How Jacob deGrom decided to ditch New York and become a Texas Ranger

by Daryn Albert - In a whirlwind few days, deGrom signed a five-year deal that shattered expectations for this contract. But the seeds of the move had been planted long ago.

How Jacob deGrom decided to ditch New York and become a Texas Ranger Christopher Pasatieri/Getty Images 10:00 AM ET Buster OlneyESPN Senior Writer Close Senior writer ESPN Magazine/ESPN.com Analyst/reporter ESPN television Author of "The Last Night of the Yankee Dynasty" Chris Young, the head of baseball operations for the Texas Rangers , called Bruce Bochy on Thursday with news that stunned the new manager. "Jacob wants to come with us," Young said. Bochy's response: "Are you kidding me?" Bochy knew the Rangers were going to be aggressive in their negotiations with Jacob deGrom , and he had been impressed by the pitcher in a Zoom meeting with deGrom and his wife, Stacey Harris, in the days before Thanksgiving. But Bochy had assumed that the process would play out for days and perhaps weeks to come as deGrom considered the possibility of leaving the New York Mets , the organization that had drafted him in 2010. Instead, deGrom made his decision quickly, agreeing to terms on a five-year, $185 million million contract without even giving the Mets an opportunity to present a final offer, based on interviews with a dozen sources involved in deGrom's free agency. According to sources, Mets general manager Billy Eppler learned about deGrom's deal with the Rangers on Friday evening, just minutes before the news broke -- and more than a day after deGrom had closed his deal with Texas. For some in the Mets' organization, that last bit of silent treatment from deGrom was confirmation of what they had suspected even during the season: that deGrom, the Cy Young Award-winning pitcher who warmed up to Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Simple Man" before his starts, probably preferred to pitch somewhere other than New York City. In the end, the Mets' contract offer to deGrom -- something in the range of $115 million over three years -- fell far short of the Rangers' deal, which includes a full no-trade clause and a conditional option for 2028 that could drive the value of the contract to $222 million. ("Really, it's a six-year deal," one evaluator said.) The Atlanta Braves -- a team that may well have been deGrom's first choice -- also engaged in discussions with deGrom's representatives, but stepped away as the bidding spiraled upward in recent days. Editor's Picks An ace to the NL East? Two star catchers on the move? Eight trades we want to see at the winter meetings 2d Bradford Doolittle and David Schoenfield 1 Related The Mets' front office had no intention of offering anything close to where the winning bid landed, not for a pitcher who over the past two seasons had spent more days on the injured list than on the active roster. In the end, there was some relief in the Mets' organization that they will not bear the risk of a whopper deGrom contract, or the inherent complications attached to a pitcher who has missed so much time with a range of problems. Throughout deGrom's career with the Mets, he was a respected teammate, especially for how he handled a chronic lack of run support. He would allow just a run or two and the Mets would lose, and deGrom's message to reporters was consistent: His job was to outpitch his opponent that day, and if he failed to do that, well, he needed to be better. DeGrom posted a 2.05 ERA in 64 starts in 2018 and 2019 and won just 21 games, but he never blamed the offense or the defense. He was revered for his competitiveness But to some in the clubhouse, he also became a little more distant from teammates over his years in the organization; he was a private person who seemed to become a little more private. It was a perception likely exacerbated by that time away from the field -- 391 days passed between his last start in 2021 to his first start in 2022. Some teammates, like Francisco Lindor , developed a relationship with Steve Cohen after Cohen bought the Mets the fall of 2020, but friends felt that deGrom wasn't really interested in that. Ranking the top 50 MLB free agents How much will Judge, Correa, Turner and others get paid this winter? Kiley McDaniel breaks down this year's free agent class. Top 50 2022-23 free agents » DeGrom also had reduced his interactions with the large contingent of media that descends upon the Mets' clubhouse, regularly speaking to reporters after his starts but increasingly deflecting any other requests. Early in his career, deGrom had agreed to do in-game interviews in national broadcasts on the days he did not pitch. But as deGrom's stature in the game grew, that practice ended. Instead, deGrom preferred to just focus on pitching. He didn't seem particularly interested in the pomp and circumstance that can come from playing baseball in New York, a sentiment conveyed to members of the Braves even before this offseason. Based on their conversations with deGrom, some Atlanta players felt certain that if given the chance, deGrom -- who had grown up in Florida as a fan of the Braves -- would prefer to sign with the team he rooted for as a kid. When the Braves re-signed Charlie Morton to a one-year, $20 million deal in September, they theoretically rounded out their rotation. But in recent weeks, Atlanta explored the possibility of signing deGrom. He would have led a rotation that would also include Max Fried , Kyle Wright , Spencer Strider and Morton -- as an NL evaluator said, "Can you imagine a rotation where you have Charlie Morton as the No. 5?" Additionally, the Braves would have staggering depth behind that group, because Mike Soroka , Ian Anderson , Bryce Elder and other starters in the Atlanta system all have options to ferry to and from the minor leagues, as needed. But as Steve Veltman, deGrom's agent, pursued talks with the Rangers, it was evident that the final contract would go beyond the Braves' comfort level. Texas, as it tries to jump-start its franchise, is an extremely motivated buyer. The Rangers opened a new ballpark in 2020 season, but that unveiling was sabotaged by COVID-19, and last winter and this winter, the Texas ownership has opened its pockets in an effort to catch up in the highly competitive AL West and to regain the attention of would-be patrons. Last winter, the Rangers spent about a half-billion dollars on middle infielders Corey Seager and Marcus Semien , and in the early days of this offseason, Texas hired Bochy, who had led the Giants to titles in 2010, 2012 and 2014. But the Rangers still entered the winter badly needing upgrades in their rotation. Bochy first met deGrom, in 2015, when Bochy was the manager of the NL All-Star Game and deGrom, in his second year in the big leagues, was among the pitchers on his staff. DeGrom greeted Bochy genially, and to the manager, deGrom seemed incredibly humble. But Bochy's first impression was really shaped by what deGrom did when he took the mound to throw the sixth inning -- striking out all three American League hitters he faced in order, with just 10 pitches. Passan predicts the MLB offseason As free agency officially begins, here are the names, teams and themes that will dominate the hot stove headlines. Which teams will spend big? Who are favorites for Judge and deGrom? » Seven years later, Bochy's and deGrom's Zoom conversation went extremely well. To Bochy, it was clear that deGrom's focus was on family, on pitching, on competing. The Rangers continued to dig into deGrom's background, his preparation; they learned that deGrom was already assessing the housing market in the Dallas area. Said one of deGrom's friends from New York: "He'll probably wind up on a ranch." Veltman, who did not return a text message, moved quickly through his talks with the Rangers, who offered a deal far beyond even the most generous expectations -- and now deGrom might just end up on that ranch. The Mets, meanwhile, had been prepared for this possibility -- and even expected it. As word of the deGrom deal raced across the internet Friday evening -- as the Mets learned nearly alongside the rest of the world -- one member of the Mets' organization reminded another that he had correctly predicted deGrom's future back in May: The right-hander would return to pitch in the second half and then sign with the Rangers. So the team wasn't caught flat-footed: Earlier in the offseason, it had re-signed closer Edwin Diaz -- who threw almost as many innings as deGrom the last two seasons -- to a record-setting $102 million, and the front office has been engaged in talks with Justin Verlander and Carlos Rodon , who are viewed as the best available starters, as well as Chris Bassitt , who pitched for them last year. Jacob deGrom is moving on, and so are the Mets.