If it ends up taking place, there will be nothing normal about the 2020 baseball season. With a 60-game schedule featuring restrictive travel, a plethora of new rules intended to keep everyone safe amid a pandemic and the strong chance that the entire thing will be played without fans in the seats, trying to predict outcomes or award winners may be a fruitless exercise.
If there’s one thing you can bet on, however, it’s that New York Mets ace Jacob deGrom will have his sights set on some lofty goals. The right-hander faced nine batters in a simulated game at Citi Field Sunday, impressing rookie manager Luis Rojas with his dominance.
“I feel really good. Continued throwing while I was at home,” deGrom said during a Monday morning Zoom session with reporters. “I think just not trying to do too much. Hopefully get off to a good start and keep it rolling and eliminate the bad ones.”
Sporting a close beard and protective face mask dangling from one ear, deGrom seemed to be in good spirits during the ten-plus minute chat, making it clear that the shortened season would not put a damper on the festivities should his team capture their first championship since 1986.
“As far as that, that’s a team coming together under these circumstances and figuring out a way to win,” he said. “I think that is a team effort that would take everybody, you know, honestly, kind of following these guidelines to staying healthy and being able to stay on the field and I think that’s something that you would definitely celebrate.”
When it comes to individual accolades, the 32-year-old is attempting to join Hall of Famers Greg Maddux and Randy Johnson as the only players to win three consecutive Cy Young Awards. Despite barely reaching double-digit victories in each of the past two seasons, deGrom earned 29 of 30 first-place votes in both, combining for 17.5 WAR and a 2.05 ERA over 64 starts.
One of the game’s most dominant arms, the three-time All-Star overcame a brief rough patch in early 2019 to become just the 11th pitcher to take home the honor in two straight seasons. After making 32 starts in each Cy Young Award-winning campaign, deGrom stands to make about a dozen this year if healthy.
“I would say that there definitely has to be some difference there. You know, 12 starts versus 32 or however many you get, 33 sometimes,” he said, when asked if a third straight Cy Young Award would count the same as the first two. “I think that’s less than half so there’s a lot that can happen in any given start, so you normally play 162 games and 200 innings. I don’t think it would feel the same but it’s definitely still a goal.”
The typically unflappable deGrom understands the big picture, but recognizes that his chase for history may not have the same impact as it would during a full season.
“That’s what I think, as far as players, really stinks kind of with what happened,” he said about the challenge of trying to win another Cy Young Award during a 60-game sprint. “It’s a very unfortunate situation throughout the world (with) this whole virus, but as a player you have a short window to kind of perform and be competitive… I guess you take it as from the All-Star Break on and just go out there and do all you can do and hopefully maybe win another one.”
As positive COVID-19 test results roll in and players from around the league continue to opt out of playing with each passing day, things have been relatively calm around deGrom’s club. One of the early favorites to win the National League (tied with Atlanta at +800, behind only the Dodgers at +100 according to Covers.com), the tone from New York’s players and staff has been mostly optimistic.
“So far I’ve been comfortable,” deGrom said about the first few days of Summer Camp. “I think we’re spaced out really well here and kind of how the workouts and stuff have been going where there’s a couple different groups, I’ve felt safe and comfortable so far.”
With young children at home, it would be understandable if deGrom was hesitant to return to Queens. His family has been cautious, though, making it an easier decision.
“I think even at home and throughout this whole process (I’ve) kind of taken every safety measure that has been advised, so just trying to follow the rules and keep myself as safe as possible along with my family,” the father of two said. “They’ve stayed home quite a bit, so haven’t been out too much or around a lot of people.”
During this time deGrom was involved in some of the discussions between MLB and the Players’ Assocation.
“I don’t think I ever really thought that we weren’t going to play,” he said of the tense negotiations. “It felt like both sides wanted to play and was just trying to figure out everything, and there were so much unknowns as far as the virus and how this would work… I feel like through the whole process both sides wanted to play baseball and you know, here we are, hoping to still play.”
If they do play, deGrom and the Mets seem ready.
“I think everybody would like to play. I think that’s the goal, to play baseball and so far what I’ve seen here with the steps that we’re taking,” he said. “I can’t speak for other clubs or what not, but I feel like if we follow the rules that are set in place here that there should be a good chance of seeing baseball.”