New York Mets batting champion Jeff McNeil signs a $50 million contract
Friday’s agreement between the New York Mets and National League batting champion Jeff McNeil for a four-year, $50 million contract ensures that one of the team’s core players will remain in Queens as the Mets attempt to win their first World Series since 1986.
McNeil, who turns 31 a week after Opening Day, was scheduled to appear in an arbitration trial with the Mets. He was requesting $7.75 million, and the Mets offered $6.25 million, in exchange for his request. Instead, the void sparked discussions about whether to buy out multiple free agent seasons in order to keep McNeil beyond his remaining two years of arbitration. A fifth-year club option, which would bring the total value to $63.75 million, is included in the deal, which is still subject to a physical.
The prospect of teams penalizing McNeil for his age and the fact that the market does not always reward contact-oriented players made the extension more appealing because McNeil was not expected to reach free agency until just before his age-33 season.
McNeil is without a doubt one of the best bat-to-ball artists in the game, striking out only 242 times in 2,039 plate appearances. Only nine players with at least 1,000 plate appearances since McNeil’s debut in 2018 have a strikeout rate higher than McNeil’s.
McNeil is considered a hitter by only Michael Brantley and Luis Arraez. McNeil has a career batting average of.307, ranking third in that span behind Arraez and Freddie Freeman. Even though McNeil doesn’t have a lot of power, he had a lot of pop in 2022. He hit.326/.382/.454 with 39 doubles, 9 home runs, 62 RBIs, and just 61 strikeouts in 589 plate appearances.
Throughout McNeil’s career, the Mets valued his versatility because he frequently played both second base and corner outfield. He 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, despite playing a career-high 106 games at second and being well above average there.
The Mets’ competitive balance tax bill will keep rising due to the deal’s average annual value of $12.5 million. McNeil’s new CBT number will reflect the AAV, whereas the anticipated CBT hit was either of the arbitration numbers. This will result in a 90% tax on the $4.25 million to $5.75 million overage.
The Mets’ new payroll and tax estimate of approximately $467 million would break the major league record.
The Mets may find that the penalty is well worth the savings in subsequent seasons. McNeil has won more than 16 games above replacement in five big league seasons, and his skills tend to hold up well over time. However, McNeil’s unique skill set may be lessened by the possibility that batting averages will rise as a result of a pitch clock and a ban on defensive shifts.
Naturally, McNeil’s batting average could also rise; his season averages are.329,.318,.311, and.326 with the exception of his anomalous.251 in 2021. He is likely to play first base alongside Pete Alonso, shortstop Francisco Lindor, with whom he had a famous incident in the dugout in 2021 but has since reconciled, and some combination of Eduardo Escobar, Luis Guillorme, and rookie Brett Baty at third base in 2022.