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Mets ace Jacob deGrom is ready to reach new heights in 2021

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - SEPTEMBER 09: Jacob deGrom #48 of the New York Mets smiles as he walks to the dugout after the final out of the seventh inning against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Citi Field on September 09, 2019 in New York City. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NEW YORK - SEPTEMBER 09: Jacob deGrom #48 of the New York Mets smiles as he walks to the dugout after the final out of the seventh inning against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Citi Field on September 09, 2019 in New York City. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
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When New York Mets ace Jacob deGrom sat down in front of the media for his first press conference of the spring on February 19, he was his usual focused and intense, yet relaxed self. As usual, deGrom kept the focus on the bigger picture of the whole Mets roster, reiterating his usual spring training refrain of how “the team’s goal is to win a World Series.”

For the past several spring trainings, deGrom has added on to that “team goal” refrain by stating that his personal goal is to win the Cy Young that season. In 2018 and 2019, he did that. In 2020, he came up just short, but finished third in the voting.

“Almost every year we talk about the few starts that I’ve had that I’ve got to kind of recover from. I think a couple starts did hurt me,” said deGrom. “[Winning the Cy Young] is definitely a goal of mine. I think I say that every year. The goal for me is to be the best pitcher I can be, and that’s going to help us win baseball games. . . you still set personal goals, and my goal is to win another Cy Young.”

If I were a fellow National League pitcher playing the Mets, I would not want to face off against a Jacob deGrom looking to avenge his 2020 shortcomings.

Hearing deGrom confidently say every spring training that his goal is to win the Cy Young, and knowing that he has an extremely good chance of doing so, is just about the most comforting sentence in Metsland. It’s up there with, “Gary, Keith, and Ron are back for another year of SNY broadcasts.”

One thing deGrom confirmed during this press conference which we all basically assumed going in: no, he did not take it upon himself to recruit Trevor Bauer to New York. I would have been shocked if he said anything to the contrary on this subject.

“Honestly, I didn’t keep up with it too much,” said deGrom. “Anybody we could add to help was definitely going to be a plus. . . but he decided to go to LA and that was his choice. That’s part of going to free agency. He definitely would have been a help here, but we’ve got who we have and we’ve got a pretty good starting rotation.”

Throughout the offseason, deGrom clearly focused on making sure he can continue pitching at the highest possible level for years to come, rather than concerning himself with who the Mets might sign to pitch behind him in the rotation.

What might have personally impacted deGrom more than the Mets not signing Bauer was when they traded Steven Matz to the Toronto Blue Jays on January 27. Matz and deGrom were drafted one year apart, debuted one year apart, and had Tommy John surgery at around the same time in 2010. Various articles through the years have made it well-documented that they are best friends.

In a “Congratulations from your teammates!” video that the Mets released after deGrom won the 2019 NL Cy Young, Matz said in his segment, “If you would have told me eight years ago when we were fishing on the lake that you won two Cy Youngs in a row, I would have laughed in your face. But congrats, really proud of you. You deserved it, you earned it. Good luck on that speech, because I know that’s not going to be easy.”

When asked about Matz’s departure in this intro press conference, deGrom expressed some evident sadness about a close friend, even more than just a teammate, going to a new team.

“I wished him the best,” said deGrom. “He’s going to go there and be a starter, and I wish him success. He’s a good friend, a really good friend, that I enjoyed being around. I guess that’s all you can do, wish somebody the best.”

We may not get any more of those fun SNY videos of deGrom and Matz “horsing around” in the Mets clubhouse, but that’s a price I think most Mets fans are willing to pay for seeing Matz hopefully turn it around with a new team.

In his fifteen-minute presser, deGrom was also asked about his decision to switch agencies. He had previously been represented by CAA (and his previous agent was none other than Brodie Van Wagenen, pre-Mets GM tenure), but on November 7, 2020, it was reported that he had left CAA to be represented by VC Sports Group, which also counts Mookie Betts among its notable MLB clients.

“It was just a decision that I decided to make. I thought about it, I enjoyed my time with CAA, but at that time I felt like it was time for me to move,” said deGrom.

For anyone unaware, Van Wagenen has not returned to CAA since the Mets fired him after last season. He is now working at Roc Nation Sports, far away from having any influence on deGrom’s future contracts.

There were a curious number of questions related to deGrom’s “desire to be a Met for life,” “how many years he thinks he has left in the tank,” and if he feels any “urgency” to win a World Series as soon as possible, as if his impending retirement should be an imminent concern. Though deGrom will be 33 in June, he has only been pitching since his college days and seemingly gets more dominant every year. I would be willing to bet that most Mets fans, like deGrom himself, do not want to think too far ahead and imagine a Mets team post-deGrom.

Hopefully, they won’t have to for a very long time. deGrom has only been in the majors for seven seasons, and all signs point to him having plenty left in the tank to compete at a high level for at least seven more.

“I wouldn’t say the window is closing. I would hope not,” he said, flashing a wide grin. “I feel almost better than when I first came into the league. . . I think I can compete at this level for quite a bit longer.”

That is certainly music to the ears of Mets fans everywhere who have waited impatiently all offseason to see their beloved ace back on the mound.

deGrom did mention that he thought it was “really cool” how David Wright was able to spend his entire career in New York and get an extremely warm send-off when his time was up in 2018. Wright has spoken about his relationship with deGrom on many occasions, and told a very entertaining story about a locker room incident involving a frustrated deGrom in an episode of “The Cookie Club” last year.

One can only hope that deGrom’s career will finish, far in the future, with more of a flourish than did Wright’s last few injury-plagued years. If there is one New York Met who fans want to see win a World Series more than anyone else, it is deGrom.

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deGrom is now of such an elite caliber that media and fans alike expect him to be almost superhumanly good each year. However, judging by his first press conference of the spring, it is clear that after all these years, no one puts higher expectations on deGrom than he does. He has the mental makeup of a champion, a devastating pitching arsenal, and a megawatt smile that could power all of New York City. He is ready to dominate for another season, and we are all ready to watch.

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