Buck Showalter took in “The Music Man” last week, but the Mets manager saw a far better show Saturday.
An announced crowd of 43,857 sat in their seats at Citi Field, then rose once the first strings of “Simple Man” filled the stadium. Jacob deGrom, the best pitcher in the world, took the mound for a third time this season and second time at home. The combination of a superstar with stuff that has never been seen before and the fact that stuff has been rarely seen over the past few seasons because of a litany of injuries adds an element of urgency. Fans want to savor every moment of deGrom.
That crowd — the largest since 2019 and ninth biggest regular-season crowd in the stadium’s history — saw six crisp, dominant innings with 10 strikeouts from the ace. Seth Lugo and Trevor May formed the bridge to Edwin Diaz, who himself is quite literally a show.
SNY has begun turning his entrances into cinema, adding some black-and-white flair to Diaz’s emergence from the bullpen Saturday. He is not just an All-Star with an untouchable slider but a spectacle worth the price of admission. Citi Field turns into a trumpet-filled club for a few minutes, and many of the fans don’t even return to their seats. On Saturday, they stood, they cheered, they watched as a strikeout artist who has not allowed a run in his past 20 appearances got the job done again in a 1-0 win over the Phillies.
DeGrom and Diaz might be the most entertaining dramas in baseball (and along with Aaron Judge, New York might boast the top three). Ahead of free agency for all three, how much is that worth? Being great will get each paid, of course, but how much will being fun enter the equation?
The Mets will have many free-agent decisions to make in a few months, and keeping a club together that has raced to the top of the NL East would be costly. The Post’s Mike Puma estimated next year’s salary could skyrocket to $345 million if potential free agents deGrom, Diaz, Chris Bassitt, Taijuan Walker, Carlos Carrasco, Adam Ottavino and Brandon Nimmo are kept. And that is not including adding any outside free agents.
When the front office — one led by GM Billy Eppler right now, but a new president of baseball operations could be brought in — sits down to analyze each in-house free agent, will the thinking be purely analytical to determine the best roster to produce wins? Or will the fans’ appreciation for certain players — and their eagerness to shell out money to see those players perform — play a part?
The Yankees will be having similar discussions concerning Judge, whose jersey is their best-seller and who might be the most marketable player in the game, beginning with the Judge’s Chambers. His contributions on the field and his historic home run chase already make him worthy of a nine-digit contract, but is his relationship with Yankees fans worth $20 million? $50 million? $100 million?
DeGrom has a player option for $30.5 million for 2023 that he repeatedly has said he will decline. He will hit the open market as a 34-year-old with a lengthy and complicated injury history that held him to 15 starts last season and just three so far this year. The $43.3 million Max Scherzer makes per season easily could be topped with a shorter-term deal, or deGrom could try to find a club that guarantees him hundreds of millions for five or six years.
He has been a lifetime Met, a ninth-round pick in 2010 who debuted in 2014, made his first All-Star Game in 2015, won his first Cy Young in 2018 and somehow still only appears to be getting better. He is beloved and appreciated in Queens, with fans who feel as if they watched him grow. How much does that matter to Eppler?
It is worth remembering the Mets’ trade deadline a few weeks ago. There were stars on the market — Juan Soto of course, though he would have been nearly impossible to pry from the division-rival Nationals, but Willson Contreras could have helped this club — and the Mets preferred less splash and more need-based moves. Few were clamoring for Daniel Vogelbach, Darin Ruf, Tyler Naquin and Mychal Givens, though few are complaining now about the haul.
This Mets regime is not averse to stars, as Scherzer can attest, but it does appear to value savvy as much as star power. The Mets will enter free agency with so many rotation holes; could they reason that shorter-term deals for Bassitt, Walker and a couple outside free agents take precedence over a mega-deal for deGrom?
Perhaps the baseball operations group could argue that depth over ceiling is the best route toward consistent contention, and long-term deals for starting pitchers do not work out often.
A cold calculation would not involve the Mets fans’ feelings. It is probably worth mentioning that Saturday was a sellout, while Sunday’s Bassitt start — in another 6-0, shutout win — did not quite fill the ballpark.
“I love pitching here. I love pitching in front of our fans,” deGrom said Saturday. “The reception that I got both times has been awesome. So it’s been great.”
Diaz has expressed an interest in returning.
“If they give me the chance, I’d love to stay here,” Diaz said in July.
Every Mets fan showing up to the field in Flushing wants to see the team with a lead in the ninth inning. They all want to be a part of the “Narco” phenomenon.
Sure, they want the Mets to win, and Diaz’s presence in the game nearly guarantees the outcome. But the literal bells and whistles that usher him onto the field turn Citi Field into a place that even non-baseball fans want to crash. There is more for the Mets to wring out of the spectacle. Wouldn’t you show up early to the park on a trumpet-giveaway day?
Maybe Mets fans will show up regardless of star power. Maybe the secret ingredient is not an ace or a song but winning.
In a magical 2022, the Mets have been both great and fun. In a few months, they will have to begin to calculate how much each quality is worth.
Today’s back page
Let’s consult Joel Sherman’s list of the top 50 most interesting people in baseball, compiled in April on the eve of the season.
No. 1, Steve Cohen, has had a nice few months. Among the rest of the top 13, only a couple players — Judge (6), Freddie Freeman (8) and Francisco Lindor (10) — have enjoyed unblemished, excellent seasons.
Trevor Bauer (2) has been suspended for two years. DeGrom and Scherzer (3) have dealt with injuries, though the dream rotation has finally taken form. Shohei Ohtani (4) has been great but for another irrelevant Angels club.
Carlos Correa (5) and Corey Seager (9) have been solid for the Twins and Rangers, respectively, but each has taken a step down from recent seasons.
Wander Franco (11) has been merely OK during an injury-plagued season, and he hasn’t played since breaking the hamate bone in his hand July 9. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (13) has not been the MVP runner-up he was last year for a mostly disappointing Blue Jays club.
And Fernando Tatis Jr. (12) went from the 60-day injured list to the suspended list after he accepted an 80-game ban Friday for testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs.
It has been a bad season for baseball stars.
That sinking feeling
Amid a glorious New York baseball summer, let’s take a quick check-in from the Giants’ and Jets’ training camps:
• A headline from Sunday’s Giants practice: Giants offense, Daniel Jones have miserable day at training camp. The Post’s Ethan Sears reports Daniel Jones went about 6-for-20 with two interceptions, while the offensive line was spotty and at least two receivers had drops.
• The Jets are “optimistic,” Robert Saleh said, about Zach Wilson, who will undergo knee surgery Tuesday in Los Angeles. The Post’s Brian Costello has reported the initial expectation is Wilson will miss 2-4 weeks. Week 1 will be Sept. 11, just under four weeks away.
If Wilson, the second-year quarterback who struggled through a very-much-rookie season last year, cannot go, Joe Flacco would start against the Ravens.
After a great summer, it could be a long fall.