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It may be hard for Mets to keep Pete Alonso off the Opening Day roster

If the young slugger keeps hitting and improves his fielding, it may not be wise to send him down for a few weeks to maintain an extra year of control. 

Mets' Pete Alonso during a spring training game

Mets' Pete Alonso during a spring training game against the Atlanta Braves at First Data Field, Saturday Feb. 23, 2019 in Port St. Lucie, Florida. Photo Credit: Newsday/Alejandra Villa Loarca

Aside from the obvious Jacob deGrom, the uber-famous Tim Tebow and the people’s GM, budding social-media celebrity Brodie Van Wagenen, is there a bigger Mets star this spring than Pete Alonso?

The kid dropped the “r” from his name last week and owned the news cycle. On Saturday, Alonso homered off the first Grapefruit League pitch he saw — “We’re called hitters, we’re not called takers,” he said — and followed with a double Sunday in a 10-1 loss to the Astros.

With actual games finally underway here in Florida, Alonso is doing what he did at his minor-league stops a year ago, when he had 36 homers, 119 RBIs and a .975 OPS. In the first-base competition, he’s the clear favorite over J.D. Davis and Dominic Smith.

Combine all that with the fact that every word out of his mouth is entertaining, a walking viral video, and the Mets should have a marketing dynamo — once he gets the whole glove thing figured out, which for now we won’t get too stressed about.

If Alonso continues on this trajectory, the logical landing spot would be Nationals Park for Opening Day on March 28. But because these are the Mets, there is always a catch, and having Alonso in the lineup that day would be considered negligence from a service-time status.

Teams routinely delay the promotion of prospects such as Alonso by a few weeks to gain an extra year of control, even though such manipulation supposedly is outlawed. It happened to Kris Bryant and Ronald Acuña Jr., and the Blue Jays already have said their sure-thing superstar, 19-year-old Vladimir Guerrero Jr., will begin the season at Triple-A.

The Mets are taking the opposite approach with Alonso, as Van Wagenen and Mickey Callaway have maintained that where he winds up Opening Day will be based solely on merit.

“Brodie’s made it clear that he’s a players’ guy,” Callaway said recently. “And if he deserves it, he’s going to be on the team.”

That’s easy to say six weeks out. A lot can happen between now and the end of March, and management doesn’t want to cause unnecessary PR ripples with players or get the fan base all riled up during this ticket-buying season. But as much money as the Mets potentially could save in the long run by sending Alonso to Syracuse for two weeks, they might not be able to afford it in the short term.

It wouldn’t be a great look for “players’ guy” Brodie — who four months ago was a high-profile agent — to use the same practice against Alonso that he and his former colleagues vehemently opposed. Van Wagenen has been very visible in trying to promote the Mets since taking over the job, and holding back a deserving Alonso — a rapidly developing fan favorite — would invite the type of negative fallout he’s tried hard to avoid.

Again, it’s early, but this could have implications beyond merely the PR hit. With Jed Lowrie’s sprained knee threatening to put Opening Day in jeopardy, that could temporarily pull Todd Frazier from the first-base mix and put more of a premium on Alonso’s righty bat in the Mets’ lefty-heavy lineup. And if Alonso keeps raking, can the Mets really put him on the shelf for a few weeks?

“I want to force someone’s hand,” Alonso has said. “I want to come in here and be the best option. That’s it.”

Alonso says a lot — we love him for it — and on this subject, he’s been saying all the right things since the ruckus created last September when the Mets didn’t promote him. And February isn’t the time for either side to make waves.

Ultimately, there could be just cause for delaying Alonso. Maybe the Mets will say his defense still needs polishing, and Saturday’s debut did include some clunky glovework. But the more everyone sees and hears from him, the more they want, so this could be a tough train to derail in the coming weeks.

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