What will it take to keep Alonso in Queens?

1 year ago
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This story was excerpted from Anthony DiComo’s Mets Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

Upon signing his $50 million extension with the Mets, Jeff McNeil made Pete Alonso one of his first phone calls.

The two met shortly after Alonso was drafted in 2016, bonding two years later at Triple-A Las Vegas and again the following season, when both significantly had an impact on the 2019 Mets. Since then they have been pillars of the franchise, homegrown players with similar interests and outlooks. McNeil is the self-professed “uptight” one, who obsesses over losses and 0-fers. Alonso is more laid-back, always looking for ways to tweak his friend.

It was perhaps no surprise, then, that when McNeil signed his new contract, most heads in Flushing turned in the direction of Alonso, a prime extension candidate in his own right. An Alonso extension figures to be a more complicated pursuit, considering the fact that his age and track record could allow him to more than quadruple McNeil’s deal in total value. But that doesn’t make it impossible — not with owner Steve Cohen shelling out hundreds of millions in pursuit of a sustainable champion.

The best recent comp for an Alonso extension is Matt Olson, a slugging first baseman who signed with the Braves before the 2022 season. Like Alonso right now, Olson had two years of arbitration eligibility left when he inked his deal. His career up to that point looked like this:

Matt Olson
Age: Entering age-28 season
Career WAR: 18.3
Career OPS+: 134
Career HR: 142
Deal: Eight years, $168 million

Pete Alonso
Age: Entering age-28 season
Career WAR: 14.2
Career OPS+: 140
Career HR: 146
Deal: ???

Alonso would certainly want to beat Olson’s deal, either by negotiating for additional years or value; MLB.com’s Jon Morosi recently estimated that it would take around eight years and $200 million to lock up Alonso, which feels about right. That would at least be enough to get both sides in the room seriously talking.

However, there’s the Mets’ payroll to consider; it’s already about $80 million above MLB’s highest Competitive Balance Tax threshold, even with Alonso on a relatively modest $14.5 million arbitration contract. Waiting to sign Alonso would allow Cohen to avoid additional tax over the next two seasons, so there’s at least some incentive for the Mets to stand pat — that is, unless Alonso accepts a hometown discount or defers significant amounts of salary. Remember, the Mets were willing to sign McNeil because he agreed to a somewhat below-market deal. If Alonso isn’t keen to do the same, the equation changes.

For now, neither Alonso’s camp nor Mets officials are publicly discussing the matter, leaving outsiders to wonder if they’ve perhaps already talked. More insight could surface when Alonso arrives at Spring Training and begins taking regular questions from reporters; the last time the media asked about his contract situation, at a charity event in Tampa last month, Alonso declined to address the issue. At McNeil’s press conference on Tuesday, general manager Billy Eppler politely rebuffed multiple queries about Alonso, saying, “I really don’t want to have our business out on the street.”

This one could go either way. There is incentive for Alonso to bet on himself, make it to free agency and perhaps earn a bigger score with multiple teams bidding on him. But as his friend McNeil acknowledged, there is also comfort in accepting a bit of a discount to cement one’s future now.

“I think it’s on every player’s mind,” McNeil said. “You never know what’s going to happen. You’re one injury away from being out of this game. … I’m not sure exactly where [Alonso] stands on that kind of contract. I’m not sure if he wants to test free agency or what his decision is. I’ll leave that up to him.”