Mets extends Jeff McNeil

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

McNeil and the Mets could not agree on an annual salary for the upcoming season and appeared to be headed for an arbitration hearing. He had requested $7.75 million after his first National League batting title in 2021, while the Mets had countered with $6.25 million. Those sums can now be thrown away as McNeil’s last two arbitrage years are tied up. If we count 2023 at the midpoint of $7 million of those two amounts and calculate that McNeil could have made somewhere between $12 and 13 million in what is his last arbitration season, the Mets are guaranteeing somewhere close to an additional $30 million. to commit two more seasons without players and secure a reasonably priced club option for a third year without players.

McNeil, 31 in April, is now locked into his 34-year campaign and possibly his 35-year season. He is fresh off one of the best seasons of his career, with a .326/.382/.454 batting line that includes nine home runs, 39 doubles, a triple and four stolen bases in 589 at bats. Unsurprisingly, that season netted him a second career All-Star nod and earned him the National League’s Silver Slugger honor – his first such award.

McNeil was one of the heaviest strikeouts in the Majors, with a career low of 10.4% of his at bats. He’s never run much and won’t change that in 2022 (6.8%), but it’s hard to argue with the results. To some extent, McNeil benefited from a career-high .353 average on balls in the game, but even if that number falls back to the .324 mark he hit in the 2022 season, his bat-to-ball skills and penchant for finding the gaps allow him to continue to be the above-average hitter he was for most of the 2018-2021 seasons.

The 2022 season was also probably the best defensive season of McNeil’s career. Each of the Defensive Runs Saved (3), Ultimate Zone Rating (3.5), and Outs Above Average (7) made him a strong handler of the gauntlet at second base. He also logged some short time in the outfield corners (278 innings) and received average or better reviews for his work there, even scoring a lone inning at third base for good measure. Second base remains his primary home on the diamond, but McNeil has shown in the past that he is a capable third baseman, left fielder 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 far beyond the $50 million McNeil himself will receive. The Mets have already passed the fourth and final luxury tax barrier this season, meaning any dollars they spend will be taxed at a 90% clip. 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 total expenses to $14.725 million. Instead, the Mets will now be taxed based on the $12.5 million average annual value of McNeil’s contract. That means they’ll pay $11.25 million in taxes on McNeil’s contract this year — an increase of $4.275 million from what they would have paid him if he had won an arbitration hearing.

Renewing McNeil has a tax benefit going forward – even more than the obvious value of keeping an excellent player at a reasonable rate for the next five years. If McNeil had won an arbitration hearing next month—and if he had come off a batting title, he would have had a strong case—he would have gotten that $7.75 million salary. With another strong season, he probably would have gotten a raise in his last arb season that exceeded the $12.5 million AAV from his current contract, when the Mets will likely be back in the top tier of luxury penalties (with excesses that are taxed). at a 110% clip. Thus, the extension could see the Mets save about $1 million on their luxury ledger for the 2024 season — assuming McNeil has a healthy and productive 2023 campaign.

Such details aside, the main upside for the Mets is simply keeping a two-time All-Star and paying an annual rate that, in good health for McNeil, will probably clock in below its true market value by the time the 2024 -25 off-season rolls around. There is certainly some risk for the Mets, as you only have to look at McNeil’s 2021 pedestrian .251/.319/.360 batting line to see his lack of power (outside of the juiced ball campaign in 2019) make him a fairly lukewarm floor. The Mets already had control over McNeil’s 31 and 32 seasons, and it’s always possible that preemptively buying out a player’s 33 through 35 seasons could seem regrettable in retrospect.

That said, the aforementioned ’21 campaign is the only sub-par offensive season of McNeil’s career, and his contact skills and multi-position defensive aptitude make him an ever-useful player even into his mid-thirties. It’s unrealistic to expect him to replicate his 2022 production in years to come, but there’s also little reason to believe this deal will culminate in some form of blatant misstep.

McNeil joins now Max Scherzer ($43MM), Justin Verlander ($43MM), Francisco Lindor ($34.1 million), Brandon Nimmo ($20.5 million), Spree Marte ($20.75MM), Edwin Diaz ($21.25MM), Koda Senga ($15MM), Jose Quintana ($13MM) and Thomas litter ($2.1 million) as players held onto their 2024 paychecks.

Assuming an even split of McNeil’s salary, that would work out to just over $225 million guaranteed for 10 players, with an additional four club options (Mark Kanha, Edward Escobar, Brooks Raley, There reputation), two player options (Omar Narvaez, Adam Piccolo) and a nine-player arbitration class headlined by Peter Alonso all potentially adding to the bill.

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