National League batting champion Jeff McNeil and the New York Mets agreed Friday to a four-year, $50 million contract extension, sources familiar with the deal told ESPN, ensuring one of the team’s core players will remain in Queens as the Mets look to win their first World Series since 1986.
McNeil, who turns 31 a week after Opening Day, was scheduled to go to an arbitration trial with the Mets, where he was requesting $7.75 million and they offered $6.25 million. Instead, the gap spurred conversations about keeping McNeil past his remaining two years of arbitration that landed on buying out multiple free agent seasons. The deal, which is pending a physical, includes a fifth-year club option that would take the total value to $63.75 million, sources told ESPN.
Because McNeil wasn’t set to reach free agency until just before his age-33 season, the specter of teams penalizing him for his age, plus the market not necessarily rewarding contact-oriented players, made the extension more appealing.
McNeil certainly is among the preeminent bat-to-ball artists in the sport, striking out only 242 times in 2,039 career plate appearances — a strikeout rate bettered by only nine players with at least 1,000 plate appearances since McNeil’s 2018 debut.
Among those, only Michael Brantley and Luis Arraez are in McNeil’s class as a hitter. McNeil has a career .307 batting average — third behind Arraez and Freddie Freeman in that span. Even if power isn’t a big part of McNeil’s game, he brought plenty of pop in 2022, hitting .326/.382/.454 with 39 doubles, 9 home runs, 62 RBIs and just 61 strikeouts in 589 times at the plate.
McNeil’s versatility has proved important to the Mets throughout his career, as he regularly moved among second base and the corner outfield spots. Though he played a career-high 106 games at second last season and was well above average there, he also spent 47 games in the outfield for a team that won 101 games but lost to the San Diego Padres in the wild-card round.
Because the average annual value of the deal is $12.5 million, the Mets’ competitive balance tax bill will continue to grow. Whereas the expected CBT hit was either of the arbitration numbers, McNeil’s new CBT number will reflect the AAV — and prompt a 90% tax on the $4.25 million-to-$5.75 million overage.
The Mets’ new projected payroll plus tax is around $467 million, which would smash the major league record.
For the Mets, the savings in future years could be well worth the penalty. In his five big league seasons, McNeil has produced more than 16 wins above replacement, and his skill set tends to age well. But the possibility that batting averages could pick up with the implementation of a pitch clock and a ban on defensive shifts could make McNeil’s skill set less unique.
Of course, McNeil’s batting average could tick up too, and aside from his anomalous .251 in 2021, his season numbers are .329, .318, .311 and .326. He is expected to be part of an infield in 2022 that includes first baseman Pete Alonso, shortstop Francisco Lindor — with whom he had an infamous dugout incident in 2021, though they have since made up — and some combination of Eduardo Escobar, Luis Guillorme and rookie Brett Baty at third base.