His veritable destruction of the pitching staffs of the 2019 Grapefruit League notwithstanding, there’s been little doubt in anyone’s mind that Pete Alonso is ticketed for Syracuse to start the season. But for a team that will live and die on marginal wins, shouldn’t there be?
It’s been accepted as a no-brainer for years that any prospect of value should be left in the minors for three weeks to start the season in order to preserve an extra year of team control. Indeed, you’d be hard-pressed to find a top prospect who wasn’t held down for this reason. The Braves’ Ronald Acuña Jr., the Dodgers’ Cody Bellinger, and the Cubs’ Kris Bryant were all miraculously ready for the majors precisely when their service time dictated they ought to be.
On the surface, the trade-off seems straightforward: three weeks now to garner a whole year later. Who could say no to that? Well, the Mets can, and they should.
To start with, the 2019 Mets need every minute of Pete Alonso they can get. This is a team ticketed for a third-place finish in a nail-biter of a division. The argument in favor of holding players down is that it’s too short a period for one player to have enough influence over the end-of-season record, but it’s hardly a stretch to imagine playoff spots being determined by a single game this year. Alonso might net them only one win or so but that win could be everything.
Additionally, no knock on Alonso, who is a potential beast this team badly needs, but the arc of his career is very different from that of his fellow top prospects. The Blue Jays are under fire, as well they should be, for delaying the start of Vlad Guerrero Jr’s career, but what they stand to gain is the budding superstar’s age-26 season, the very peak of his career. Likewise, manipulation guaranteed the Braves Acuña’s age-26 season, and the Nationals Juan Soto’s age-25.
What the Mets would sacrifice by taking their best 25 to Queens is Alonso’s age-30 season. This is not to say that he won’t have value at that age, but there’s just no comparing it to a mid-twenties year from the consensus best-in-baseball prospect.
And if Alonso is everything the Mets hope and is still a total rock star at the end of his period of team control? Here’s a radical notion: they could bring him back as a free agent. Teams talk about losing a year of a player, but they really mean losing a cheap year of a player; nothing is stopping them from stepping up and paying the market rate for someone who helps them win ball games.
This is supposed to be an all-in season for the Mets. They passed on two generational free agents, declined to upgrade the rotation, and now are balking at fielding the best roster available to them. They will point to Dom Smith’s .906 spring training OPS, conveniently overlooking the accompanying 27% strikeout rate and .128 isolated slugging, and remind everyone that Alonso’s defense is still a work in progress, a process sure to take somewhere between 21 and 28 days to truly perfect.
But what if they didn’t? What if the Mets decided they were ready to be the team that prioritizes good baseball now over payroll later? It sounds laughable, but Brodie Van Wagenen is supposed to be this kind of a guy, who doesn’t buy into the standard operating procedure just because. Let Pete Alonso be the new market inefficiency.