Mets to extend Jeff McNeil

The Mets and the second baseman jeff mcneil agree to a four-year, $50 million contract extension, ESPN’s Jeff Passan reports. The contract contains a club option for a fifth season, which could allow the extension to reach a maximum of $63.75 million over five years. The deal buys out the final two seasons of arbitration for client Paragon Sports International, and the Mets will gain control of what would have been McNeil’s first three free-agent seasons.

Unable to reach an agreement on a year’s salary for next season, McNeil and the Mets appeared headed for an arbitration hearing. He had requested $7.75 million on the heels of his first NL batting title in 2021, while the Mets had responded with a $6.25 million figure. Those sums can now be thrown out, as McNeil’s last two years of arbitration are locked up. If we count 2023 at the $7 million midpoint of those two sums and calculate that McNeil could have made anywhere from $12-13 million in what would have been his final season of arbitration, the Mets are guaranteeing something close to an additional $30 million for securing two more free agent seasons and securing a reasonably priced club option in a third free agent year.

McNeil, 31 in April, is now committed for at least his age-34 season and possibly his age-35 season. He just finished one of the best seasons of his career, hitting .326/.382/.454 with nine home runs, 39 doubles, one triple and four stolen bases in 589 plate appearances. Unsurprisingly, that season earned him a second career All-Star nomination and earned him National League Silver Slugger honors, his first such award.

McNeil was one of the hardest strikeouts in the majors, striking out in a career-low 10.4% of his plate appearances. He never walked much and that didn’t change in 2022 (6.8%), but it’s hard to argue with the results. McNeil benefited to some extent from a career-high .353 average on balls in play, but even if that mark recedes toward the .324 mark he held in the 2022 season, his bat-to-ball skills and his passion for finding spaces will continue. allow him to remain the well-above-average hitter he was for most of the 2018-21 seasons.

The 2022 season was also arguably the best defensive season of McNeil’s career. Each of his Defensive Runs Saved (3), Final Zone Rating (3.5) and Above Average Starts (7) each identified him as a great glove handler at second base. He also posted a brief time in the corner outfield (278 innings) and earned average or better reviews for his work there, even contributing a single inning at third base for good measure. Second base will remain his primary home on the diamond, but McNeil has shown in the past that he’s a capable third baseman, left or right fielder, which only adds to his value to the Mets.

Of course, since we’re talking about the Mets, the financial ramifications of the contract extend well beyond the $50 million McNeil himself will receive. The Mets have already cleared the fourth and final luxury tax hurdle this season, meaning every dollar they spend is taxed at 90%. Had McNeil won his arbitration hearing and secured a $7.75 million salary, that would have meant the Mets would have paid $6.975 million in taxes on his salary, bringing the total expense to $14.725 million. Instead, the Mets will now be taxed based on the $12.5MM average annual value of McNeil’s contract. That means they will pay $11.25 million in taxes on McNeil’s contract this year, an increase of $4.275 million over what they would have paid him if he had won an arbitration hearing.

There is some future tax benefit to extending McNeil, even beyond the obvious value of keeping an excellent player at a reasonable rate for the next half decade. If McNeil had won an arbitration hearing next month, and after a batting title, he would have had a strong case, he would have gotten that $7.75MM salary. With another strong season, it’s quite possible that he would have received a raise beyond the $12.5MM AAV of his current contract in his final season of arbitration, when the Mets will likely be back in the highest penalty tier of luxury (with excesses taxed at a clip of 110%). The extension, then, could end up saving the Mets $1 million or so from their luxury ledger for the 2024 season, assuming McNeil has a healthy and productive 2023 campaign.

Such minutiae aside, the main benefit to the Mets is simply keeping a two-time All-Star and paying an annual fee that, with McNeil in good health, will likely be below his true open market value by the time he arrives. the 2024-25 offseason. Certainly, there is some risk to the Mets, as you only have to look at McNeil’s pedestrian .251/.319/.360 batting line from 2021 to see that his lack of power (outside of the washed-ball campaign in 2019) leaves you with a fairly warm soil. The Mets already had control over McNeil’s 31- and 32-year-old seasons, and it’s always possible that preemptively buying a 33- to 35-year-old’s seasons might seem regrettable in retrospect.

That said, the aforementioned ’21 campaign is the only below-average offensive season of McNeil’s career, and his contact skills and defensive aptitude at multiple positions make him a perennially useful player even in his 30s. It’s unrealistic to expect him to replicate his 2022 output in the next few years, but there’s also no reason to think this deal will turn into some kind of egregious misstep.

McNeil now joins Max Scherzer ($43 million), justin verlander ($43 million), Francisco Lindor ($34.1 million), brandon nimmo ($20.5 million), starling mars ($20.75 million), Edwin Diaz ($21.25 million), kodai senga ($15 million), Jose Quintana ($13 million) and Thomas Nest ($2.1MM) as players locked in their 2024 salaries.

Assuming an equal distribution of McNeil’s salary, that would be just over $225 million guaranteed for 10 players, with four other club options (canha brand, edward escobar, raley brooks, there reputation), two player options (Omar Narvaez, Adam Piccolo) and a nine-player umpiring class headlined by Peter Alonso all potentially adding to the bill.

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