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Olney: Could the Mets really deal Jacob deGrom to the Yankees?


    Jacob deGrom has faced 12 batters with the bases loaded this year, and of those, nine have struck out and zero have gotten hits. There have been times when pitching coach Dave Eiland has visited the mound and deGrom has said flatly that he’ll get out of the jam, his words sounding nothing like a boast and everything like recitation of fact.

    So deGrom is everything that the New York Mets really need right now, in their worst of times, in his dominance and his leadership. But given the current challenges of the organization — the gray-beard age at the major league level, the lack of depth at the top of their farm system — they owe it to themselves to welcome offers from other clubs for deGrom and Noah Syndergaard, to at least understand what’s possible.

    And lest there be any doubt, deGrom would be the most sought-after commodity in the market, and because he’s 2 ½ seasons away from free agency and could potentially lead a team to three postseasons, the offers from contenders would probably surprise the Mets. They could reasonably ask for two elite major league-ready prospects, and two high-end guys from the lower minor league system. If Syndergaard demonstrates that he’s healthy before the All-Star break, he could generate similar interest.

    But the Mets won’t know for sure unless they go through the process of engaging other teams, setting a stratospheric price and then waiting to see if somebody is especially motivated. The Mets should talk to deGrom and Syndergaard and give them the same kind of heads-up that Tigers general manager Al Avila provided for J.D. Martinez, Justin Verlander and others last year: Look, your name is going to be in the rumor mill, and a lot of it is going to be false. Don’t believe anything until we tell you, and we’ll keep you in the loop if something gets really serious.

    And yes, the Mets should welcome offers from the Yankees, who may well be capable of producing the best offer because they are highly motivated, with a chance to win the World Series in the immediate future, and because they have the best farm system. The old-school philosophy has always been that you don’t talk trade with your rivals, including the team that vies with you for backpage attention in your city.

    But that really is kind of dumb, and is generally outdated. Longtime Oakland executive Billy Beane has always chuckled about that, believing that the only criterion for making a deal is: Does it make you better? If the Mets traded deGrom to the Yankees, yes, it would be hard for the Mets and their fans to see deGrom celebrating with Yankees teammates in the postseason. But they could assuage those feelings by knowing that the players they got in the big haul could be capable of giving the Mets many seasons worth of production.

    With all that said, I think there’s a better chance of Patriots coach Bill Belichick giving emotional and introspective news-conference answers than there is of the Mets and Yankees ever working out a deGrom or Syndergaard trade. Regardless, the Mets’ current situation is so bleak that they really need to explore every option to improve the organization, and that includes assessing offers for their two most popular and marketable players.

    If they don’t get the offers they want, the Mets can say no and try to figure out a way to improve the team around the two aces.

    News from around the major leagues

    In presenting the idea of a four-pitcher limit the other day, I mentioned how the union really needs the starting pitchers to regain their preeminence because they have historically been the players through which the salary ceiling was driven upward — from Catfish Hunter to Roger Clemens to Kevin Brown to Pedro Martinez, CC Sabathia, Justin Verlander, Clayton Kershaw and David Price. Because of the recent trend of limiting most starting pitchers to about two turns through the opponents’ lineup, they are accomplishing less in volume and are less important than they used to be.

    Through the union’s really rough winter of 2017-18, some players and agents took solace in the fact that relievers, at least, were relatively well-compensated, with significant financial competition for relievers such as Wade Davis, Brandon Morrow and Tommy Hunter. But the trajectory in how teams are deploying and compensating pitchers should scare the hell out of the players’ association, and may eventually tamp down the salaries of the relievers, as well.

    As teams use more and more relievers, some shuttling back and forth from the minors, they are naturally relying less and less on particular pitchers, while creating a larger pool of relievers. Consider the number of free-agent relievers who have signed major league contracts in the past eight years:

    Number of relievers to sign MLB deals in free agency

    2017-18: 39

    2016-17: 32

    2015-16: 33

    2014-15: 14

    2013-14: 29

    2012-13: 28

    2011-12: 29

    After 2011, that first season in the series, 39 starting pitchers threw 200 or more innings. Last year, only 15 starters got to 200 innings, yet another sign of how the workload is being shifted to the growing pool of relievers — and as those relievers accumulate service time, inevitably, the number of bullpen guys to reach free agency is going to grow. This will give teams even more choices and less reason to pay the price for the high-end relievers.

    So it would behoove the union to not only work to restore the stature of the starting pitchers, but also to foster conditions in which the better relievers will be in demand. For now, the sport is moving toward a time when pitchers are more like workers on an assembly line — more interchangeable, with less opportunity for their work to stand out and earn the accompanying compensation.

