Barring unforeseen circumstances, Pete Alonso will be the Mets’ Opening Day first baseman next year, David Stearns said during his introductory news conference Monday — providing a whoosh of relief to a fan base that’s been both incredulous and borderline hostile about the prospect of trading away its beloved first baseman.
It was a PR layup for the Mets’ new president of baseball operations, the guy who rolled up to Citi Field full of smiles and charming anecdotes about sneaking into Shea Stadium to watch the team he grew up rooting for.
But, while no one doubts that Stearns is truly happy to be back home, he, like owner Steve Cohen, isn’t the type to get blinded by sentimentality. And when he talked about Alonso, it became clear that, while you probably can pencil in No. 20 as part of next year’s roster, there are zero guarantees that he’ll be locked up any longer than that.
It felt probable, too, that a hard push to sign him to an extension this offseason might not be on the docket at all.
“I think Pete’s demonstrated that he can handle pressure,” Stearns said about Alonso performing during his 2024 walk year. “He handled a whole lot of questions this year and had a pretty good season and handled that well. I’m not particularly concerned about Pete being distracted.”
It’s still early in the process, and Stearns, who up until Sunday was still employed by the Brewers, is very literally on Day 1 of his Mets tenure. But though he couldn’t yet get into the gritty specifics of contract negotiations, managerial searches and free agency, Monday did provide insight into his general ethos.
He likes that Alonso is homegrown and he likes him as a player. He knows, too, what Alonso means to the franchise. But Stearns, like Cohen, is all about sustainable growth — something that’s become even more important since Cohen’s previous attempt to essentially buy a championship fizzled out pretty spectacularly.
Often, though, “sustainable” translates to younger players with plenty of options, along with shorter, team-friendly deals that allow for greater flexibility.
To wit, this is what Stearns said when he was asked to diagnose where the Mets went wrong:
“This is what can happen at times when teams are built predominantly through free agency and underperform expectations,” he said, adding that it isn’t a Mets-specific issue. “When you build through free agency, you often have a roster that’s a little bit older, a little bit more susceptible to injuries or performance decline due to age.”
Despite his 46 home runs, Alonso, by his own admission, had the toughest season of his major-league career — battling through a horrific midseason slump and hitting .217 while seemingly internalizing all of the Mets’ considerable woes.
He’ll be a few months shy of 30 when his contract expires next season, and, barring that unexpected extension, he’ll have to deal with the weight of (1) knowing that this year could define the rest of his career and (2) playing for a team that intends to take a more conservative approach toward free agency and whose primary goal is to merely be “competitive.”
It’s a tough spot to be in, and the Mets, no doubt, want to take their time and see how he handles it. They’ve also likely missed the window for any sort of discount on Alonso, whose power, solid glove and affability should net him a hefty payday. Stearns also has the freedom of knowing that if they really, really want to keep Alonso, the Mets have the financial heft to outpay anyone.
“He’s an important member of this organization,” Stearns said. “I think we’re really fortunate to have him.”
Then there’s this: Sure, Alonso might want to test free agency, but he also very clearly values his time in Flushing.
“I love the city of New York,” Alonso said Sunday. “This place has treated me so well and it’s a really, really special place . . . It’s been awesome and some of the best memories of my life have been here. This is home for me right now.”
Alonso is correct in saying “right now,” and if Stearns is to be believed, “right now” will extend to 2024. It’ll likely take a whole lot longer than that, though, to find out if right now eventually can translate to “forever.”