Trading away an All-Star caliber player who is just entering the prime of his career would appear to be a ludicrous move. Just two years ago, first baseman Pete Alonso broke the rookie home run record with an astonishing 53 long balls. At only 26 years old with an incredibly team friendly contract, the asking price on him would be sky high. The New York Mets want to compete beyond just 2021, and despite having a very solid roster, they are still slightly below the elites of the National League.
This off-season has seen the Mets close significant gaps within their roster. They had an extremely successful offseason, as their crowning achievement was trading for one of baseball’s best young players in Francisco Lindor. Solidifying the much-needed shortstop position for the foreseeable future to complement their other array of talent will hopefully provide them with a capable roster for years to come. Even with all the positive strides they made, they did not accomplish everything they wanted to.
Two major free agents New York missed out on were Trevor Bauer and George Springer. The largest weaknesses on this team right now are the center field position and their starting rotation, specifically the backend. Signing either or even both of these players would have strengthened these aspects of their roster immensely.
Striking out on these stars forced the team to go in a different direction. In response, they signed players like Kevin Pillar, Jonathan Villar, and Taijuan Walker in hopes to add depth. If the Mets can find a way to add another legitimate second or third starter to back Jacob deGrom or an outfielder to upgrade their defense without degrading their lineup, they should go for it.
Everything has a price and what may be to the dismay of many fans, could be the start of a new age for the New York Mets. Pete Alonso is a fan favorite player, as the entire fanbase fell in love with the first baseman during his miraculous 2019 campaign. Though, despite all the hype he receives, and the positives he brings to the table, he is ultimately expendable.
The number one reason why is Dominic Smith. The former first baseman and converted outfielder broke out in 2020, as the former first rounder shocked everyone by finishing 13th in MVP voting. In Smith’s three previous seasons, he had a career OPS below .750, while this past year, his OPS nearly reached 1.000.
Despite the horrendous offensive start to his career, Smith’s lifetime batting average is still higher than Alonso’s. Smith does not produce the same type of power, but he is the better hitter and has room for improvement, while it is very likely Alonso has already peaked.
Hitting 50+ home runs is a phenomenal feat, though replicating those kinds of numbers will be challenging. It is highly possible that Alonso may improve as an overall hitter and cut down his strikeouts, but he is much closer to a more refined Chris Davis or Adam Dunn then a Freddie Freeman or Jose Abreu. As much as he has improved, he is still a free swinger.
Aside from the offensive differences, Smith is the superior defender, and moving him back to his natural position at first base would improve the entirety of the Mets defense. This side of the diamond has been a thorn in the teams’ side for nearly a decade. It was one of the driving reasons why they lost to the Kansas City Royals in the 2015 World Series.
In 2020, Smith had a 93% success rate on balls hit to him when playing first base compared to Alonso’s 78% success rate. Even though Alonso did have more opportunities, the 15% gap is still noteworthy. Another statistic that drastically favors Smith is outs above average (OAA). Since Alonso entered the league in 2019, his OAA is -7, while Smith has an even 0 OAA. Smith is no gold glover, but he is at least league average, and with the more reps he receives in the infield, the better he will get.
On the other hand, Alonso has been the full-time first baseman for two years and compared to Smith, he is somewhat of a defensive liability. When Alonso was coming up through the minors, defense was one of his greatest weaknesses and he has improved, but he is still below league average.
A lot of his struggles can be attributed to going after too many plays. He clearly loves giving it his all, but when a ball is hit to his right, Alonso generally does whatever it takes to reach the ball, instead of letting the second baseman grab it which does occasionally cost the team outs. For a first baseman, Alonso is a great athlete, but he does not have the instincts for the position that Smith possesses.
Not only would Smith at first base improve the infield defense, but the outfield as well. He is a quality bat and a competent infielder, but a poor outfielder. Smith had a -2 OAA in the outfield in 2020, which is even more dreadful considering he only had 21 chances. Lacking the range, skills, and speed to be a viable outfielder, Smith has cost the Mets games in the past for his inexperienced outfield play. Whether it be colliding with the shortstop, botching pop ups, or just being unable to reach a normally catchable ball, Smith does not belong in the outfield. Luckily, if they were to trade Alonso and move Smith back in the diamond, they can put a genuine outfielder in left field.
Right now, the Mets core outfield consists of Michael Conforto, Brandon Nimmo, and Jeff McNeil. Since Robinson Cano was suspended for the season, McNeil will be moving to second base, and this allows one of their off-season acquisitions like Albert Almora Jr. or Pillar to take over centerfield. Their outfield would strengthen tremendously, especially with a player like Pillar who should have won a Gold Glove at this point in his career.
