Mets first baseman Pete Alonso has a problem with baseballs, but it doesn’t concern whether pitchers are loading sticky stuff onto them to gain an edge. In fact, Alonso says, he doesn’t care what pitchers put on their hands.
“I’d rather have guys have as much stick as possible and focus on throwing the ball to the box (strike zone),” Alonso told reporters before his game Wednesday in Baltimore.
No, his gripe is with MLB, and for a reason that not many people would think about or, frankly, believe: Alonso claims that he and other players are convinced that the commissioner’s office changes the properties of the ball each year based on the strengths of the upcoming free-agent class and the number of players who are late in the salary arbitration process.
MORE: What was Gerrit Cole’s spin rate vs. Twins?
“Oh, no, that’s a fact,” Alonso said, per Newsday’s Tim Healey (subscription required). “Yes, guys have talked about it. But in 2019 there was a huge class of free-agent pitchers, and that’s quote-unquote the juiced balls. 2020 was a strange year with the COVID season. But now that we’re back to playing in a regular season with a ton of shortstops or position players that are going to be paid a lot of money, high-caliber players, yeah, it’s not a coincidence. It definitely is something that they did.”
Alonso’s teammate Francisco Lindor set the shortstop market in spring training by signing a 10-year, $341 extension that will begin in 2022. Trevor Story, Corey Seager, Carlos Correa, Javier Baez and Marcus Semien (who’s playing second base for the Blue Jays this year) remain in that loaded class. Trea Turner will be arbitration-eligible for the final time in 2022, meaning he can base his salary number on free-agent contracts.
Freddie Freeman, Nolan Arenado, Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant also could go to market.
But if Alonso and others are convinced that MLB is messing with the ball to keep players from being paid, they might want to look at the numbers for that above group. Baseball isn’t doing so hot in devaluing those hitting stars:
In other words, most of the top contract-year players are positioning themselves statistically to cash in.
As Healey noted, the top of the 2019 free-agent pitcher class included Gerrit Cole (nine years, record $324 million contract from the Yankees), Stephen Strasburg (seven years, $245 million from the Nationals), Zack Wheeler (five years, $118 million from the Phillies), Madison Bumgarner (five years, $85 million from the Diamondbacks) and Hyun-Jin Ryu (four years, $80 million from the Blue Jays). The head of that class did just fine.
There is a chance the 2021-22 free agents might not get their money, but it won’t be because of a dead ball; rather, it will be because of the toxic relationship between MLB and the players association. The collective bargaining agreement expires Dec. 1. If there a renewal isn’t agreed to by then, no one’s getting paid.