New York Mets ace Jacob deGrom has caught his share of flak over the recent developments (or lack thereof) in his extension talks with the organization. Most controversy has been linked to deGrom’s hints at a potential innings limit in 2019. For those unsure or in need of a direct quote, deGrom told New York Post writer Mike Puma the following late last week:
“You play this game because you love it and then you have an opportunity to look out for your family and your future, so you have to see what’s right for you to do and I think that’s a discussion that’s going to have to be had with my agents.”
The “that” in this response concerns the prospect of adopting an innings limit this coming season so as to protect his arm – a strategy his CAA agent Jeff Berry has advised his players adopt in order to combat what he has described as Major League Baseball owners’ collective “weaponizing” of “aging curves and usage rates against players.”
The tactic, per Berry, is meant to “outsource a comprehensive study that analytically supports recommended guidelines for player usage for the stated purpose of maximizing health and performance, maintaining and improving tools and athleticism and mitigating age- and usage-related decline,” and is not exclusive to deGrom (more information can be found in this additional Puma article).
Despite the connotations of the headline in both New York Post pieces, it’s imperative that executives, fans, and writers understand that no threats or ultimata beyond deGrom hinting at a “discussion” have come into the picture – not even remotely. Taking quotes out of context, unfortunately, remains a common, damning habit in sports media, and a recent interview with New York Yankees starters James Paxton and Luis Severino, rooted in that very art, has suddenly thrown a wrench into a rather mundane issue.
Both pitchers were asked by Randy Miller of NJ Advanced Media for their opinions on the recent statements deGrom made. Miller leads off with misinformation, writing that deGrom is “telling reporters at Mets’ spring training headquarters in Port St. Lucie, Fla., that he might limit his innings this season if he doesn’t get a multi-year contract extension before Opening Day.”
Deliberate or not, the responses to Miller’s question subsequently create a whole new conflict – one beyond the superficial Yankees-Mets turf war that in itself is best served in a freezer at the bottom of the East River.
Paxton took a more modest route in his response – perhaps the reason he isn’t featured on headlines, saying “I don’t know the thought process on that because I’m trying to get to the point where I can stay healthy and get as many innings as I can… “I’m trying to get close or over 200 innings just to show everyone that I can do it.”
Severino echoed Paxton’s sentiments, but topped them off with an add-on that should concern Mets fans, but even baseball fans in general, exclaiming “I would never do that… He’s making money. He’s making $17 million!” Severino adds, “he’s going to get his money anyway. DeGrom has only one year left with arbitration. He’s going to make a lot of money.”
There’s really no stock in picking apart Severino’s merits as player, much less one with a less pronounced track record and less service time. Doing so ultimately lends a hand to the crosstown rivalry aspect, and ignores the broader implications. That said, somebody who literally signed an extension three days ago – backloading it evidently in anticipation of a labor strike following the CBA’s expiration in 2021 – has no business telling anybody how to go about getting their money.
What cannot be lost in these conversations, and moreover the ensuing coverage of what Severino has said as well as what deGrom has “said,” is the image that such comments will inevitably perpetuate. Accepting a $17MM offer to avoid going to arbitration against a team, even if the player in question is worth considerably more (at least relative to other star-caliber pitchers in the league), is not something that should ever be flipped around and held over someone of Jacob deGrom’s stature.
To a layperson, $17 million is no amount of money to cry over. To an elite athlete in a crumbling market, being told to grin and bear it and promptly being villainized by the media, even more so by a player you share a city with, is a bad omen, at best. As news outlets and talk shows do everything within their power to mold the situation into a standoff between a team trying to get a foot back in the door and a “selfish” or “ungrateful” superstar player, fans should bear in mind the aspersions that have been cast towards such names as Tom Seaver, Dwight Gooden, Johan Santana, and Matt Harvey in their final days wearing the orange and blue. Sure, they varied in their respective abilities and attitudes, but with each potential franchise player, their undoing is rooted in the very same methods of disrespect, gaslighting, and outright character assassination that have soured the current relationship between Major League Baseball players, representatives, owners, and the media.
To anybody that enjoys watching baseball every night of the week from April through October, any player being shamed into laying a bed they did not make should be greatly concerning, especially as the images of greed materialize. In the same way that continued rumblings of collusion and declining marketability of the game have spurred tensions between commissioner Rob Manfred and a handful of different players (more links), sitting idly by and scapegoating those unhappy with the circumstances should not be condoned in any way.
Even as it currently stands, deGrom is a victim in this situation. Severino’s apology will rightfully ease any tension that had once existed between the players, but the sentiment has already been given its voice. When deGrom inevitably snaps and “confirms” whatever contrived notions currently circulate of him “asking for too much,” it should be understood what created this mess in the first place, as well as what inevitably happens next. It wasn’t a threat. It wasn’t asking too much. It was a tipping point.