The outlook for the Mets has completely changed in recent months. They spent heavily this winter, running up the highest payroll in major league history, and came into the season as World Series contenders. Unfortunately, they struggled to get into a groove in the early parts of the season and decided to sell at the deadline. Not only did they flip rental pieces like Tommy Pham and David Robertson, but also guys who could have helped the 2024 club like Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander and Mark Canha.
After being traded to the Rangers, Scherzer spoke publicly about how he was given the sense that next year “is now looking to be more of a kind of transitory year,” with the aggression dialed back a bit. Owner Steve Cohen addressed that situation the next day, essentially confirming Scherzer’s framing by saying that the 2024 club “won’t be as star-studded” as this year’s team. He did say that he hopes the team will still be “very competitive” and that this “doesn’t mean we’re not going to bring in free agents,” but it seems the plan is to step back.
Now that the deadline has passed, the club can’t make any more trades for the next few months, but it’s possible they could resume their selling in the offseason. Starling Marte will still have two years remaining on his contract after this one, with salaries of $19.5MM in each season. José Quintana will have one year and $13MM left on his contract. Omar Narváez is a lock to trigger his $7MM player option and Adam Ottavino seems like he’ll exercise his at $6.75MM as well. The club has a $6.5MM option for the services of Brooks Raley in 2024. Trevor Gott has one year of control and will be due an arbitration raise on this year’s $1.2MM salary.
If the Mets are looking to continue down the path they picked at the deadline, trading veterans for prospects and eating money to get a better return, any of those players could be a candidate for such an approach. Some of those cases will present the club with difficult decisions, but the most challenging will be their choice of how to handle Pete Alonso. He is making $14.5MM this year and is eligible for one more arbitration raise in 2024, before he’s slated for free agency.
Alonso, 28, is obviously an incredibly talented hitter. From his 2019 debut to the present, he’s hit 180 home runs, including 34 this year. His career batting line of .255/.343/.533 is 37% better than league average, according to wRC+. His home run tally in that stretch is the highest in the majors and that wRC+ places him just outside the top 10 among qualified hitters.
With the Mets looking to ease off the gas pedal in 2024 and Alonso slated for the open market after that campaign, the club will have to pick a lane. They could pursue trades in the offseason, though doing so would come with the negative public relations hit of moving on from a homegrown star player, as Alonso was drafted by the Mets in 2016. They could also try to sign Alonso to a long-term extension, though he would have to agree to any such pact.
The Mets could also kick the decision down the road and see how things go in 2024. It doesn’t seem like they will be giving up all hopes of contention. As Cohen said, it seems they will likely still bring in some free agents and see how things go next year. The club could hang onto Alonso until next year’s deadline, see if the baseball gods are any kinder to them and pick a lane at that point. Even if they held onto to him all the way through 2024 and took a shot at contending, they could recoup a draft pick by extending him a qualifying offer at that point. That path would come with some risk, as Alonso could always suffer an injury or a downturn in performance, causing his trade value to drop.
The path of pursuing a trade this offseason would certainly lead to the club finding many suitors. They will only be marketing one year of his services but the free agent crop of position players in incredibly weak this winter, with the class far heavier on the pitching side. Alonso will be making a hefty salary which could eliminate some suitors, but the Mets haven’t been shy about swallowing money in order to facilitate deals, sending more than $35MM to the Rangers in the Scherzer deal.
The Mets certainly have the resources to get an extension done, though it’s unclear how much appetite they would have to get one done with Alonso. Cohen recently called him “an integral part of the Mets” and hoped they can “work things out” on a long-term deal, but their plan to dial back their spending might clash with that. They already have significant long-term deals on the books for Francisco Lindor, Brandon Nimmo, Edwin Díaz, Kodai Senga and Jeff McNeil, which means they already have over $100MM on the books as far out as 2026.
If the Mets are focused on building up their pipeline of young talent and assessing the future before charting their next big moves, will they want to add a massive deal for Alonso to the pile when that will surely require a nine-figure outlay of some kind? There’s also the question of how his defense will age, since he’s not a star in that department as it is. Defensive Runs Saved has given him a passable +3 grade for his career, but Ultimate Zone Rating pegs him at -2.9 with Outs Above Average at -16. A long-term deal would come with the risk of him sliding into DH-only status over time.
Perhaps another factor will be the development of the prospects they have recently added to the system. Ryan Clifford, acquired from the Astros in the Verlander deal, can play the outfield corners but has spent more time at first base this year. He has yet to reach Double-A but the Mets surely acquired him in the hopes that he would be a part of a future championship core at some point down the line. Perhaps they would prefer to track his development before deciding on how to proceed with Alonso.
Until the Mets either trade Alonso or get an extension done, his in-between status is likely to be one of the biggest storylines this offseason. What do you think is the path they should take? Put him on the trading block and continue loading the farm system for future success? Lock him up so that he can be a part of the next competitive window? Or wait until the 2024 deadline, when they will have more information about their own competitive chances and the development of their prospects?
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