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Batting title put McNeil in driver’s seat for $50M deal

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                                New York Mets’ Jeff McNeil speaks to reporters during a news conference in New York.


    New York Mets’ Jeff McNeil speaks to reporters during a news conference in New York.

NEW YORK >> Winning a batting title put Jeff McNeil in the driver’s seat — for a big-money contract and a new car.

New York Mets teammate Francisco Lindor told McNeil early last season he would gift him a vehicle if McNeil won a batting championship. The second baseman led the major leagues at .326, and the Mets rewarded him today with a $50 million, four-year deal.

“I did send Lindor a pretty good video of some very nice cars the other day,” McNeil said during a Citi Field news conference. “So any one of those should be up to my standards.”

McNeil was coy about the make and model other than to say “they were one brand of a very nice …” before cutting himself off.

Lindor’s reply?

“He said those were nice cars,” McNeil recalled. “We’ll see what happens in spring training.”

A 12th-round pick in the 2013 amateur draft, McNeil was at Double-A Binghamton as a 26-year-old in 2018.

“Wondering if you’re going to get paid,” he said.

He was promoted to Triple-A Las Vegas that June and made his big league debut that July 24 with a first-pitch, pinch-hit single against San Diego’s Phil Hughes. McNeil earned $202,177 in the majors that year, $567,714 in 2019, $228,769 for the pandemic-shortened 2020 season and $642,251 in 2021 before a raise to $3 million last year in his first season of arbitration eligibility.

“You never know what’s going to happen. You’re one injury away from being out of this game. And that’s frustrating, that’s scary sometimes,” the two-time All-Star said. “But this deal is able to kind of take that off my mind, and I’m just going to go out there and play hard and be the baseball player I know I am.”

His wife Tatiana and son Lucas, born last July 13, watched from the first row.

“My wife puts him in front of the TV. He’s got no clue,” McNeil said. “But when mom starts cheering, he gets pretty excited as well.”

McNeil’s contract calls for a $6.25 million salary this year, $10.25 million in 2024 and $15.75 million in each of the following two seasons. The Mets have a $15.75 million option for 2027 with a $2 million buyout, a season that if exercised would make the agreement worth $63.75 million over five years.

“When you are able to bring players through your system up to the big leagues, the connectivity that you feel in the organization and the morale that it kind of inspires is a really strong feeling for everybody,” Mets general manager Billy Eppler said. “Jeff had the talent, the resolve to scratch, claw, fight through a lot of adversity and to make it to this point, and this is a very well-deserved day for him.”

McNeil’s worth to the Mets has increased in the inverse to his uniform number, which dropped from 68 as a rookie to 6 in 2019 and to 1 last year. Primarily a second baseman the past two seasons, he also plays the corner outfield spots on occasion.

New York has boosted its projected luxury tax payroll to around $390 million heading into its third season under owner Steve Cohen, which would leave the team with a tax bill of about $116 million. The Mets added pitchers Justin Verlander, Kodai Senga, José Quintana and David Robertson this offseason, along with catcher Omar Narváez and outfielder Tommy Pham. They also re-signed outfielder Brandon Nimmo for $162 million over eight years and closer Edwin Díaz for $102 million over five years.

McNeil could have become a free agent after the 2024 season.

“It starts with ownership. They want to put a winner on the field and it’s been pretty amazing to see what the Mets look like the last few years,” he said. “I want to be a part of that.”

Eppler sidestepped questions about a possible long-term deal for slugging first baseman Pete Alonso, who has a $14.5 million, one-year contract and can go free after the 2024 World Series.

“I really don’t want to have kind of our business out on the street,” Eppler said. “I don’t think it’s fair to the people involved.”=

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