Proclaiming Edgardo Alfonzo a key part of their team, the New York Mets avoided arbitration with the infielder by agreeing Friday to an $18.4 million, four-year contract.
Alfonzo is being moved from third base to second this year to make way for Robin Ventura, the Mets big free agent acquisition. Alfonzo hit .278 last season and set career highs with 17 homers and 78 RBIs.
"We feel good we were able to lock in place what we feel will be one of the best infields in baseball this year," Mets general manager Steve Phillips said.
Alfonzo, who made $1.75 million last year, had asked for $3.85 million in arbitration and had been offered $2.5 million. The deal calls for a $500,000 signing bonus -- $300,000 payable now and $200,000 in January 2000 -- and salaries of $2,675,000 this year, $4 million in 2000, $5.5 million in 2001 and $5,725,000 in 2002.
The deal contains escalators and bonus clauses that could raise its total value to $24.8 million if Alfonzo becomes a four-time All-Star and wins four Gold Gloves and Silver Sluggers.
"He's 25 years old and improving, and showed some power potential later in the year," Phillips said, referring to Alfonzo's seven home runs in August.
Alfonzo, who would have been eligible for free agency after the 2000 season, was out of the country and unavailable for comment, "attending to his cows and building a house in Venezuela," according to the player's agent, Peter Greenberg.
"I've heard cows mooing in the back when I've talked to him," Greenberg said.
Alfonzo played third base during the winter league, not wanting to displace Houston's Carlos Hernandez at second. But Greenberg said Alfonzo worked out at second before and after games.
"I do not have any concern about it at all," Phllips said. "Edgardo is cautious and humble in talking about it. I know inside he's confident about it."
New York, with a payroll more than $60 million, had thought about negotiating a one-year contract and an extension after opening day, or even putting together a tentative multiyear deal and announcing it after the opener. That way, the later years wouldn't count toward the luxury tax.
"I don't believe in doing a deal and holding it," Phillips said. "One, it's against the rules. Two, there are so many assumed risks, both on the player's part and the club's part, that it's not worth it."
Three Mets remain in arbitration: shortstop Rey Ordonez and pitchers Turk Wendell and Armando Benitez. The Mets haven't gone to a hearing since 1992.
"I still believe we're going to have at least one case this year that winds up going," Phillips said. "I don't view it as a problem. It's just part of what we have to do in this game."
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