Losing Alonso would seemingly sacrifices offensive potential, but what many forget from last season is that despite the team missing the postseason, they had one of the best hitting teams in the sport. The team was top three in AVG, OBP, and OPS. Scoring runs was not the Mets issue, pitching was.
Therefore, if you take Alonso out of the equation, less is being sacrificed than what might initially be theorized. He is a powerful bat that hits in the middle of the lineup. The most important aspect that they would lose is the fear factor he provides. Ignoring the lackluster 2020 numbers, Alonso is still a name and a presence. He gives protection to all the batters around him, which is why a trade would need to yield a seriously good return.
Trading Alonso at this point in his career would be ideal because his value is insurmountable. Nearly every team on the market will have some interest in a marquee name like Alonso’s. The Mets have done well to fill in their teams’ holes with temporary solutions, but giving away a player of Alonso’s caliber will get the team assets far better than what’s been available in free agency.
Players like Josh Hader or Jose Ramirez have had trade rumors swirling around them, though with a hot commodity like Alonso entering the trade market, even more teams would be willing to offer their assets to acquire such a player. The price tag on him would range from numerous top prospects to multiple seasoned major league players. In the end, he would not be cheap, and the Mets would do everything they could to maximize his value.
Financially and logistically, it might also pay to trade Alonso, especially in the long run. In 2019, the Mets decided to put him on the Opening Day roster, which in turn sacrificed a year of team control. Because of the ridiculous arbitration rules in the MLB, teams will occasionally choose to hold off on calling up their top prospects to prevent them from reaching free agency too early. The Chicago Cubs infamously did this with their number one prospect Kris Bryant in 2015. However, the Mets neglected to make this decision and chose to lose the extra year of control in order to have Alonso on their team from the jump. As a result, trading him soon would save them the hassle of negotiating an extension.
Fernando Tatis Jr. recently signed a 14 year/$340 million extension with the San Diego Padres. Debuting in the same year as Alonso means he might also expect a comparable extension. Tatis is the superior player, but that will not stop Alonso from demanding a similar paycheck. He understands his worth and with more and more players getting massive extensions earlier on in their careers, Alonso will be no different.
Free agency is scary for most teams, as this is where their long-time investments have the opportunity to walk. Teams attempt to avoid this inevitability for as long as possible, though players always want to know the status of their job security and nowadays they ask for extensions two-to-three years prior to their contracts expiring.
If the Mets choose to keep Alonso, this will be an issue they are going to have to deal with. Of course their first baseman will not be the only one wanting an extension. Conforto and Lindor are both much closer to the impending free agency and New York will surely want to keep them. Striking out on Bauer and Springer could be a blessing in disguise for the Mets, as it increases the chances that the Mets can keep more of their current roster on the payroll, though trading away Alonso would ensure this outcome.
New York could choose to hold onto Alonso for this season, but if he has a good year, for instance 40+ home runs with an .850 OPS, then he will have the right to demand a legitimate contract. There is no denying the quality of player Alonso is, but finding a power hitting bat in today’s game is not too tough a task. He is replaceable, with the Mets already having a solid player to fill his spot. The team would save money in the long-term, improve defensively, and it could ultimately improve their odds at winning a championship.
Mets fans would be furious. Teammates would probably be upset, as he is very well liked in the clubhouse. And it would truly look like a puzzling move from the outsider’s standpoint. However, player fandom can lead to a franchise’s downfall. Take some of the Mets fan favorites of the past like David Wright and Matt Harvey. Both were beloved by the fanbase and did great things for the team, but they were held on to for too long and in the end the Mets got zero value from them.
Wright was the captain, but after the team gave him a seven-year extension in 2012, he would only play two full seasons before injuries would derail his career. New York ended up having a lot of money on the books for a player never in uniform.
On the other hand, Harvey was the Mets ace for a few seasons. Despite losing a year to Tommy John surgery in 2014, Harvey came back the next year and pitched phenomenally. He held a ton of trade value at the time and with New York having a multitude of pitching prospects on the rise, cashing in on his value could have been a genius move. Instead, they stuck with him and after a couple dismal seasons, they traded him for the aging Devin Mesoraco. At one time, Harvey could have yielded an All-Star or top prospect, but the team chose to keep him until that value dissipated.
Who knows, maybe Pete Alonso is a future MVP, or maybe he never becomes an All-Star again. Nobody can tell the future, though they can look at the player in front of them. It would be difficult to see the Mets front office pulling the trigger on any such deal, but ignoring recency bias, it could be the right move.
Even though the Nationals won the World Series the next season, they still lost Bryce Harper for nothing. These are tough moves to make, but winning takes chances. An organization is going to have to make bold moves if they want to get better. Everybody on the Mets loves Pete Alonso, but do they really need him?