Mets Make Smart Decision in Locking Up Jeff McNeil

The Mets have reportedly locked up a key piece of the team’s lineup for the foreseeable future, as Jeff McNeil and the organization have reportedly come to terms (via ESPN) on a four-year, $50 million extension. This deal will see the Mets buy out McNeil’s final two years of arbitration, as well as two additional seasons. It’s a smart, yet affordable move for a team willing to spend, as the Mets lock up one of the game’s premier hitters.

Related: Orioles Boost Rotation as Cole Irvin Heads from Oakland to Baltimore

A Look at McNeil

Mets infielder Jeff McNeil doesn’t follow a cookie cutter model for his game. That’s blatantly obvious just by looking at his bat and stance at the plate. McNeil regularly chokes up on the bat, a twig that doesn’t feature a knob at all. The 30-year-old doesn’t draw a lot of walks, and often chases and swings at the first pitch. Yet, McNeil has found success at the plate.

The two-time All-Star has been a revelation since being called up by the Mets in 2018, as he’s been a key cog of the offense over the past four seasons. The 2022 campaign was proof of just that; McNeil won his first batting title in a season in which he recorded a career-high .326 batting average, 49 extra base hits, and a 140 OPS+. That campaign won McNeil a NL Silver Slugger award in November.

Sure, McNeil — who we rated as one of the league’s best second basemen entering the 2023 season — hasn’t been able to crack double digits in home runs since his 23 home run campaign in 2019. But in an era where power and launch angle is king, McNeil has turned into one of the league’s valuable hitters. The 30-year-old possesses impeccable bat-to-ball skills, and excels at effortlessly shooting balls in the outfield. In addition to setting a career-high in batting average, McNeil recorded career bests in LD% (30.0%) and Whiff% (15.9%) — the latter of which is about 9% better than the league average.

In addition to elite contact skills, McNeil also plays a very solid second base. McNeil owns a career Outs Above Average rating of +18, including a +12 over the last two seasons at second.

A career .307 hitter, McNeil did seem like he was on the outs in New York after a difficult 2021 season. Fast forward a year, and the second base’s story is much different.

What it Means

It’s hard not to like this signing. To the tune of $12.5 million in average annual value a year, the Mets lock up arguably the best pure contact hitter in the game. McNeil may not draw a ton of walks, but there’s plenty of value in hitting oneself on base. The 30-year-old’s .382 OBP ranked as the eighth-best figure in the league last season among qualified hitters. With hitters like Pete Alonso and Francisco Lindor entrenched in the middle of the Mets lineup, and potential future stars Brett Baty and Francisco Álvarez not far behind, having players who can get on-base in any way shape or form is vital. It might not be pretty all the time, but McNeil gets the job done.

A versatile hitter who can be slotted either right behind Brandon Nimmo in the #2 slot or in the middle of the lineup, the Mets should feel quite good now that the ‘Squirrel’ will stay in Queens.

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