With Jeff McNeil’s deal done, pressure on Mets to tackle Pete Alonso extension

QUEENS, NY — Pete Alonso was one of the first people Jeff McNeil called after finalizing his four-year, $50 million contract extension with the Mets late last week. On the other end of the line, an excited Alonso congratulated McNeil.

“I was very happy,” McNeil said Tuesday at Citi Field. “He didn’t know we were in extension talks, so I wanted to surprise him. It was a pretty cool phone call to make.”

By the way, Alonso was also the first Mets player of all something else thought after news of McNeil’s extension became public. The slugging first baseman, who becomes a free agent in the 2024-25 offseason, should undoubtedly be next in line for a contract extension with the Mets. Like McNeil before his extension, Alonso is a couple of years away from hitting the open market. What could a long-term deal with Alonso and the Mets look like?

In 2022, Alonso became the first player in Mets franchise history to record multiple seasons with 40 or more home runs. He joined Aaron Judge, Kyle Schwarber and Mike Trout as the only four players to smash at least 40 homers last season. Alonso is also the only player in the majors with at least 25 doubles and 35 home runs in each of the last two seasons. And since his rookie season in 2019, no one has hit more home runs than Alonso’s 146.

While it may seem like an odd comparison, Braves first baseman Matt Olson is a starting point for predicting how a potential Alonso extension with the Mets might play out today. Two years before he hit free agency, Olson signed an eight-year, $168 million extension with the Braves — an average annual value of $21 million — before his age-28 season. Alonso is also currently in the prime of his 28-year-old season, with two years of arbitration to play.

Over the course of their age-27 seasons, Olson and Alonso have posted similar numbers, with the latter showing a slight edge thanks to his added power and the former holding a sizable edge in most defensive metrics. Since Alonso’s debut in 2019, Olson has been worth 1 more WAR per Fangraphs, and the ZIPS projection system pegs him for a slightly better season in 2023: Olson is projected to contribute 4.7 WAR, Alonso 4.4 WAR. Conclusion: They are close.

Still, Olson’s extension isn’t an ideal model for what Alonso will get from the Mets, in part because Olson probably should have earned a little more from the Braves than $21 million a year.

Former first baseman Chris Davis, for example, was a bigger and smaller player than Olson or Alonso when he signed a seven-year, $161 million contract extension with the Orioles in 2016, for a $23 million AAV. dollars (As a fun aside, Davis retired after hip surgery in 2021, but because his awkward deal included deferred payments through 2037, he’s still getting $42 million owed to him by the Orioles through payments of 2 .8 million dollars annually, reportedly. Spotter.)

It was a little strange that, six years after Davis’ massive deal, Olson signed for a slightly cheaper AAV. Atlanta’s hometown discount certainly seems to have been a factor. Landing Alonso for a bargain seems less likely given the star power and accolades he’s already racked up in his short career, including winning Rookie of the Year and being a two-time Home Run Derby champion. All of this reinforces that Olson is not a perfect offset for Alonso. But when it comes to first base, Olson’s extension will be the closest to what Alonso gets.

MLB Network’s Jon Morosi predicted that Alonso will receive an eight-year, $200 million contract for an AAV of $25 million. If, at first glance, that seems a little low for one of the league’s best power hitters, consider what a couple of the game’s most elite first basemen are currently doing. Freddie Freeman and Paul Goldschmidt earn, respectively, $27 million and $26 million per year, as the highest paid first basemen in MLB. Joey Votto is the third highest with an AAV of $25 million. Olson’s $21 million AAV is the fourth highest. Suddenly, Morosi’s eight-year, $200 million prediction for Alonso doesn’t seem so far-fetched.

This offseason, Alonso and the Mets avoided arbitration when the slugger agreed to a one-year, $14.5 million contract. It represents the largest number ever for a first baseman in arbitration, and yes, the Mets’ wealthy owner had everything to do with that record-breaking contract. Steve Cohen is the tight end in the MLB front office, and his power of wallet could be why Alonso ends up making more than Morosi’s $25 million a year prediction.

There’s also the matter of the Mets’ payroll. For the first time under Cohen’s ownership, the Mets will top baseball’s highest payroll in 2023. While it’s not as absurd as it would have been if they had signed Carlos Correa, it’s still well above the Yankees, who are ranked No. 2 .But that payroll drops significantly as soon as next year, and plummets even more after 2024. That immediate payroll relief will come in the form of Robinson Cannon, whose $20 million will come off the books after 2023. Eduardo Escobar and Mark Canha, who each have club options in 2024, will also provide payroll relief next year.

After 2024, Max Scherzer’s $43.3 million will be phased out (assuming they don’t retire after 2023) and Justin Verlander’s $43.4 million will also come off the books. As such, Cohen will have great payroll flexibility in two years. The problem is that this is also when Alonso becomes a free agent. His price will only increase if he continues to produce as he has since his big league debut, and barring injury, all indications are that Alonso will. Depending on the Mets’ success between now and 2025, Alonso’s curiosity about leaving Queens may be as high as his price.

MLB First Base Tiers: The Elite

MLB First Base Tiers: The Elite

Ben Verlander and Alex Curry rank first basemen in MLB and have Paul Goldschmidt, Freddie Freeman, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Pete Alonso at “The Elite” level. Do you agree?

One thing is clear: The Mets should do absolutely everything they can to reach a mutually agreeable contract extension well before Alonso hits free agency in 2025. The longer the Mets wait, the more expensive Alonso will be, especially because he could slide into a designated hitter role for either team. And there’s no telling how much gravy Alonso will command on the open market, if he actually hits free agency. This is not to say that Cohen is not a major player in this market; for an owner with a net worth threatening to break $20 billion, it certainly will. But there’s no reason for the Mets to let contract talks with Alonso drag on that long.

The Mets need to secure Alonso, their homegrown superstar, with a long-term deal sometime in the next two years. It is not clear whether these discussions have already begun. Speaking at McNeil’s press conference on Tuesday, Mets general manager Billy Eppler was tight-lipped when asked about a possible contract extension for Alonso. Eppler is open to talks continuing through the regular season, but players generally mark the end of spring training as a sticking point for negotiations.

“We’re not going to talk about any issues related to players or employees,” Eppler said at Citi Field.

At the very least, it’s an encouraging sign that the organization worked out an extension with McNeil two years before his free agency. The same couldn’t be said for another local talent in Brandon Nimmo, who scouted the market as a free agent this winter before ultimately re-signing with the Mets. Maybe Alonso would follow Nimmo’s playbook if he hit free agency. But that’s a risk that, frankly, the Mets shouldn’t even come close to taking with their baseball polar bear.

Deesha Thosar is an MLB writer for FOX Sports. She previously covered the Mets as a reporter for the New York Daily News. Follow her on Twitter at @Deesha Thosar.

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