July 15, 2024

By getting Pete Alonso in the Home Run Derby, MLB shortchanged two of his Mets teammates

The Missing Mets deserve only so much sympathy.

Brandon Nimmo and Francisco Lindor are deserving All-Stars. But neither earned spots in the fan or player voting, and Major League Baseball’s desire for teammate Pete Alonso to be in the Home Run Derby prevented them from getting the Mets’ only selection.

Wittingly or not, Alonso created unintended consequences for Nimmo and Lindor when he said of the Derby, “If I’m selected to the All-Star team, I’m definitely open to doing it.” The league used each of its five at-large selections to account for teams that were left without a representative in the fan or player balloting. That is how Alonso became the Mets’ only All-Star.

Alonso has participated in four Derbies, winning in 2019 and ‘21. Presumably, the league could stage the event without him. But injuries to several major stars and the unwillingness of others to participate thinned the field. The league, in seeking to fill the Derby’s eight spots, made a far more questionable choice than Alonso — Marcell Ozuna, who in November 2021 received an unpaid suspension of 20 regular-season games for violating the league’s joint domestic violence policy.

Ozuna was arrested in May 2021 on charges of aggravated assault by strangulation and battery after police said they saw him attack his wife. Those charges were dropped after he completed a pretrial diversion program as a first offender. He was arrested again in August 2022 for driving under the influence of alcohol, and reached a plea agreement.

The league, as it does with all players who complete suspensions, views Ozuna as a member in good standing, having served his penalty. Ozuna’s peers voted him to the NL All-Star team as the backup DH to Shohei Ohtani, the fans’ elected starter. An All-Star who agrees to participate, at least in theory, is preferable to a non-All-Star such as Tyler O’Neill who wants in.

If the league had better options for the Derby, it’s doubtful Ozuna would have received the same consideration. But through Tuesday, only two of the league’s other top 10 home-run hitters in 2024 — Gunnar Henderson and José Ramírez — were scheduled to be in the event. Bobby Witt Jr., the league’s other great young shortstop, also is in. But last year’s field — Alonso, Randy Arozarena, Mookie Betts, Adolis García, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Luis Robert Jr. and Adley Rutschman — held considerably more appeal.

Those who said “no” this year included 2017 winner Aaron Judge, 2022 winner Juan Soto, Yordan Alvarez  and Elly De La Cruz.

Alonso swings at a pitch in the 2023 Home Run Derby in Seattle. (Alika Jenner/Getty Images)

Ronald Acuña Jr., Betts, Rafael Devers, Fernando Tatis Jr. and Mike Trout are injured (Tatis and Trout have never been in the Derby). Ohtani, who participated in 2021, cited his rehabilitation from major elbow surgery in passing. And the recent trips of 2018 winner Bryce Harper and two-time participant Kyle Schwarber to the injured list prompted the league to invite a far less prodigious Phillies slugger, Alec Bohm.

Alonso loves the Derby. Fans enjoy watching him. And through his foundation, he regularly donates portions of his prize money to charity. Players in the Derby compete for $2.5 million, with the winner receiving $1 million. This year, Alonso plans to use the money he sets aside to refurbish amateur baseball fields. In the past, he gave to the Wounded Warrior Project, which aids wounded service members, and Tunnel to Towers, which supports first responders and their families.

So, even though Alonso’s 18 homers and .772 OPS through Tuesday put him on career-low paces, it’s difficult to quibble with the league making him an All-Star as a way of getting him into the Derby. The problem is that Christian Walker is a more deserving first baseman, and Nimmo and Lindor are more deserving Mets.

Walker was never going to get Alonso’s spot. Harper was the NL’s elected starter at first base. Freddie Freeman was the player selection. The Diamondbacks already had a representative, Ketel Marte, the fan-elected starter at second base. The league created a spot at first for Alonso because the Mets needed an All-Star. Nimmo and Lindor were nowhere in the picture in the fan and player balloting, largely because both players and the Mets only got hot in mid-June. Nimmo’s OPS on June 13 was .708. Lindor’s OPS on June 14 was .706.

In the fan vote, Lindor did not receive nearly the same amount of support as Betts and Trea Turner, the two NL finalists at shortstop. Nimmo was not among the top six outfielders, finishing behind Jurickson Profar, Christian Yelich, Teoscar Hernández, Tatis, Brandon Marsh and Nick Castellanos.

The players elected De La Cruz as the third NL shortstop, and Jackson Merrill, Hernández and Bryan Reynolds as the three outfield reserves. So, while Lindor and Nimmo might have had stronger statistical cases than some of the players who made the team, Nimmo summed up the matter properly, saying, “I’m just not winning the popularity contest right now.”

Mets fans, though, might ask why the league chose the Giants’ Heliot Ramos to replace Tatis rather than Nimmo, considering the league already had added Logan Webb as the Giants’ representative and Ramos did not make his 2024 debut until May 8.

Reasonable question. But Ramos through Tuesday had a higher batting average (.302-.252), home-run rate (one every 16.5 at-bats to one every 21.2) and OPS (.907-.826). At 24, he is emerging as one of the season’s great surprises, and he also plays more often than Nimmo in center field.

In my own All-Star selections, Lindor was my Mets representative, Nimmo was a notable omission and Alonso did not even warrant a mention. I’ve always maintained most of the deserving players eventually are named to the team as replacements, but some are always left out as well. If Nimmo and Lindor indeed are excluded, a watered-down Home Run Derby field — and the league’s desperate need for Alonso to compete in the event — will be at least partly to blame.

(Top photo of Nimmo, Lindor and Alonso, l-r: Jeff Chiu / Associated Press)