Saturday, April 1 2023

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. 

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

Incidentally, Alonso was also the first Mets player everyone else thought of after news of McNeil’s extension became public. The slugging first baseman, who becomes a free agent in the 2024-2025 offseason, should undeniably be up next for a contract extension with the Mets. Like McNeil was before his extension, Alonso is a couple of years away from hitting the open market. How might a long-term deal with Alonso and the Mets look?

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 crush 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 past two seasons. And since his 2019 rookie season, no one has hit more home runs than Alonso’s 146.


Though 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 could shake out today. Two years before he’d hit free agency, Olson signed an eight-year, $168 million extension with the Braves — an annual average value of $21 million — prior to his age-28 season. Alonso is also currently on the precipice of his age-28 season, with two years of arbitration remaining. 

Through their age-27 seasons, Olson and Alonso have posted similar numbers, with the latter flashing a slight lead thanks to his added power and the former having a sizable lead in most defensive metrics. Since Alonso’s debut in 2019, Olson has been worth 1 more WAR per Fangraphs, and the ZIPS projection system has him slotted for a marginally better season in 2023 — Olson is predicted to contribute 4.7 WAR, Alonso 4.4 WAR. Bottom line: They’re close.

Even so, Olson’s extension isn’t an ideal model for what Alonso will get from the Mets, partly because Olson likely should’ve earned a bit more from the Braves than $21 million a year. 

Former first baseman Chris Davis, for example, was an older and lesser player than Olson or Alonso when he signed a seven-year, $161 million contract extension with the Orioles back in 2016, for an AAV of $23 million. (As an amusing aside, Davis retired after hip surgery in 2021, but because his wonky deal included deferred payments through 2037, he’s still receiving $42 million owed to him by the Orioles through payments of $2.8 million per year, according to Spotrac.)

It was a bit odd that, six years after Davis’ massive pact, Olson signed for a slightly cheaper AAV. Atlanta’s hometown discount certainly appears to have been a factor. Securing Alonso for a bargain seems less likely given the star power and accolades he’s already accumulated in his brief career, including winning Rookie of the Year and being a two-time Home Run Derby champion. All of which reinforces that Olson is not a perfect comp for Alonso. But when it comes to first basemen, Olson’s extension could be the closest to what Alonso gets. 

MLB Network’s Jon Morosi predicted Alonso will receive an eight-year, $200 million deal, for an AAV of $25 million. If, at first glance, that seems a little low for one of the best power hitters in the league, consider what a couple of the game’s most elite first basemen are currently making. Freddie Freeman and Paul Goldschmidt are respectively earning $27 million and $26 million per year, as the highest-paid first basemen in MLB. Joey Votto is third-highest with an AAV of $25 million. Olson’s $21 million AAV is fourth-highest. Suddenly, Morosi’s eight-year, $200 million prediction for Alonso doesn’t seem that 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’ filthy-rich owner had every bit to do with that record-breaking contract. Steve Cohen is the outlier within MLB front offices, and his purse-string power could be the reason Alonso winds up earning more than Morosi’s prediction of $25 million a year.

There is also the matter of the Mets’ payroll. For the first time under Cohen’s ownership, the Mets will headline baseball’s highest payroll in 2023. Though it’s not as absurd as it would’ve been had they signed Carlos Correa, it’s still well above the Yankees, who come in at No. 2. But that payroll drops significantly as soon as next year, and it plummets even more after 2024. That immediate payroll relief will come in the form of Robinson Canó, 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 dissolved (presuming he does not opt out after 2023) and Justin Verlander’s $43.4 million will also come off the books. As such, Cohen will have oodles of payroll flexibility in two years. The problem there is, that’s also when Alonso becomes a free agent. His price will only go up if he continues to produce like he has since his big-league debut, and, barring injury, all signs point to Alonso doing just that. Depending on the Mets’ success between now and 2025, Alonso’s curiosity to leave Queens may be just as high as his price point.

MLB First Base Tiers: The Elite

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

One thing is clear: The Mets should do absolutely everything they can to reach a contract extension that both sides will agree on well before Alonso hits free agency in 2025. The longer the Mets wait, the pricier Alonso figures to be, particularly because he could slide into a designated hitter role for any team. And there’s no telling how much gravy Alonso will command on the open market, should he actually reach free agency. That’s not to say Cohen won’t be a major player in that market — for an owner with a net worth that is threatening to crack $20 billion, he certainly will be. But there’s just no reason for the Mets to let contract talks with Alonso play out that long. 

The Mets must secure Alonso, their homegrown superstar, to a long-term deal at some point within the next two years. Whether those discussions have already begun is unclear. On Tuesday, speaking at McNeil’s news conference, Mets general manager Billy Eppler stayed mum on the subject when asked about a potential contract extension for Alonso. Eppler is open to those conversations continuing during the regular season, but players generally mark the end of spring training as stopping points for negotiations. 

“We aren’t going to talk about any player or employee-related matters,” Eppler said at Citi Field.

At the very least, it is an encouraging sign that the organization got an extension done with McNeil two years before his free agency. The same could not be said for another homegrown talent in Brandon Nimmo, who explored the market as a free agent this winter before ultimately re-signing with the Mets. Maybe Alonso would follow Nimmo’s playbook if he reached free agency. But that’s a risk that, frankly, the Mets should not even come close to taking with their baseball-mashing polar bear. 

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

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