    • Masahiro Tanaka’s double hamstring injury suffered while running the bases Friday night is an example of why there is building sentiment among some of baseball’s young and progressive general managers toward the adoption of the designated hitter in the National League. The newest generation of executives use analytics to steer around risk, and this is why some of them would be strongly in favor of preventing pitchers from hitting or bunting or running the bases. Asked one: “Is there anything more ridiculous in baseball than watching an American League pitcher try to hit?”

    • The Yankees’ Luis Severino starts against the Mets’ Seth Lugo on Sunday Night Baseball, and about 15 minutes before he goes to warm up tonight, he will pop in a seven-minute video he created that is filled entirely with highlights of Hall of Famer Pedro Martinez striking out opposing hitters. Martinez was Severino’s favorite pitcher even before he met him — Severino acknowledged Saturday with a laugh that he showed up at 11 a.m. for a 1 p.m. first-time meeting with Martinez, because he wanted to make sure he would not be late because he loved his mound presence, the way that he commanded his stuff and commanded the field.

    • Most pitchers will retreat to the same spot on the bench as they await their next inning, but Lugo will often seek out pitching coach Eiland to go over scouting reports on the three hitters due to bat in the next half-inning. Lugo feels it helps him to remain focused on the task at hand, and Eiland says Lugo does a tremendous job of pitching to the scouting reports.

    • If Shohei Ohtani can avoid Tommy John surgery — and that’s an open question right now — his rehabilitation will be complicated by his two-way skills. If he gets clearance to resume baseball activities in a few weeks, he will presumably be ready to return as a hitter sooner than as a pitcher. While the Angels would welcome that, it would mean that he would not be able to be assigned minor league rehabilitation starts, because he’d be on the active roster. Rather, he’d have to throw simulated games, and given his staggering athleticism, the Angels believe he could make that work.

    • Once the Yankees begin the process of seriously evaluating possible trade targets, they may start with a phone call to the Giants to ask if Madison Bumgarner is available. Once San Francisco says no, then the Yankees could focus on the likes of the Blue Jays’ J.A. Happ, the Tigers’ Matthew Boyd, the Twins’ Kyle Gibson, the Rangers’ Cole Hamels — and the Rays’ Blake Snell, whose price tag would probably scare off general manager Brian Cashman. … Mariners GM Jerry Dipoto pulled off one of the most productive trades of the past decade, when he swapped pitcher Taijuan Walker and Ketel Marte in return for shortstop Jean Segura, who is vying with Jose Altuve for the most hits in MLB this season, and Mitch Haniger, a shutdown defender who is powering the offense of first-place Seattle. … This past week saw a big shift in the balance of power in the NL West. Bumgarner rejoined the Giants’ rotation with a solid six-inning start, and he’ll make his next start Monday in Miami; presumably, he’ll build on the 91-mph fastballs he threw in his first outing. Arizona’s Paul Goldschmidt has seemingly shrugged off his brutal start and is now red-hot — in one three-game stretch, he went 10-for-14 — and the Dodgers’ Cody Bellinger, who may have been in jeopardy of a demotion to the minors, began punishing pitchers again.

    Baseball Tonight Podcast

    Friday: Cubs GM Jed Hoyer, on the changing effects of Wrigley Field, Yu Darvish and the front-office legacy of Hoyer and Theo Epstein; Karl Ravech on the idea of a four-pitcher limit; and Dave Schoenfield on a player building the worst season in baseball history.

    Thursday: Keith Law with a draft-and-follow, and his view on whether the Mets should market deGrom and Syndergaard; Sarah Langs and The Numbers Game; a conversation with White Sox pitching coach Don Cooper about trends in the game and his team’s rebuilding effort.

    Wednesday: Tigers GM Al Avila on No. 1 pick Casey Mize, and Avila’s transparency in discussing the team’s plans; Boog Sciambi on some pitching dominance; the inaugural Power 10, because we don’t like getting yelled at for other people’s work and would rather be yelled at for our own; and Paul Hembekides on his least favorite baseball narrative.

    Tuesday: Jerry Crasnick on Giancarlo Stanton’s displeasure with Mike Fiers and about a very underrated side of Mike Trout; Stephania Bell with updates on Clayton Kershaw and Dustin Pedroia; Sarah Langs plays the Numbers Game; and Todd Radom’s quiz.

    Monday: Keith Law and Tim Kurkjian discuss Goldschmidt’s early-season struggles, and a chat with FanGraphs’ Eric Longenhagen about the draft.

    And today will be better than yesterday.



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