May 25, 2024

The dynamics of Pete Alonso’s pending free agency are fascinating

Pete Alonso’s value to the New York Mets is greater than it is to any other team. He is homegrown. He is proven in New York. He is 53 home runs shy of becoming the franchise’s all-time home-run leader.

But how much of a priority Alonso will be for the Mets this offseason — and how much of a priority his agent, Scott Boras, will place on keeping him in New York — are open questions.

Boras represents a number of other potential free agents whom the Mets are likely to pursue, most notably outfielder Juan Soto and right-hander Corbin Burnes. Many in the industry expect Mets owner Steve Cohen to splurge this offseason as his payroll flexibility increases dramatically. But the dynamics of Alonso’s pending free agency are fascinating, to say the least.

It’s almost impossible to imagine Cohen making the same type of preemptive move he did with Edwin Díaz in 2022, signing the pitcher to a record $102 million guarantee for a reliever just four days before the free-agent market opened. Oh, Boras might be amenable if the Mets offer a deal in excess of Miguel Cabrera’s record $248 million contract for a first baseman. But the way first basemen are valued today, the Mets might not see him as worth more than the $162 million the Los Angeles Dodgers gave Freddie Freeman. And Boras, at least initially, likely will want to keep his options open.

Alonso, in an interview on Friday, expressed no particular concern about his future with the Mets, or his free agency in general. At the moment, he is dealing with other issues. In the middle of a 1-for-30 slump, he is batting only .205 with eight homers and a .710 OPS. With runners in scoring position, his batting average is .138. Mets manager Carlos Mendoza kept him out of the starting lineup Monday for the first time this season.

When asked if he was worried Boras might potentially block his return to the Mets by directing, say, Soto and Burnes to New York, Alonso said, “I’m not particularly thinking about that right now.”

“I love the city I play in. I consider myself a New Yorker. I have a great relationship with guys on the team obviously. And I think I have a great relationship with people in the front office and Steve as well. We’ll see what happens this winter. It’s a big question mark. For me, right now, I’m just focusing on doing what I can to help us win every day.”

Alonso even offered an optimistic view of Boras’ most recent offseason, in which the agent negotiated short-term deals with high average annual values for four of his biggest names — Blake Snell, Cody Bellinger, Matt Chapman and Jordan Montgomery.

Boras, citing an overall downturn in the market and the uneven performance histories of some of those players, said his clients preferred those offers when teams balked at lucrative long-term arrangements. Montgomery subsequently left him for Wasserman. But Alonso, who hired Boras last October, disputes the agent had a trying offseason.

“I don’t think he did. If you look at the amount of guys he signed, I think he led all agencies in contracts done. I think he did a great job,” Alonso said. “If you look at the amount of guys he signed and the amount of deals he did — I think he signed maybe 14 or 15 free agents — I still think that’s a great offseason. Guys did what is best for their families or what they think is best. Who am I to judge?”

By unofficial count, Boras signed 19 free agents to major-league contracts. While some considered the outcomes for his top four clients disappointments, some of his other deals — six years, $113 million for Jung Hoo Lee; two years, $34 million for Rhys Hoskins; one year, $16 million for Frankie Montas — were coups for the players. Boras also negotiated a five-year, $125 million extension for Jose Altuve, who turned 34 on Monday.

Alonso, while not as accomplished as Altuve, is held in similar esteem by his team’s fan base. On Boras’ list of potential free agents, he is one of many, and not the only star. In addition to Soto and Burnes, Boras represents Alex Bregman. And by exercising opt-outs, Snell, Bellinger, Chapman and Hoskins all could return to the open market.

Boras has skillfully navigated large free-agent classes before. In 2019-20, he negotiated the market’s top three guarantees and six of the top 10. In 2021-22, he had the top three and five of the top 10; in 2022-23, five of the top 10. His goal with Alonso will be getting him the value first basemen commanded years ago. It will not be easy.

Consider the deals that preceded the one Cabrera signed in 2014: $240 million for Albert Pujols, $225 million for Joey Votto, $214 million for Prince Fielder, $180 million for Mark Teixeira (Votto’s was an extension). All of them exceeded the biggest recent deals for first basemen: $168 million for Matt Olson (extension), $162 million for Freeman (free agent), $130 million for Paul Goldschmidt (extension).

Boras, who negotiated the Fielder and Teixeira deals, declined comment for this article, but recently made his intentions clear during an appearance on “The Show” podcast with Jon Heyman and Joel Sherman.

“The revenue system of the game has dramatically changed over the last few years,” Boras said. “I don’t think the (Freeman and Goldschmidt) contracts are really relevant to anything that has to do with what’s going to happen in the future, particularly with Pete Alonso.”

The problem for Boras and Alonso is that teams view first base as one of the least significant positions on the defensive spectrum. And none of the first basemen who received monster deals between 2008 and 2014 aged particularly well.

Alonso’s calling card is his game-changing power: He has averaged 44 home runs in his four full seasons. Mets people say he is not just a slugger, but also an excellent hitter, devoted to his craft. In batting practice, Alonso remains focused on his process, hitting line drive after line drive into both gaps. His barrel control, new teammate Joey Wendle said, is elite. Hitting coach Eric Chávez describes him as a personal favorite.

Durability is another one of Alonso’s strengths: He has never missed more than 10 games in a season. And while he is not a particularly strong defender or base runner, he works hard in both areas and recognizes their importance. He even makes a case for why first basemen should not be devalued from a defensive perspective.

“It’s one of those positions that can be overlooked,” Alonso said. “A shortstop may make a play, but (there are) routine ones where he throws a dirt ball and the first baseman has to be there to pick it up. There are a lot of plays, cuts and relays, where first basemen are responsible for taking care of the ball. Dealing with pitchers, catchers, backpicks, holding runners, I think it’s a very important position.”

Can he reverse the trend of declining guarantees for first basemen?

“We’ll see where we are at the end of the year,” Alonso sad. “Having a good year can definitely help that. We’ll see. We don’t know. That’s the mystery about it. Hopefully it does (reverse). Again, I’ve got to play. I’ve got to perform. I’ve got to help the team win.”

Alonso is right. So much is unknown. Cohen has shown no reluctance to deal with Boras, signing Max Scherzer, Brandon Nimmo, J.D. Martinez, Sean Manaea and Shintaro Fujinami as free agents, not to mention reaching an agreement with Carlos Correa before medical concerns quashed the deal. But while Cohen and president of baseball operations David Stearns have said all the right things about retaining Alonso, their actions in the marketplace will reveal their true intentions.

By next offseason, the market could be bullish again. Teams in uncertain positions with their regional sports networks might have greater clarity, increasing their willingness to spend. A decline in interest rates could have a similar impact, making owners more comfortable borrowing money for free-agent investments.

Anything is possible in the unpredictable world of free agency. Soto could end up a Met and Alonso could wind up replacing Anthony Rizzo with the New York Yankees. Or maybe some other team with an opening at first will view Alonso as the slugger they need, knowing they would be signing up for a potential march to 500 home runs.

The Mets should want that countdown for themselves. Boras should want Alonso to continue building his legacy in New York. But how this should play out and how it will play out might be two different things, with conflicting motivations all around.

(Top photo of Pete Alonso: Mike Stobe / Getty Images)