You know who had a bad Friday night?
The Mets lost Jacob deGrom, but his signing in dollars spent and the team that landed him offered the blueprint by which Aaron Judge could leave the Yankees. Namely, a desperate organization with lots to spend making an offer that can’t be refused and won’t be matched, even by a New York team.
DeGrom will turn 35 in June. He has played sparingly the past two seasons due to worrisome arm issues. He is hardly known for his leadership skills. Yet he reached agreement with the Rangers on a five-year contract for $185 million that could grow to $222 million via a conditional sixth-year option. The guaranteed portion provides deGrom a $37 million annual average value, which is the second largest ever behind the $43.33 million of now ex-teammate Max Scherzer.
It won’t be second for long.
Judge will turn 31 in April. He has had two straight healthy seasons, including a record-breaking one in 2022. He is the Yankees’ leader on and off the field.
In spring training, Judge suggested he should be paid annually on par with Mike Trout’s position record of $35.5 million. Now, it is hard to believe that he won’t top deGrom’s $37 million, on a considerably longer contract. Will it be $40 million? Will it be more than Scherzer’s deal?
The biggest threats to the Yankees signing Judge — the Giants — have a lot in common with the Rangers (who were always seen as the biggest threat for deGrom): namely irrelevance, worrisome attendance and lots of payroll. Texas has not made the playoffs since 2016, opened its new stadium, Globe Life Field, in 2020 amid the pandemic and was 18th in average attendance in 2022 even after investing a half-a-billion dollars on middle infielders Corey Seager and Marcus Semien and going 68-94.
The Giants have made the playoffs just once since 2016, when they won 107 games in 2021. But they slumped back to 81-81 in 2022 and their attendance was down nearly 900,000 from 2016. They have only $18.5 million guaranteed to players in 2024, so like the Rangers purchasing Seager and Semien and still having dough for deGrom, the Giants can go big for their No. 1 target, Judge, and still have plenty to spread elsewhere this year and in the coming ones.
Will Judge leave?
We do not have the answers yet to a few questions:
1) Is Judge’s goal to stay, but he is going through the pantomime that he will leave to extract the most possible from the Yankees?
2) Is he going to whichever club gives him the most money?
3) If Judge is going to whichever club gives the most, is Hal Steinbrenner determined that will be his team, or will he tap out if the Giants do what the Rangers did with deGrom and soar somewhere that not even Steve Cohen would follow?
So we still don’t know if Judge will be in the home dugout when the season opens in The Bronx on March 30, 2023, or if he will be with the visiting Giants.
The Mets know now deGrom will not be in the home dugout when they host the Rangers on Aug. 28-30 at Citi Field. DeGrom had been the Mets’ starting-pitcher priority going into the offseason, and they offered three years at about $120 million. But by the day deGrom signed, there was no back and forth with the team that drafted him — no shot at a last counter. The Mets found out that he had signed via a courtesy conversation with his camp not long before the world did.
At some point, deGrom will provide further clarity about how much he truly wanted to stay in Queens. But the Rays made an offer believing he might give a discount to be home in Florida. Tampa Bay has been bold before when it wanted a player, offering Freddie Freeman seven years at $160 million last offseason. But considering where the dollars ended up, Tampa Bay was never really in the competition.
DeGrom was viewed as one of three big starters, along with Carlos Rodon and Justin Verlander, and the Mets began the offseason determined to sign one of them. That persists. But if they cannot secure Rodon or Verlander, the Mets could pivot to a duo such as Kodai Senga and Jameson Taillon and focus more intently on re-signing Brandon Nimmo.
The deGrom signing launched the big-boy market, with the Winter Meetings set to open Sunday.
The worst of the COVID pandemic is believed to be over, a new collective bargaining agreement has been signed and the game’s finances are again growing, so there seems a sport-wide willingness to spend. As one NL executive said, “There is a little less tanking and little more desire to be competitive, especially after expanded playoffs brought San Diego and Philadelphia [to the NLCS].”
An executive in the starting pitching market said that the prices are up because “you might be surprised who is ready to spend.” Perhaps not at the top of the market, but Baltimore, Kansas City and even Pittsburgh are expected to invest in rotation help as are behemoths, including both New York teams, the Dodgers, Giants and Red Sox.
But the Yankees and Giants can both also consider one of the big shortstops (the Yankees probably only if they lose Judge) from among Xander Bogaerts, Carlos Correa, Dansby Swanson and Trea Turner. The Phillies are fixated on that market, particularly on Turner, but if they strike out, they could play in the better part of the starting-pitcher market.
And many clubs are on Nimmo, who was described by one executive as “the darling of a lot of teams right now. Because he helps so many and won’t cost over $200 million. He just fits a lot of teams.”
Well, maybe he won’t cost $200 million. As the deGrom signing emphasized, there are motivated teams ready to spend and his agreement has more fully opened the floodgates.