The Mets’ potential franchise cornerstone catcher is open to formalizing that.
Francisco Alvarez is interested in discussing a long-term contract extension with the Mets, according to a person familiar with the matter. And president of baseball operations David Stearns said he likes — in a general sense — those sorts of deals under the right circumstances.
Neither side is under any pressure to engage on the subject, to be clear, and these types of talks are more often late offseason/spring training fodder than a pre-Christmas agenda item.
But on at least the player’s side, there is a curiosity.
“It’s something that every organization has to explore and requires both sides to have interest,” Stearns said of his philosophy on extensions for players already under team control. “And certainly, as we go forward, hopefully we’ll have a number of players in that second and third [year] where it makes sense to talk to them about it.”
He declined to comment on the Alvarez possibility specifically.
Stearns is new to the Mets but not to deals like this. In Houston, as an assistant general manager, he was part of a front-office group that pursued these contracts often and consummated them sometimes. After he took over as general manager in Milwaukee, he handed out a couple: to righthander Freddy Peralta for five years and $15.5 million (plus two team options) and to lefthander Aaron Ashby for five years and $20.5 million (plus two team options).
“Often, there are discussions that don’t [lead to anything],” Stearns said.
Any such deal for Alvarez, who earlier this year hired Rimas Sports to represent him, almost certainly would cost more money, but the principles would be the same.
The primary benefit for players: financial security in the form of a life-changing guarantee of many millions of dollars. Locking that in can be convincing, even if means sacrificing some future earning ability.
Under MLB’s convoluted salary system, Alvarez would be slated to make well under $1 million in 2024 and again in 2025. Then he would enter arbitration — an environment in which catchers don’t fare particularly well — for three seasons, through 2028. Then he would become a free agent, the theoretical big payday. For any player, injuries or poor performance or other variables can ruin the monetary ascent.
The primary benefits for the team: certainty about how much a player will cost for the next bunch of years — information that, yes, was more important to Stearns’ small-market previous employer than his financial behemoth current one — and usually additional years of team control. (Of course, the risk is that the player doesn’t progress the way the team expects but needs to be paid anyway.)
In the case of Alvarez, consider, say, a contract of six years with a team option for a seventh year. That would mean the Mets get up to two of his free-agent seasons and have him all the way through 2030, his age-28 season. It also would allow Alvarez to become a free agent at 29 and still really cash in.
Six-time defending NL East champion Atlanta has made a habit of signing players using this strategy. First came outfielder Ronald Acuna Jr. and second baseman Ozzie Albies, whose long-term pacts carry average annual values of $12.5 million and $5 million, respectively — absurdly good deals for the team. More recently: Michael Harris II (eight years and $72 million) and Spencer Strider (six years and $75 million) opted for the guarantee instead of taking their chances.
Atlanta’s approach has gained notice in, among other places, the Mets’ clubhouse. “I kind of love what [they’re] doing,” Jeff McNeil said during spring training. “They’re getting their young guys, they’re paying them money that will change their life and they’re going out there and playing stress-free. I think there’s players that benefit from that.”
In an up-and-down rookie season, Alvarez, now 22, hit .209 with a .284 OBP and .437 slugging percentage. He had 25 home runs and 63 RBIs and caught 108 games, by far his most in a year.
“It was one of those seasons where there’s a lot to improve upon,” Alvarez said last month. “With God’s will, I’m going to continue working, going to be doing what I need to do. I view it as a good season. Nothing extraordinary, but it’s definitely something to build on.”