Last year on the field, the Mets closed the gap to the Atlanta Braves by a narrow margin, and now they’ve made a very Braves-esque move in the boardroom as well, in keeping with Jeff MacNeil on what certainly has the feel of a team-friendly contract extension.
Potentially locking up the National League batting champ for four years and $50 million is indeed a deal akin to what Atlanta has done with some of their young stars, almost assuring themselves to be a force with which to play for years. must be dealt with in the Netherlands. East.
As such, it is another indication of the Steve Cohen Regime is taking all the right steps toward building a sustainable, championship-caliber organization, which the owner has stated is its long-term goal.
With a handful of promising position players ahead, and perhaps some good pitching prospects, the Mets should be able to challenge for a championship in a few years without Cohen needing to outdo everyone else in baseball.
At least that’s their hope, and we’ll see if their scouting and player development system is up to the task.
If so, a McNeil expansion could be proof that Cohen’s front office will be proactive in locking up a Francisco Alvarez to a long-term deal if he lives up to the hype as a must-have slugging catcher.
More importantly, at this point, the new deal proposed by McNeil also provides reason to believe the Mets are working on it Peter Alonso to also agree to a long-term contract, even if it will certainly have a much higher price.
As was McNeil, Alonso is two seasons away from reaching free agency. But as one of baseball’s top power hitters, with 130 home runs in his three full seasons in the major leagues (plus 16 more in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season), the great first baseman has the power to command many more. money.
Consider that Austin Riley, the Braves’ powerful third baseman, signed a 10-year, $212 million deal last August. Alonso, who turned 28 in December, is two years older than Riley, but has still averaged eight home runs in their full seasons.
Throw in the added leverage in Alonso as the Mets’ one and only slugger, at least until Alvarez proves otherwise, and the fact that he’s already making $14.5 million this season. He will certainly be looking for more than the $21 million that Riley gets a year.
Perhaps most notably, Alonso will reach his free agency age of 30, young enough to be considered very much in his prime as a power hitter. And that’s also an important difference between him and McNeil.
The second baseman turns 31 in April, so he would have entered his 33-year season by the time he reached free agency. That three-year difference was likely a major factor in McNeil agreeing to a proposed contract that baseball folks I spoke to on Friday agreed was a bargain for the Mets.
“I have to believe that age was key to his willingness to make this deal,” a team manager told me. “He started at a relatively late age, he had a bad year in ’21, so the road to a big payday probably wasn’t as clear cut as it was for someone like Alonso.
“So he probably looked like a guaranteed $50 million as too much to pass up with two years left (until free agency). And he’s not a power man, which is also a factor. But I still think he sold himself a little short, given how valuable he was to that team as a high-average hitter and a plus defenseman at second base and in the outfield as well. That combination has a lot of value. Great deal for the Mets.
An old scout agreed.
“Once he made a commitment to hit the ball to all fields and not try to pull for power like he did for a year or so,” the scout said. “He was again a very difficult out. He’s not afraid to hit with two strikes because he has such great bat-to-ball skills and he’s so good at taking a tough field in the outside corner to the other field.
“If he continues to stick to that approach, he should be a .300-plus hitter for at least the next few years. And he hits well throwing. I would have thought he would get five or six years, so you have to like it for the Mets.
Yes, what’s not to like? The Mets folks are confident that McNeil will continue to be a consistent .300 hitter after returning from his .251 season, which both team and player believe had a lot to do with the analytical overload the organization puts on its hitters in 2021 before returning to a more balanced approach under hitting coach Erik Chavez.
As McNeil explained late in the ’22 season, “I went to the plate last year thinking way too much about pitcher tendencies and things like that. This year I went back to looking for a good pitch to hit and put a good swing on it. I have regained my confidence.”
It showed when it mattered most as McNeil was in the clinch last season. In addition to his .326 leading average, he hit .336 with runners in scoring position and .308 with RISP/two outs.
All this made for such an impressive season that he was recently ranked by MLB Network as the No. 2 second baseman in the majors, behind only Jose Altuve.
So how could he sign a team-friendly overtime? Perhaps McNeil, once a 12th-round draft pick, just wanted the security of such life-changing money instead of waiting for free agency, knowing his age could work against him.
Be that as it may, the Mets were smart to make a Braves-esque deal with a difference-making player. They probably shouldn’t expect Alonso to do the same.