The Mets don’t have to be unique. There are plenty of teams that wouldn’t have to use the departure of a player like Jacob deGrom as an excuse to declare it’s all over for them, that they’d have to find a new way, and to take a step back. You can get away with that if you’re the Astros and your minor leagues essentially act as an assembly line, but they’re a unicorn. But a lot of teams can lose a deGrom, or some other important player, and just roll up their sleeves and find someone else.
And yet it feels like only the Mets are willing to play this like the NBA would. They lose deGrom to Texas, who gave him five years which seems a big risk but also the going rate, and just step up to whatever it takes to get Justin Verlander. That’s $43 million a year for two years. That’s not really beyond most teams, given the length of the deal especially. And yet how many teams other than the Mets do you see doing so?
Maybe it’s the division the Mets are in. There isn’t a lot of room to back up, because you have the Braves that are still nailed on to win 95-100 games, and the Phillies still have their top-heavy roster that could pop up with nearly the same. It’s always an arms race in both East divisions.
For the Mets, they probably got a little better than they were. When deGrom is healthy, his peak now is probably better than Verlander’s. But the Rangers can’t possibly know if deGrom will be healthy. Verlander is 40, and only threw 175 innings last year, but that was his first season off of Tommy John surgery. Before his elbow injury, he’d thrown 200 innings in 12 of his previous 13 seasons.
Sure, there has to come a day when the bill of the 3,100 innings he’s thrown in the regular season, and the additional 200 in the postseason, will come due. But even with that, Verlander is a surer bet to throw 180 innings or so than deGrom now. He’s coming back from only one injury. Three or four things have gone TWANG! on deGrom in the past two seasons. It’s weird that even though Verlander is five years older and into his fifth decade, he’s more likely to be a staff ace. But that’s what makes him the unique creature that he is.
Verlander is also in a unique position in that he probably wasn’t looking for a four or five-year deal. Is he really planning to pitch when he’s 44? He certainly would have taken it if offered, but unlike deGrom, Verlander didn’t have to worry about getting as many years as he could. We should see more short-year, big-salary deals for players just below 30 and players like Verlander. The Mets can completely reset in two seasons when Scherzer’s and Verlander’s deals are up. They’ll have nearly $90 million to do what they want with. And if Scherzer continues to have injury problems or Verlander falls off Olympus simply due to age, they’re only living with these contracts for another season or two. Everyone wins here. The Mets still get flexibility, which other teams completely fuck over their present for, they still get great players, and Verlander still gets a salary worthy of his legendary status.
That doesn’t mean the Mets are set. They still have to figure out what is going on with Brandon Nimmo’s spot. It’s either Nimmo or someone who can play center and do at least some of the things Nimmo did. Starting Starling Marte in center every day is not a situation a team like the Mets should find themselves in. They’re still short on power. They need an arm or two to bridge to Edwin Diaz, especially if Scherzer and Verlander’s innings are going to be curbed in the regular season.
But because they acted like a New York team should act, acted like every team should act, they can get back to where they started. They have an advantage over Atlanta in that they’re willing to spend more. They have an advantage over Philly in that they can actually catch the ball and haven’t completely lopsided their roster that the Phillies can only cover up in short bursts like the playoffs.
Maybe you think the Mets are one of two or three teams that can lose a deGrom and maybe come out better. There are plenty who could, they just don’t. Which is why you’ll be hearing about the Mets for a while.