SURPRISE, Ariz. — New Ranger Jacob deGrom looked exactly like his usual brilliant self while throwing close to 30 closely watched pitches Sunday, while allaying any thought he might be behind schedule. Then afterward, he threw sharp curveballs at what he suggested were widely held untruths about him in an exclusive interview with The Post, principally and pointedly making clear that he didn’t dislike New York or even his old Mets contract, and that he could have even seen himself returning to Queens.
“It was never like, I’m outta here,” deGrom said following a bullpen session that featured blazing fastballs, a few sliders, and incomparable control and consistency.
“You look at places you can see yourself playing. All I had known was New York, and part of me thought I’d be back,” he said.
DeGrom called his first days as a Ranger “a smooth transition,” and his bullpen session following a few missed days due to a left side issue has him back on track to start the season with Texas, as its new ace.
DeGrom did provide many highlights and heroics in eight seasons in New York, winning two Cy Youngs. But with injuries and time off frustrating the team and especially him, and a belief he was annoyed about his slightly under-market contract (not true, he insisted) many around the team figured the marriage was surely coming to an end.
“That kind of got out. [But] I really enjoyed my time in New York,” deGrom said. “I have friends that will be lifelong friends in New York. We still keep in touch with a lot of people. That was all I knew for 13 years including eight seasons in the big leagues. The fans and everyone were always great to me. It was never like 100 percent I’m leaving here.”
The chances to leave only started to lean that way, he said, as he got into free agency, and it quickly became clear that the Rangers — baseball’s other uber-aggressive team, only behind the Mets and Padres — made their feelings known early. DeGrom’s $185 million contract reflected his greatness, and turned out to be more than 50 percent more than the Mets’ bid (which sources suggest wasn’t quite the $120 million that was reported, and closer to $100 million to $110 million).
Anyway, he portrayed it as a business call than anything personal. And considering the dollar gap, it’s hard to see how it could have turned out any other way.
“It’s free agency. You sit down and say I could see myself here, I could see myself there. Texas showed a ton of interest. Things got moving really, really quickly. And I said, I’m going to be a Texas Ranger,” deGrom said.
DeGrom made clear perhaps, too, for the first time that the $137.5 million Mets contract he signed that wound up paying him somewhat less than market by the end for one of baseball’s rare aces never was a negative, and specifically that one of his agents leaving to become Mets GM, which could have put him at a negotiating disadvantage, also didn’t weigh on him (though he did change agents).
“That didn’t bother me, that was ultimately my decision to sign that,” deGrom said. “I saw something about that I was mad about that. I was never mad about that. I went out after I signed that and I tried to give my best every year.
“As a kid you never imagine making that. The goal was to play and to have fun. I was fortunate to sign that first contract in New York. I was never really upset about that. That’s life-changing money. To say I was upset about that, that was nowhere close to being true.”
And the way deGrom explained it, he only answered last spring that he was going to opt out to reinforce that he was healthy after missing the second half of 2021 and to circumvent constant questions about his contract. Of course, unlike in the case Sunday of Padres star Manny Machado, deGrom’s promise to opt out was reality. He felt healthy when he answered last spring, then a surprise injury cropped up.
“I was feeling great until the scapula issue. Stress reaction to the scapula, who’s heard of that?” deGrom said. “If I don’t answer then every time I pitch I’m asked, well, do you know if you’re opting out. That was just so I would not have to answer that every five days. … The plan was to go out and pitch healthy. It was never, hey, I’m opting out and leaving.”
DeGrom’s frequent injuries the last couple years affected the team. But more than that, it brought him down, which may explain why this felt like a more engaging, even relatively ebullient deGrom. A pitcher’s arm is his everything, and in deGrom’s case, it’s a ticket to greatness. So the injuries — and especially the absences — hit hard.
“That was frustrating. The goal is to pitch 30-plus times. And when you can’t do that you feel like you are letting the team down,” deGrom said. “Every time I took the mound previously with the Mets and moving forward, that’s my goal — to make every start and to try to put my team in position to win. I felt like I tried to do that in New York. That’s my goal here, to try to go out every fifth day and put us in position.
“Anytime you miss time, it’s extremely frustrating,” he said. “You want to go out and compete with your team and give the guys a chance.”
DeGrom took a big step Sunday toward beginning the season with his new team, and anytime he’s pitching, you have to like his team’s chances.
“It feels good,” he said upon coming off the mound. He smiled when he said it, a smile we saw infrequently the past couple seasons in Queens.