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Jacob deGrom doesn't sign Mets contract in protest of system

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PORT ST. LUCIE — The Mets thought they had at least a year.

On Friday, however, they saw the first sign that the foundation of the team that got them to the World Series in 2015 may be cracking. Jacob deGrom declined to sign his yearly contract in what is a commonly used form of protest for players who have not yet reached arbitration eligibility.

While deGrom emphasized that he did not consider this to be a big deal or have hard feelings toward the organization, it is a very real reminder that the Mets will have to pony up some big bucks to keep what is considered the best rotation in baseball in tact.

Sandy Alderson said that the Mets have not yet preemptively tried to negotiate contract extensions with deGrom, Matt Harvey or the other young, starting pitchers, but he did not rule that out.

“Not because we’re unwilling or because there isn’t any interest on the part of the players, necessarily,” the Mets GM said. ” It’s just we are where we are on the spring training schedule. It’s a little early, agents don’t typically come in until later. I don’t think you can draw anything from that.”

DeGrom has publicly said he would like a long term deal with the Mets. Harvey said he would be willing to have his agent, Scott Boras, talk with the Mets about an extension as well. Several within the baseball operations staff have voiced opinions privately that it would be wise to try and buy out these pitchers’ arbitration and early free agency years early to keep the core together. Alderson, however, has been adamant that the timing was not right.

Friday, deGrom wanted to make it very clear he did not have an issue with the organization.

“Absolutely not, I am not pissed, I am not upset at all. That is not how I feel. I love pitching in this organization, I have a lot of respect for them and I hope to be pitching here a long time,” deGrom said. “This was a business decision that my agents felt was in my best interest.

“To say I am mad or upset is not accurate at all.”

By refusing to sign it, deGrom and his representatives are making it public they do not agree with formula by which the Mets determine the salaries for their younger players.

The bottom line, however, is that it does not matter if deGrom signs it. He is under the Mets control until he becomes a free agent after the 2020 season. The Mets renewed the contract, which is their right under the current collective bargaining agreement.

DeGrom will make a base salary of $ 607,000 this season with a chance to make more for in-season incentives.

“In your 0-3 (years) the only right you have is the renewal,” deGrom said. “It wasn’t a back-and-forth numbers thing. So this is what we decided to do at the time.”

The move is commonly used by players and is seen as a chance to establish a negotiating point for next winter when deGrom is arbitration eligible for the first time. Earlier this spring, Pirates pitcher Gerrit Cole refused to sign his contract and in the past Derek Jeter and Mike Trout also had their contracts renewed without their signature.

While teams are only required to pay players in their first three years of service the league minimum, which includes consideration for draft status, more than half of them use a standard organization formula to reward young players. The Mets’ formula adds to the minimum salary for extra days of service time, evaluation by a unique set of statistics and incentive bonuses, like deGrom’s All-Star appearance.

Mets GM Sandy Alderson has resisted buying out the final arbitration years on the contracts of players like Jacob deGrom and Matt Harvey and signing them to long-term deals.Howard Simmons/New York Daily News

Mets GM Sandy Alderson has resisted buying out the final arbitration years on the contracts of players like Jacob deGrom and Matt Harvey and signing them to long-term deals.

Last season, deGrom made $ 556,875. In two seasons with the Mets, deGrom is 23-14 with a 2.61 ERA. He went 3-1 with a 2.88 ERA in the playoffs, including a strong start in the decisive Game 5 of the National League Division Series at Dodger Stadium. Last season, Matt Harvey, who was arbitration eligible for the first time this year, made $ 614,125.

The Mets used deGrom’s 2015 base salary, which included a bonus for winning the Rookie of Year, as the baseline for his salary. They use the formula to try and keep equity within the clubhouse among their young players, assistant GM John Ricco said. He said the team has a policy of not negotiating contracts with pre-arbitration eligible players.

“We think it’s a pretty fair formula,” Ricco said. “But we understand why he is making this stand.”

The last player to refuse to sign a yearly renewable contract with the Mets was John Maine, Ricco said. Alderson defended the Mets system.

“We have, with respect to players 0-3, we have a fairly straightforward approach to determine salaries. It’s based on a formula predicated on performance,” Alderson said. ” We’re really talking about marginal differences in salaries. This is the first renewal we’ve had since I’ve been here, so the process has worked well and we respect Jacob’s right to take a renewal, if that’s what he feels and is best in his interest and we move on from there.”

Alderson also reiterated that it would not affect the Mets relationship with deGrom. The right-hander repeatedly said the same.

“We have a great respect for the Mets and the system they have. I feel like I have a great relationship with them,” deGrom said. “As I’ve said before I want to be pitching for them for a long time. It was a decision based on the business side of the game.”

DeGrom’s agent Brodie Van Wagenen, co-head of CAA baseball, also emphasized this was not rift between the Mets and the player.

“We respect the Mets’ right to determine a pre-arbitration player’s salary and their effort to be consistent with their players. But given Jacob’s standing as one of the top pitchers in Major League Baseball and his 2015 performance, his worth cannot be properly valued by a formula,” Van Wagenen said. “Like the Mets, he is simply exercising his rights under the CBA. This will not affect Jacob’s relationship with the Mets. Both parties are focused on preparing for the season and getting the Mets back to the World Series.”

VanWagenen also represents Yoenis Cespedes and Noah Syndergaard, who did sign his contract Friday.

DeGrom stressed this did not change his desire to play for the Mets long-term.

“I think we are still open to discussions for a long-term thing,” deGrom said. “I don’t think this will have any effect on that.”

The Mets had 24 other players sign their contract Friday including outfielder Michael Conforto, catcher Travis d’Arnaud, infielder Wilmer Flores and pitchers Steven Matz and Zack Wheeler.

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