As they get set for a season that appears to be more about retooling than contending, one question has loomed over the New York Mets: Would the team agree to a contract extension with first baseman Pete Alonso, or would the All-Star play out his final year of team control and hit free agency next winter? Most assumed that the most likely outcome as a deal getting done; Alonso is among the lone bright spots in Queens right now, he’s seemed pretty open to signing an extension, and lord knows Steve Cohen has the money.
New Mets president of baseball operations David Stearns, however, appears to have other ideas.
Stearns met with the media ahead of the start of Mets camp on Monday, and when asked about the possibility of Alonso hitting free agency, he delivered a dose of cold water: “I think that’s probably the most likely outcome.”
David Stearns says that Pete Alonso hitting free agency after the season is the "most likely outcome" pic.twitter.com/g9OGaNdWbJ— SNY (@SNYtv) February 12, 2024
Before half of New York goes up in flames, it’s worth noting that this could well be a negotiating tactic — a way for Stearns to communicate to Alonso’s camp that he’s comfortable playing this game of chicken, in hopes that the slugger’s price comes down. Of course, it’s also possible that he’s telling the truth: Stearns is among the more analytically inclined executives in the game, and most metrics don’t look kindly on paying a righty-swinging first baseman big money well into his 30s. It’s a profile that doesn’t tend to age well, and once Alonso’s bat slips a bit, so does most of his value.
Still, this feels like a bit of a gut punch for a Mets fan base desperately seeking some sort of optimism to cling to after the debacle that was the 2023 season. Alonso is a three-time All-Star with two top-10 MVP finishes, and he’s already made quite a dent in New York’s record book: He holds the Mets single-season home run record with 53 (2019) and actually has three of the top five home run seasons in Mets history despite having only played in four full seasons. He’s already tied for fourth in franchise history in home runs with 192, trailing only Darryl Strawberry (252), David Wright (242) and Mike Piazza (220).
Alonso hit .217/.318/.504 (122 OPS+) with 46 homers and 118 RBI last year, one of the lone reliable sources of offense New York had. The batting average dip is concerning, but the power is obviously still there, and nothing about his batted-ball profile suggests that it’s the result of a real decline in skill — he hit .271 in 2022 and he still isn’t even 30 years old, so it could very well be a blip.
The closest thing the Mets have to a first-base prospect is Ryan Clifford, who was acquired from the Astros last summer in the Justin Verlander trade. Clifford is an interesting player: In 115 games between Class A and High-A, the 20-year-old hit .262/.374/.480 with 24 homers and 81 RBI, and he’s got the sort of optimized swing that could make him a diamond in the rough — and a way to eventually approximate Alonso’s production at a fraction of the cost. But that’s still years away, and if the Mets have eyes on contending in, say, 2025, it’s hard to see how they get there without Alonso’s bat in the middle of the lineup. It’s a tricky negotiation, to be sure, but we’d still bet on something getting done here.