First in a series analyzing the New York Mets
In a game of picking a position at which the Mets are most likely set for the next decade, first base could be the safest bet.
Pete Alonso obliterated the franchise’s single-season record for homers last year on his way to eclipsing Aaron Judge’s MLB rookie mark. The 25-year-old Alonso, who finished with 53 homers, has fast become a New York celebrity, but the pressure of trying to orchestrate an encore performance will be there when and if the baseball season starts.
The Yankees are still waiting for such a development from Judge, whose last two seasons were derailed by injuries. Judge was set to begin this season on the injured list, after sustaining a broken rib and collapsed lung before the game’s shutdown for the COVID-19 outbreak. It’s a reminder that luck, as much as talent, is necessary in maintaining excellence.
Alonso’s .941 OPS against left-handed pitching last season was impressive. More impressive was his .941 OPS against right-handed pitching in establishing himself as a consistent force. Here’s another one: Alonso hit 27 homers at Citi Field last season. On the road he hit 26 homers.
The anticipated horror show at first base — given Alonso’s reputation as a poor fielder — never surfaced. Alonso was far from a standout at the position, but hardly embarrassed himself and continues to strive for improvement.
Upon arriving to spring training, Alonso announced he was hunting for a Gold Glove award this season. The only other Mets first baseman with such hardware is Keith Hernandez, who won six straight Gold Gloves for the Mets beginning in 1983.
“I want to be as fine-tuned as [Hernandez] was when he was in the game,” Alonso told The Post in February. “There’s a lot of responsibilities on that side of the diamond, and last year I feel like I did a good job of learning on the big-league level and now I want to be great.”
Hernandez is a believer.
“If anybody can do it, Pete can,” he said. “He’s very dedicated at his profession and is a sincerely hard worker. He’ll put the time in to improve this aspect of his game.”
Alonso’s other bold proclamation from the spring was he wants to be “celebrating on a parade float, drunk as hell,” after the season. Such bravado has endeared him to Mets fans, appreciative of not only an All-Star performer, but a player hungry to bring a World Series title to Queens.
Already, there are hints that Alonso can take the baton from David Wright and become the next Mets captain. It might behoove the Mets to follow the course they took with Wright early in his career and after this season (if one is played) and buy out Alonso’s arbitration eligibility, extending his contract through the first two or three years he would receive on a free-agent deal. From a team perspective, such a move is less risky on a position player than a pitcher, but Alonso must first prove last year wasn’t a fluke.
Alonso doesn’t have to hit 50-plus homers over a full season to prove he’s worthy. Continued improvement in making contact and fielding his position can compensate for any expected drop-off in homers.
A decade from now, it’s unlikely any of the current Mets with major league experience will still be playing for the club. Amed Rosario has a chance, but the money is most on Alonso.