Catcher Francisco Álvarez is interested in discussing a long-term extension with the Mets, reports Tim Healey of Newsday. The club’s new president of baseball operations David Stearns spoke positively about extensions of young players in a general sense but declined to speak about an Álvarez extension specifically.
“It’s something that every organization has to explore and requires both sides to have interest,” Stearns said. “And certainly, as we go forward, hopefully we’ll have a number of players in that second and third [year] where it makes sense to talk to them about it.”
Álvarez, 22, has just over a year in the big leagues and has carried himself well. He has 26 home runs in 128 career games. His 26.1% strikeout rate is a tad high but he’s also walked at a reasonable 8.2% clip. His .208/.284/.439 batting line amounts to a wRC+ of 98, indicating he’s been just barely below the league average hitter overall, though that’s better than par for a catcher.
In addition to that solid performance at the plate, he was graded well behind it. Each of FanGraphs, Baseball Prospectus and Statcast considered him to be one of the top five pitch framers in the league this year. Defensive Runs Saved gave him a grade of +7 in 2023, a mark that only seven catchers bested that season. FanGraphs considered him to be worth 2.7 wins above replacement on the season overall.
Since he debuted before his 21st birthday, Álvarez is currently slated to reach free agency at a relatively young age. He has just over one year of service time at the moment, meaning he would hit the open market after 2028, his age-26 season. That will give him some leverage in contract talks, as he could simply go year-to-year and cash in at that point. But signing a deal now would allow him to lock in some life-changing money and avoid the risk of an injury sapping some of his earning power. As Healey points out, Álvarez could give the Mets an extra couple of years of control and still become a free agent in his late 20s.
The Mets have been one of the most aggressive spenders in recent years, with owner Steve Cohen having shown little regard for the bottom line since purchasing the club. That presumably gives them the ability to lock in any player they decide they want to keep. They have some significant contracts on the books in the short term, some for players no longer on the roster, but extensions for young players generally ramp up over time, with smaller salaries in the early years.
By 2028, only Francisco Lindor and Brandon Nimmo have guaranteed contracts. Between now and then, significant deals for Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander, James McCann, José Quintana, Luis Severino, Kodai Senga, Starling Marte, Edwin Díaz and Jeff McNeil will have wrapped up. But if the club makes a bold move, such as signing Yoshinobu Yamamoto or extending Pete Alonso, then that would obviously change things.
But given Cohen’s willingness to spend when he decides it’s warranted, they should be able to make something work with Álvarez if they consider him a core part of their next competitive window. It’s been signalled that 2024 will be a bit of a transition year as the club targets another full throttle push in 2025 and beyond. Álvarez is on pace to qualify for arbitration after that 2025 season so the club might like to get some cost certainty by agreeing to something earlier.
Extensions for players early in their careers are becoming more common. Luis Robert Jr., Eloy Jiménez and Jackson Chourio got notable guarantees before even reaching the majors while players like Corbin Carroll, Julio Rodríguez and Fernando Tatis Jr. got nine-figure guarantees with limited MLB experience.
In terms of catchers, Keibert Ruiz signed an extension with the Nationals in March. He secured a $50MM guarantee over eight years while also giving the Nats two club options. Like Álvarez now, Ruiz was also between one and two years of service at that time but was a couple of years older, going into his age-24 campaign. His results prior to that deal were also bit below those of Álvarez, both offensively and defensively, so the Mets would almost certainly have to beat that Ruiz deal to get something done with Álvarez.
There’s no real rush for the club, as Álvarez isn’t slated to qualify for arbitration until after 2025. Even if they want to get something done this winter, teams generally prefer to focus on acquisitions in the earlier parts of the offseason and leave extensions for rostered players until closer to Spring Training.