Jacob deGrom and Taijuan Walker are both headed to the free agent market, according to a media release from the MLB Players Association (via Twitter). As expected, deGrom opted out of the final guaranteed year of his contract, while Walker took a $3MM buyout rather than exercise a $7.5MM player option for the 2023 season.
deGrom was owed $30.5MM in 2023, and the Mets held a $32.5MM club option on the former two-time Cy Young Award winner for 2024. There is no doubt deGrom will find more than $30.5MM on the open market, as his skill level still supersedes some obvious questions about his health and long-term durability. Multiple injuries kept deGrom on the shelf for over an entire year, as he didn’t make a single MLB appearance between July 7, 2021 and August 2, 2022. Upon returning this season, deGrom still looked tremendous, posting a 3.08 ERA and a host of elite Statcast numbers.
Throughout his injury hiatus, deGrom consistently maintained that he still planned to opt out of his contract, and his strong performance over his 64 1/3 innings should quell doubts in the minds of some suitors. Of course, deGrom also turns 35 in June 2023, so there has been speculation that teams might prefer to offer him deals with a high average annual value rather than a lengthy term. Reports have also suggested that geography is a factor for deGrom, as his preference would be to play for a team closer to his home in Florida.
During the 2020-21 offseason, Walker joined the Mets on a two-year deal worth $20MM in guaranteed salary. Given the high price of his buyout, Walker’s $4.5MM decision wasn’t a hard one to make, as the right-hander will look to capitalize on what has now been three consecutive seasons of solid work. The 30-year-old isn’t a big strikeout pitcher and he allows a lot of hard contact, though he’ll get plenty of attention as a solid arm for the middle-to-back of many rotations.
Walker missed almost all of the 2018 and 2019 seasons due to Tommy John surgery and a shoulder injury, before rebounding with a 2.70 ERA over 53 1/3 innings with the Mariners and Blue Jays during the shortened 2020 season. That performance led to Walker’s contract with New York, and he has stayed mostly healthy (averaging 158 IP) over his two seasons with the Mets while posting a 3.98 ERA. 2022 was the better of Walker’s two seasons, as he had a 3.49 ERA and an above-average 6.9% walk rate.
Between deGrom, Walker, Chris Bassitt expected to decline his end of a mutual option, and the Mets holding a $14MM club option on Carlos Carrasco for 2023, New York’s rotation could look quite different by Opening Day. Even with the Mets’ willingness to spend big, retaining all of these starters might even be beyond ownership’s comfort zone, especially with other free agent questions left to be answered. The Mets already made one big strike to re-sign an in-house free agent, agreeing to a five-year, $102MM deal with closer Edwin Diaz yesterday.