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Contract Extensions for Everyone
The Mets should hand out more contracts like Jeff McNeil's new deal
To the news that the Mets have signed Jeff McNeil to a four-year, $50 million extension with a club option for the 2027 season, there’s only one thing to say: if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em!
McNeil has been a fantastic Met, and that doesn’t seem particularly likely to change. At $12.5 million a year, he’s a bargain: everyone knows how he hits, but he can also play good defense in both the infield and the outfield. This is a good deal because the Mets get to keep a good player — but it’s also a good deal because the process behind it is impeccable. It’s the kind of thing the Braves keep doing, and part of the reason they’re shaping up to be (sigh) such an intimidating opponent for years to come.
Every few weeks, it seems, the same story comes out:
BRAVES LOCK UP BRICKLE
ATLANTA — The Braves have agreed to a twelve-year, $24 million contract extension with center fielder Walton Brickle, a source confirmed Tuesday. Coming off a .332/.421/.597 season with 39 home runs and 37 stolen bases, Brickle, a five-time All Star at age 21, will donate $16 million to the Braves Foundation, the source added.
It’s the Breaking Bad meme over and over: “They can’t keep getting away with it!” Spencer Strider. Michael Harris II. Sean Murphy. Austin Riley. Ozzie Albies. Ronald Acuña Jr. They can’t keep getting away with it — but they do.
Which brings us back to (Elton John voice) McNeil and the Mets. Four years, $50 million, plus a club option, for a great all-around player coming off a batting title? A guy who’s batted .311 or better in four of his five seasons? That’s fantastic! That’s a Braves-type deal, a contract that’s perfectly timed to maintain long-term stability on the roster while not going overboard and locking the Mets in with an expensive player who will age badly.
It's the kind of deal that almost never gets done, because most players good enough to deserve a contract like this one are so in-demand that teams need to overpay for them. On the open market, a player identical to McNeil would have gotten more money or years, probably both. But this time, the factors lined up perfectly.
If McNeil’s contract is a sign of where the Mets’ process is headed, it augurs well for what comes next. The Mets should lock up everyone they possibly can, and be prepared to hand out extensions like candy the moment they see potential. First, lock up Pete Alonso. Luis Guillorme, honestly, should also get an extension; not an expensive one, but he’s a valuable player and the Mets should keep him around. Lock up Daniel Vogelbach, who’s an excellent DH and bench option. Then the front office should have its checkbook in a holster, ready to come out. Francisco Alvarez comes up and mashes for a few months? Lock him up. Brett Baty? Same thing. Joey Lucchesi and David Peterson look like they’re turning corners? Get them signed.
That’s not to say the Mets should go crazy and spend for no reason. But they should also consider the risk and reward. Inexpensive deals don’t really have any downside, so if there’s any significant upside potential, they’re probably worth making.
If Daniel Vogelbach is crushing the ball to start 2023, and the Mets hand him — bear in mind that these contract values are completely hypothetical, I have no idea what either of these players would actually cost — a five-year extension worth $30 million, what’s the worst-case scenario? He’ll stop hitting well, and they’ll have $6 million a year wasted for a few years. That’s not that bad! It’s certainly nowhere near as bad as the best-case scenario is good: Vogelbach continues mashing against lefties like he did in 2022 (.261/.382/.497) with 30-homer power over a full season. That’s certainly an upside worth the risk of wasting $6 million a year — roughly 1.3% of the Mets’ 2023 luxury tax payroll.
And if Luis Guillorme keeps looking strong in 2023, what’s the harm in giving him a five-year, $25 million extension? Worst case: $5 million a year for an elite defender who doesn’t hit much. Best case: $5 million a year for an elite defender who’s also a good contact hitter, and who could benefit from MLB’s new rules against the shift. Again: why not?
Imagine if, early in their careers, the Mets had signed Matt Harvey, Zack Wheeler, Jacob deGrom, and Noah Syndergaard to extensions like the ones the Braves gave Spencer Strider. They would have gotten some dominance, some solid seasons, some mediocrity, and some time lost to injuries. Regardless of the setbacks those pitchers faced, the Mets would have gotten lots of seasons worth more than $15 million a year (the AAV of Strider’s extension). And they would have gained extra time before each player hit free agency, added space to negotiate future contracts, and made clear to free agents that they were a team looking to win and willing to pay. For all that, $15 million a year is more than worth paying.
Locking up McNeil — the blood and guts of the team, the classical hitter who’s never an easy out — is a great start. Now the Mets should keep going. It seems that they’ve started acting on a simple truth: good players are good to have, and once you have them, it’s worth paying to keep them around.