Pete Alonso is deserving of the everyday job at first base and the New York Mets would be wise to avoid manipulating his service time.
Service-time manipulation is all too common throughout Major League Baseball. It’s a shrewd business move on the part of front offices, but it has harmful long-term and short-term consequences. For these reasons, the New York Mets shouldn’t mess around with Pete Alonso this year.
First off, there are benefits to keeping Alonso in the minors for the first two weeks of the beginning of the season. This would allow the Mets to manipulate his service time so that they can retain another year of team control down the line.
It’s a way for teams to ensure they are keeping their best young players for longer—and on cheaper contracts. Every team does this. The New York Yankees did it with Gleyber Torres last year. The Chicago Cubs did it with Kris Bryant once upon a time. Not to mention, the Toronto Blue Jays are planning on running this same scheme with No. 1 ranked prospect (according to MLB Pipeline) Vladimir Guerrero Jr.
(Sidenote: Guerrero Jr.’s swing is already almost as pretty as his father’s.)
Despite the instinct to jump on the Wilpons for pinching pennies, this is more complex than that. The Mets are following the common trend around the MLB, but this could come back to bite them in the long run.
Unsurprisingly, players are not fans of skeevy service-time manipulation. Teams don’t come out to admit to the practice, but they aren’t slick. Bryant spoke at length with Sahadev Sharma of The Athletic about the practice and, more specifically, about Guerrero Jr.
“It’s awful,” Bryant said. “So awful. It’s going to happen this year and it happens every year. I could understand it if you go out and have a rough spring training where you don’t look ready. But there’s certain people who put the time and the effort into the offseason so that they do show up to spring training and they prove that they’re ready to go. I feel like you should be rewarded for that.”
“It was so obvious,” Bryant said. “I think they’re going to do it to (Vladimir Guerrero, Jr.). ‘Oh, he’s gotta work on his defense.’ Stuff like that.
Players see it and they know it’s nonsense. Although the Mets would have six years to mend fences with Alonso, the two sides aren’t off to the best of starts. The first baseman put up monster numbers in Double- and Triple-A in 2018. He launched 31 home runs and drove in 119 RBI. He deserved a September call-up.
And yet, the call-up never came. This signaled that the organization might be leaning towards service-time silliness. At the very least, they were leaving the door open for that possibility. Alonso wasn’t happy. He was disheartened.
“But it’s really disheartening because I feel like I’ve performed, and am deserving of a reward,” Alonso said. “At the end of the day when you look up, it’s like, what else can you do? I guess the answer is nothing.”
Again, the Mets will have a long time to repair any damage done by milking another year out of Alonso. Although six years is a long time, he likely won’t forget that the Mets are robbing him from an extra year of free agency. After all, it’s four years later and Bryant clearly hasn’t forgotten.
Long-term implications are one thing. There’s plenty of time to worry about Alonso’s contract situation later. What the Mets don’t have time to do is put out a sub-optimal lineup for the first two weeks of 2019. The Mets have a legitimate chance to make a run at the National League East crown this season. That’s why there is no room to mess around by putting forth less than your best.
To be clear, Alonso is the best option at first base. As the Mets deal with hobbled veterans and the enigmatic Dominic Smith, Alonso has put together the best spring training. He’s slashing .360/.396/.680 with four home runs and nine runs driven in. Smith’s numbers aren’t bad by any stretch, but Alonso is showing plus-power that the Mets desperately need in the lineup.
Furthermore, The NL East is going to be an absolute beast this season. The Atlanta Braves are the reigning champs and their young group is another year more experienced. The Philadelphia Phillies loaded up with Bryce Harper and J.T. Realmuto. The Washington Nationals may take a step back in 2019, but they still have a dominant rotation with Max Scherzer and Patrick Corbin.
In other words, it’s going to be near impossible for the Mets to run away with the division. It’s a painful cliche, but every game really does count. Even these games in late March and early April could be crucial in the long run.
Hope For Opening Day
While it’s impossible to blame Mets fans for expecting the worst, there’s hope that the team will step up and make the right call. General manager Brodie Van Wagenen was an agent in his past life and he understands the plight of players. In fact, the brash Van Wagenen proclaimed that the team intends to have Alonso on the Opening Day roster.
Manager Mickey Callaway doubled down on that sentiment recently. When asked if the team would consider carrying Alonso and Smith, Callaway was open to the idea.
“We’re still considering at this point,” Callaway said Wednesday via Andy Vasquez of NJ.com. “We’ve got a lot of roster decisions to make and we have a lot of tough ones, which is good. That means our players have been performing well in camp and we have a lot of talent to make decisions on. So it’s something that we’re still walking through at this point.”
It’s a positive sign that Alonso will likely be on the Opening Day roster. That would show good faith on the part of the organization and it would give Alonso the at-bats to prove he can handle everyday duties at first. Callaway also told Vasquez that both Smith and Alonso would see time at first.
Alonso has proved his worth at every level and he’s continued to impress this spring. Splitting time with Smith isn’t ideal, but it’s a far cry from the silliness of service-time manipulation.