Aaron Judge's potential contract looms over everything the Yankees do this offseason, and if he somehow does not re-sign with the team that drafted and developed him, the Yanks will have a pile of money to spend elsewhere. That's how they could play at the top end of the starting pitching market, meaning - brace yourselves, Mets fans - Jacob deGrom.
Before you freak, know that what follows is an exercise in scoping the pros and cons of the Yankees signing deGrom, nothing more. Of course, who knows which way the free agent market takes one of the greatest Mets ever?
The Yanks certainly could use another elite starter as they try to navigate a path to the World Series. Jameson Taillon is a free agent. Frankie Montas is no sure thing. But even the mighty Houston Astros might have trouble with an ALCS foursome that includes deGrom, Gerrit Cole, Nestor Cortes and Luis Severino, assuming they're all healthy.
And that's what deGrom's free agency really comes down to, isn't it? How clubs perceive his durability and ability to take the mound going forward. Assuming deGrom is healthy, any team would want him - he's the best pitcher in baseball when fit, duh. The Yankees would be fools not to at least inquire.
Let's break it down:
If Judge really does go elsewhere, repairing the offense might be a bigger priority for the Yankees. Did you watch them last season? Without Judge's MVP performance, they were not great. Judge, like most everyone not named Harrison Bader, did not hit well during the postseason, so we have an idea of what that lineup looks like with an absent Judge. Not pretty.
So perhaps they invest their Yankeebucks in one of the big shortstops. Carlos Correa or Trea Turner, anyone?
Then, of course, there is deGrom's health, a risk. Let's recap: He was off to a dazzling start in 2021, a cinch to secure a third NL Cy Young Award and perhaps finish with numbers that would really pop off a Hall of Fame plaque. Then he went on the Injured List with forearm tightness, there was drama over the condition of his UCL, which he says is fine, and he never made it back to the mound that season.
Last spring, things looked good for a return, but he missed the first four months with a stress reaction in his scapula. He went more than a calendar year without appearing in a big league game. He's going to be 35 in June. While there's no shame in aging, of course, pitchers normally don't get healthier as they age.
When deGrom finally returned in August, he looked great and had a 1.66 ERA over his first seven starts. But deGrom wobbled after that, even as he kept piling up strikeouts. Over his final four starts of the regular season, he allowed 14 runs in 21 innings, a 6.00 ERA. Opponents slugged .515 against him in that span. He gave up six homers, including three in a loss to the Atlanta Braves, and that helped push his ERA to 3.08. He did get the victory in the Mets' only win in the postseason, allowing two runs in six innings against the San Diego Padres in Game 2 of the NL Wild Card Series.
Still, deGrom has thrown just 162.1 innings over the past two seasons over 27 starts, including the playoffs against San Diego.
And what's the money going to look like? He opted out of his Mets deal that would've paid him $30-plus million per season. This isn't a make-good pact; this could be a contract that eclipses Max Scherzer's $43.333 million average annual value. How many years is deGrom going to want?
It's Jacob deGrom. Next category, please.
But seriously, the world knows he's amazing. In his return, his fastball averaged nearly 99 miles per hour and his slider was a ridiculous 92.6 mph. The slider was the hardest in baseball among pitchers who threw 21-plus innings. He whiffed 53.6 percent of hitters with his slider, the third-highest strikeout rate on a single pitch, behind only Shohei Ohtani's splitter and Edwin Díaz's slider.
Overall, hitters swung and missed at 21.1 percent of his pitches. Opponents batted .175 against him and had a .202 on-base percentage. His strikeout-to-walk ratio was 12.75, the second-highest mark of his career. Last season, he allowed 1.3 homers per nine innings, the worst mark of his career. But he's generally good at suppressing home runs, which is an aid to any pitcher working at Yankee Stadium.
Wondering about big games? He's got a 2.90 ERA in the postseason. In the regular season in his nine-year career, deGrom's ERA is 2.52.
There just aren't many pitchers this good on the planet.
If there's no Judge return, it's probably worth the health risk for the Yankees to sign deGrom. It depends, we suppose, on how they view deGrom versus Justin Verlander versus Carlos Rodón.
Even with Judge, the Yanks probably need a starting pitcher, but perhaps they'll determine that Verlander for a presumably-shorter commitment is better. Or the soon-to-be-30-year-old Rodón is a better bet because of youth.
If deGrom did sign with the Yankees, that would sure add spice to the Yankees-Mets crosstown vibe. Maybe we should've included that in the "Pros" section. Spice is nice.
Ultimately, though, this probably plays into it - If deGrom stays local, why wouldn't he return to the Mets, the only organization he's ever known? It's hard to believe they'd be outbid for him, assuming he's healthy and wants to continue his New York story.