The Mets' Jeff McNeil speaks during a news conference at Citi...

The Mets' Jeff McNeil speaks during a news conference at Citi Field on Tuesday. Credit: Jeff Bachner

Sitting at a news conference in the bowels of Citi Field, donning a sharp black suit with slicked-back hair, beaming at his wife and infant son in the front row, discussing his newfound generational wealth in the form of a contract extension with the Mets, Jeff McNeil acknowledged the reality: At several points in his life, this was so close to never happening.

He spent most of high school intending to go to college for and make a career of golf, not baseball. He toiled in the minors for a half-decade, wasting much of that time injured, wondering at times if he’d ever reach the majors — never mind make this kind of money. He as recently as a year-plus ago, having endured an uncharacteristically mediocre season, was as unhappy as ever.

But now McNeil is the recipient of a four-year, $50 million deal. In addition to being a batting champion, he is a homegrown cornerstone, a foundational piece in what he described as the organization’s determination “to put a winner on the field.”

“I want to be a part of that,” he said.

And he is.

“You’re one injury away from being out of this game. That’s frustrating. That’s scary sometimes,” McNeil said Tuesday afternoon. “But this deal is able to take that off my mind and I’m just going to go out there and play hard and be the baseball player I know I am."

His new contract includes a team option for 2027 worth $15.75 million.

Once they started, negotiations didn’t take long, according to those involved. McNeil was the only arbitration-eligible player with whom the Mets did not agree on a 2023 salary before the salary figure exchange deadline on Jan. 13. He and the Mets were due to go to an arbitration hearing — an intense environment teams typically like to avoid because it requires arguing in front of a player why he should make less money than he wants — on Thursday.

About a week ago, general manager Billy Eppler and McNeil’s agents, Joe Longo and Garrett Parcell of Paragon Sports International, broached the subject of what an extension might look like. McNeil was interested. So were the Mets. The “fairly quick process,” as McNeil described it, yielded an agreement several days later.

“To be able to see a homegrown player get to the big leagues is one thing,” Eppler said. “Now to be able to sign an extension and keep a homegrown player in our uniform just really adds the exclamation point.”

Eppler cited McNeil’s “extreme hand-eye ability” — which helped him to a majors-leading .326 average last season — and positional versatility as reasons the Mets were comfortable with the deal. The latter means that if the Mets want to add or make room for another infielder in the coming years, they can put McNeil in the outfield more regularly.

That McNeil accepted these relatively team-friendly terms, including an average annual salary of $12.5 million, speaks to the other factors at play.

If he wanted, he could have waited until he reached free agency going into 2025. But then he would have been about to turn 33, past what is most players’ physical prime, and taking his chances with his own health and continued elite performance over the next two seasons.

Instead, this way he achieves financial security, which is “a huge relief for me,” he said. And the Mets get to lock in one of their best players at a reasonable and certain cost.

Such a sum was difficult for McNeil to turn down given his professional history. He opened the 2018 season repeating Double-A, batting ninth and turning 26, a fringe prospect at best. He’d missed most of the previous two years because of physical issues. But that turned into a breakout season that launched him to the majors, and he never went back.

It was that year that he grew close with Pete Alonso, the Mets’ next obvious extension candidate. When McNeil agreed to his new deal last week, Alonso was one of his first calls.

“He was so happy," McNeil said.

So is McNeil.

“I’m a pretty uptight person, so this allows me to go out there and play baseball every single day,” McNeil said. “I don’t have to worry."

Highest-paid salaries by average annual value for players who were second basemen when they agreed to the deal:

Jose Altuve, Astros $23.35M (2018-24)

Ketel Marte, D-backs $15.2M (2023-27)

DJ LeMahieu, Yankees $15M (2021-26)

Jeff McNeil, Mets $12.5M (2023-26)

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