The money Lindor, 27, stands to make when (or if) he hits free agency at the end of the 2021 season. The money the Indians saved by unloading not only Lindor but also veteran pitcher Carlos Carrasco in the same deal. And the money the Mets’ new billionaire owner, Steve Cohen, has been itching to spend since he took control in November.
That money, it turns out, goes a long way when many other teams are downsizing.
What the trade — Lindor and Carrasco to the Mets for younger shortstops Amed Rosario and Andrés Giménez and prospects Josh Wolf and Isaiah Greene — says about baseball as an industry is open for debate, particularly with the sport in a state of upheaval: facing both an ongoing labor Cold War and the prospect of a second straight season altered by the coronavirus pandemic.
But what it says about the goals of the Mets and Indians is clear.
On one side is the Mets. Since Cohen took ownership from the Wilpon family — saying at his introductory news conference, “I’m not in this to be mediocre … I want something great” — New York has been the industry’s most aggressive and motivated mover on the offseason talent market. It already signed the sport’s largest free agent contract this winter, the four-year, $40 million deal for catcher James McCann, and is viewed, even after the Lindor/Carrasco trade, as the leading suitor for free agent center fielder George Springer and pitcher Trevor Bauer.
In Lindor, the Mets added a four-time all-star and one of baseball’s most dynamic and telegenic superstars to a lineup that already includes 2019 National League rookie of the year Pete Alonso and rising star Dominic Smith. And in Carrasco, they added a proven starter with a career 3.77 ERA to a rotation headed by two-time Cy Young winner Jacob deGrom and former all-star Marcus Stroman.
On a sheer talent level, if the Mets aren’t already on equal footing with the three-time defending division champion Atlanta Braves in the National League East, they may be there by the time spring training camps are scheduled to open in mid-February.
With Cohen’s deep pockets and lofty ambition, the Mets almost certainly will sign Lindor to a mammoth, long-term contract extension — mirroring the Los Angeles Dodgers’ trade for superstar right fielder Mookie Betts from the Boston Red Sox roughly 11 months ago, which was followed five months later by the Dodgers signing him to a 12-year $365 million extension. Like Lindor, Betts was one year away from reaching free agency at the time of the trade.
“We acquired Francisco because of his present ability and the possibility he could be a Met long term,” Mets President Sandy Alderson said during a video news conference. “There’s no guarantee of [an extension]. It’s something we will approach in the next few weeks. … I think what we have to offer is a great city [and] an organization we think is on the rise. There’s a lot of excitement with new ownership. I think there’s a lot of reason to be optimistic.”
And the Mets pulled off Thursday’s blockbuster without giving up anyone they couldn’t live without. Rosario and Giménez, both shortstops, were made obsolete by Lindor’s acquisition, while Wolf, a 20-year-old right-handed pitcher, and Greene, a 19-year-old outfielder, were the ninth- and 10th-ranked prospects, respectively, in the Mets’ farm system, per MLB Pipeline.
On the other side of Thursday’s deal is the Indians, who have been hemorrhaging high-end talent at a shocking rate the past two years. Convinced they had no chance of re-signing Lindor after this season, they instead dealt away the player who had become the face of their franchise during a stretch that featured four playoff appearances in five seasons, highlighted by a trip to the 2016 World Series. Carrasco’s inclusion in the deal was a blatant salary dump; he is owed $27 million over the next two seasons.
“I can understand the sadness [of Indians fans], the frustration, all the emotions that go along with a trade like this. I appreciate them and experience them myself,” Indians President Chris Antonetti said. “ … We have to operate within the system that’s in place. We try to build a successful franchise within the rules of the collective bargaining agreement and the economic system of baseball.
“We made multiple attempts to sign [Lindor], but that didn’t happen, and now he has transitioned to another organization. That’s just the reality of the professional baseball landscape right now.”
Imagine: in 2018, the Indians won 91 games and their third straight American League Central title featuring a lineup anchored by Lindor, who hit a career-high 38 homers, and a rotation headed by Corey Kluber, Bauer, Carrasco and Mike Clevinger.
But within the past 18 months, all five have been traded away for mostly younger players and prospects. And now the Indians, coming off a second-place finish in 2020, are left with a shell of a team that, as currently constructed, will have a payroll in the $50 million range in 2021, which would be among the lowest in MLB.
Whether fault lies with an economic system, exacerbated by the revenue losses from the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, that has increased the stratification between baseball’s haves and have-nots or with an ownership group willing to use that economic system and short-term losses as excuses for keeping payrolls low — the effect is the same for Indians fans.
Those fans are being made to say goodbye to another great player — two of them, actually — in the name of future payroll flexibility. Which is a fine enough goal and which has become the buzz phrase of modern baseball — but which is nowhere near as much fun to root for as Francisco Lindor.