With Jeff McNeil's deal done, Pete Alonso figures to be next
The Mets hosted Tuesday’s news conference at Citi Field for Jeff McNeil, the proud owner of a new four-year, $50-million contract extension, but it was impossible to ignore the elephant in the room.
Make that Polar Bear.
Because it’s hard to bring up McNeil, a Mets’ homegrown batting champ and two-time All-Star, without soon thinking of Alonso, who has bashed his way from second-round draft pick to becoming one of the most feared power hitters in the sport, along with the slugger-next-door face of the Flushing franchise.
If the McNeil signing is indeed a signal that GM Billy Eppler has convinced owner Steve Cohen to start thinking ahead on some of these in-house deals, then it’s worth exploring a similar scenario with Alonso, who now stands only two years away from free agency -- just as McNeil did before putting pen to paper. But that’s pretty much where the similarities end, as Alonso’s case is considerably more complicated with a price tag that appeared to increase by the day during this bullish offseason market.
We hesitate to suggest that Cohen is overly concerned with saving money by buying out arbitration years and avoiding the anxiety of the open market. This is a guy that’s already on the hook for a $374 million payroll this season (by luxury-tax estimations) and was a sketchy MRI away from giving another $315 million to Carlos Correa. When you’re worth in excess of $17 billion, you don’t mind paying full retail.
But locking up core homegrown players like McNeil, and ideally Alonso, provides some nice roster certainty going forward, rather than having to constantly scramble for free agents every winter. And the Mets, relatively speaking, don’t have a ton of money on their books over the next three seasons, with their commitments going from $236 million next year to $128M in 2025 and $103 in 2026.
The Mets’ expected pursuit of Shohei Ohtani, potentially baseball’s first $500 million man, could fill up those payrolls in a hurry once he hits the market in November. But in the meantime, having a deal done with Alonso would be one less big-ticket item to worry about, and keep the delirious momentum going with the team’s giddy fan base.
Eppler refused to address Alonso’s situation specifically when asked about him Tuesday, saying that he didn’t “want our business out on the street” because of it being “unfair to the people involved.” Based on last April’s dumpster fire in the Bronx, between the Yankees and Aaron Judge, Eppler’s caution is understandable.
And, as crazy as this might sound, Alonso has grown to Judge-like stature on these Mets: the unrivaled home-run king of the roster, turning every at-bat into a must-see event, with a larger-than-life Polar Bear charisma that makes it feel like he’s irreplaceable in Flushing. Judge used that sort of leverage, greatly enhanced by breaking the Maris record and earning this year’s MVP trophy, to wrest a nine-year, $360 million contract from the Yankees.
That was nearly $150 million more than the Yankees’ final preseason offer, so they clearly took a huge loss on that bet. As for the Mets and Alonso, finding common ground this early could be difficult. The two sides just avoided his second of arbitration with a one-year, $14.5 million contract — the highest ever for a first baseman in that scenario — -so that’s certainly a positive. But where do they go from there?
Over the first four seasons of Alonso’s career, his 146 homers and 380 RBIs are tops in the majors. Those are two impressive numbers to have in his corner. As for the comps, is he closer to Atlanta first baseman Matt Olson, who signed an eight-year, $168 million deal before last season, at the age of 27, two years before free agency? Or can Alonso force himself into the conversation with Red Sox third baseman Rafael Devers, who re-upped with a 10-year, $313.5 million extension only a few weeks ago?
Devers is two years younger than Alonso, and was only a season away from free agency. He shares the same OPS (.824) as Alonso over that four-year span, with fewer homers (108) and RBIs (359), but was a .292 hitter with a significant edge in WAR (16.5 to Pete’s 11.9). Looking at these Olson/Devers deals — not to mention the X-factor of Alonso’s massive popularity with the Mets — it’s fair to say that he should be thinking north of $200 million at this point in his timeline. Whether or not the Mets agree is another story, and Eppler would only speak in general terms Tuesday about these type of extensions.
“It’s not just a binary decision,” Eppler said. “It’s more you look at your system, you look at your team, you look at your roster, you try to forecast out future years. There’s a number of elements that drive that end question that you have to ask at the end of it: Do we want to do it? There’s a lot of criteria that goes into that question.”
The Mets came up with a $50 million answer for McNeil. Alonso, true to his outsized character, is going to require a much bigger swing.