Jacob deGrom is the pitching Mike Trout.
We are watching genius wasted by organizations unable to build championship contenders despite being gifted the head start of someone who is the best at what they do.
Trout has played three playoff games in a decade, none of them wins. One postseason appearance for the best player of his generation and no signs from the 2020 Angels — even in an expanded playoff era — that they are close to becoming an October presence, much less a staple.
DeGrom, at least, has the run to the 2015 World Series and the 2016 wild card, the latter a one-and-done in which he did not start. Since then, he has ascended from excellent to the majors’ best starter. DeGrom has won the last two NL Cy Youngs and is in play for a third. He will carry a 1.69 ERA into his Friday start in Buffalo against the Blue Jays. But the Mets were just 13-22 when deGrom did not start this year.
That fuels an additional urgency for the Mets to find a way into the playoffs, because just how many more of these elite deGrom years are there to waste?
He is 32 and at the peak of his skills. But so was Corey Kluber in 2018. Kluber, who like deGrom did not become a major league starter until age 26, won 20 games in 2018 and finished in the top three for the AL Cy Young for the fourth time in five years, which included winning the award twice. But in his ages 33-34 seasons, Kluber has made a combined eight starts, his body betraying him, his career suddenly a question mark.
It is a reminder of capitalizing on brilliance today because who knows about tomorrow. And the Mets of 2019-20 have done a lousy job of maximizing today. They have squandered so much. The 2019 Mets had terrific health from their rotation and the Cy season from deGrom and the best rookie year in franchise history from Pete Alonso and surprise gifts from J.D. Davis and Dominic Smith and still could not translate that into even a wild card.
At this moment, the 2020 Mets are looking at top-three finishes in the Cy and Rookie of the Year (Andres Gimenez) and a top 10 for MVP (Michael Conforto). Yet they entered Wednesday five games under .500 and three games out of a playoff spot. They were making less from more, a symptom of this organization far too often.
DeGrom in many ways is the heir to Tom Seaver, a role with more poignancy this year. Seaver, though, at least had a World Series win in his first Cy Young year of 1969 and a run to Game 7 of the 1973 World Series in his second. He won a third Cy in 1975 and ended up forcing his way out of New York in 1977 angered over how a miserly, miserable front office handled his desire to both tack onto his undervalued contract and add better players.
Had he not signed his five-year, $137.5 million extension, deGrom would have accumulated the service time necessary to be a free agent this coming offseason. Instead, he may soon be working for the kind of deep-pocketed owner in Steve Cohen, who can lavish the Mets roster with whatever he wants.
But first Cohen has to be approved by the other owners — no sure thing — and before that the Mets have a season to conclude with their eyes still on making these playoffs — certainly no sure thing.
And if you need further illumination of what the Mets are wasting, know that Seaver appeared in 180 games from his rookie year (1967) through 1971. In that period, he had the majors’ best ERA-plus at 157 (minimum 900 innings) followed by Bob Gibson, Jerry Koosman, Ferguson Jenkins and Gaylord Perry. DeGrom is making the 180th regular season start Friday. His ERA-plus is 151, topped in that period (2014-20) only by Clayton Kershaw (173), but better than the 3-5 of Max Scherzer, Kluber and Zack Greinke.
The Mets have had a version of Seaver, especially these last three years and are looking at going 3-for-3 in not even making the playoffs. Cue the regret.