Clocks on the East Coast approached midnight, and it seemed the New York Mets and shortstop Francisco Lindor were going to enter Opening Day at an impasse over a contract extension.
Lindor had been clear: No negotiating in-season. First pitch between the Mets and Washington Nationals at 7:10 p.m. Thursday served as the deadline. Would the Mets, after trading for Lindor to signal a new era in franchise history, risk him entering the open market after the 2021 season?
The Twitter posturing by Steve Cohen, MLB’s wealthiest owner who purchased the team from the disliked (and famously frugal) Wilpons in November, made it seem like all was doomed.
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But perhaps Wednesday night served as an important reminder: these aren’t the Mets of old with Cohen signing the checks.
Francisco Lindor: There aren’t too many superstars in baseball — at least, they’ve yet to be marketed in such a way — like Lindor. There are few better defensive shortstops in the game, whether it be in terms of range or arm. He can switch-hit, with power (three 30+ home run seasons).
Given all of that, there was little need for him to risk an injury or subpar 2021 season to impact his value, especially with a deep free-agent class at the position. Now he’ll be one of the richest men in baseball with a 10-year, $341 million contract that begins in 2022.
The personality, by all accounts, is infectious. In New York, one of the largest concentrations of stateside Puerto Ricans, the Puerto Rico native will play in front of fans who not only appreciate the passion, it’s a part of their identity, too.
Steve Cohen: For a minute there, Cohen appeared to fumble the goodwill he’d earned from fans since buying the team and injecting his fortune to bolster the infrastructure. Still, it hadn’t been the smoothest offseason for the Mets and Cohen. In January, they fired former general manager Jared Porter, on the job for barely a month, after an ESPN report revealed he sent unsolicited and explicit text messages to a female reporter. Then, allegations of past sexual harassment toward women by ex-manager Mickey Callaway — including during his Mets tenure from 2018-19 — became public.
Nonetheless, Cohen kept up his Twitter schtick of being playfully out of touch when it came to Lindor, and eventually divulged details of an Italian dinner he and Lindor shared at the height of negotiations (he had ravioli, Lindor had chicken parmesan).
The deal came to fruition, though, which completed two things for Cohen: 1) backed up his words by dishing out a mega-deal four months into his ownership (for a player that wasn’t on the roster when he bought the team, and 2) signaled his commitment to building a sustainable winner.
Billionaires don’t play by normal rules.
Mets pitchers: Of today and down the line. There’s no denying Lindor won’t be the same player toward the end of this deal compared to the present day (they aren’t paying him that number to produce at this level during an age-36/37 season, anyway). But his defense isn’t expected to decline anytime soon, and that is great news for the Mets’ staff, which hasn’t had a reliable full-time defensive player up the middle — that can also produce runs on the offensive side — in a decade.
Defensive runs saved isn’t a perfect statistic, but between 2011-2020, according to FanGraphs, the Mets ranked 28th in MLB (last in the National League) at the position (-97).
Pending free-agent shortstops: Trevor Story (Colorado Rockies), Carlos Correa (Houston Astros), Corey Seager (Los Angeles Dodgers) and Javier Baez (Chicago Cubs) are all entering their walk years. Lindor has set the market. May the hundreds of millions of dollars be in their favor.
Fernando Tatis Jr.: Labeling Tatis Jr. a “loser” in any way, even in a manner as trivial as this exercise, feels wrong. No “loser’s” contract is worth $340 million. But there is no denying that Lindor’s number was meant to send a message that he believes he is the best shortstop in MLB. The extra $1 million given to Lindor dropped Tatis Jr., who signed a 14-year deal this offseason, to the fourth-biggest overall contract in the game.
Cleveland baseball team: A team that operates like Cleveland didn’t want to afford Lindor for this season, let alone an annual average value that exceeds $30 million. Until Cleveland reaches that point, however, it will be a continuous cycle of losing their biggest stars and watching them make new homes elsewhere.
Say Lindor keeps up his career pace and enters the Hall of Fame. As of last night, the hat on his plaque has a “NY” on it.
Follow Chris Bumbaca on Twitter @BOOMbaca.