has the right to do that. We love Jacob, and I think he's the best pitcher in baseball. We'll do whatever we can to make sure he stays. But it's his decision, not ours."

    Granted, mutual interest in a reunion doesn't always lead to one. Lest anyone doubt it, just remember how lovey-dovey Atlanta and Freddie Freeman were with each other last fall.

    The Mets' financial situation could likewise complicate matters. With their luxury tax allocations presently more than $60 million over the $30 million threshold in 2022, they're slated to pay a $60 million surcharge on overages and have their highest selection in next year's draft moved down 10 places.

    At least, in theory, these are good excuses for the team to want to get back under the tax in 2023.

    In reality, though...well, you read what Cohen had to say. And with the largest net worth of any MLB owner, he certainly has the ability to put his money where his mouth is—even if it means resetting MLB's average annual value record all over again.

    Stats courtesy of Baseball Reference and FanGraphs. Payroll data courtesy of Spotrac.


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