For the New York Mets, pulling off a blockbuster trade for All-Star shortstop Francisco Lindor is merely a partial measure. That's because Lindor is slated for free agency after the upcoming season, and it's incumbent upon the Mets to ensure he never gets to that point.
Lucky for them, Lindor has said he's indeed open to signing a contract extension before he reaches the market, which means it's now on the Mets to pay the going rates for one of the brightest stars in the game -- a star that would be brighter still in MLB's largest market.
Yes, Lindor moves the needle for them in a big way in 2021 -- Steve Cohen's first season as the franchise's new owner -- and no matter what happens beyond that point, Lindor makes them much more likely to make the postseason this year. That said, Lindor's established excellence, alluring personality, and projected future value in tandem with Cohen's promises of sustained contention put great pressure on the Mets to sign Lindor to an extension.
Most essentially, there's the matter of Lindor's present and future worth to the Mets. Here's a look at his career to date according to some thumbnail measures of hitting, defense, and speed:
|Year||OPS+||Outs above average shortstop||Sprint speed (feet/second)|
There's no real sign of slippage in any facet or any kind of single-season peak that towers far above the remainder. The only time Lindor didn't indisputably perform at an All-Star and or MVP level was in 2020, which, need we remind you, was a 60-game season played against the backdrop of a global pandemic. Moreover, Lindor boasts the kind of profile -- highly athletic, fleet of foot, a standout defender at a premium position -- that tends to age very well, He's also going into his age-27 season in 2021, which means his deep decline phase should be a long way off.
Since the start of his career in 2015, Lindor's WAR of 28.7 ranks sixth among MLB position players over that span. If he'd begun his rookie season on Opening Day instead of being called up on June 14, 2015, then Lindor would probably trail just Mike Trout, Mookie Betts, and Nolan Arenado on that list. He's elite, and he's likely going to continue being elite for at least the next half decade or so and then settle at somewhere between useful and darn good for a while.
There's also the fact that locking up Lindor long-term would line up nicely with the status of a number of key teammates (Trevor Bauer not yet among them). Consider:
- Ace Jacob deGrom is under contract through at least 2023 with a club option for 2024.
- Catcher and recent free agent addition James McCann is signed through 2024.
- Core position players Pete Alonso, Dominic Smith, Jeff McNeil, and J.D. Davis aren't eligible for free agency until after the 2024 season.
- Veteran right-hander Carlos Carrasco, who was traded out of Cleveland along with Lindor, is signed through 2022 with an option for 2023.
- Outfielder Brandon Nimmo has another two seasons of team control before he's eligible for free agency.
That's a strong mid- to long-term core worthy, and a new Lindor contract would make it worthy of the sustained contention to which Cohen aspires. Yes, the Mets have some pressing decisions elsewhere -- Michael Conforto, Noah Syndergaard, and Marcus Stroman are all in their walk years -- but none is as pressing as Lindor as an early capstone to Cohen's debut offseason as owner.
Certainly, it's going to take a lot to get something done. Any Lindor extension is necessarily going to buy out multiple free agent years, and that always comes as a lofty price. Right now, the largest contract in Mets history is David Wright's $138 million extension (if deGrom's final option year is picked up, his will be worth $170 million), and any Lindor extension would likely more than double that figure. We're talking something in the $300 millions. Sure, Cohen may be taking absorbing body blows from L'Affaire GameStop, but likely not at levels that would affect the team's finances.
Obviously, Mookie Betts' $365 million extension with the Dodgers -- signed leading up to his walk year and before he played a game with them -- is potentially the model. While Lindor is the same age as Betts was when he signed that deal last offseason, Lindor probably isn't going to hit that number because, as great as he is, he's not quite on Betts' level. He will, however, probably come within hailing distance of it. And he'll almost certainly be worth it.
The back end of any Lindor extension could look sub-optimal from the team standpoint, but that's after they'll have reaped a great deal of excess value at the front end. That's how high-dollar, long-term contracts tend to go, and from the Mets' standpoint it will have all been worth it.
Circling back to the curiosity of Betts' committing to the Dodgers before he'd even suited up for them, that's probably how any Lindor-Mets extension would have to go. Here's what Lindor said at his introductory Mets press conference regarding his timeline for signing an extension:
"It gets to a point in spring training and it is time to enjoy the ride and focus on winning."
That's hardly a unique stance, as many a player has declared that once "play ball" is uttered, even in an exhibition setting, then the time for talking contract has passed. That appears to be the case with Lindor, which means the Mets at this writing have roughly one month to get ink on paper. Given that at least cursory discussions have probably already taken place, that's eminently doable. It's also eminently advisable from the Mets' standpoint.
Pulling off the trade for Lindor was the first triumph of the Cohen era, but failing to keep him would be a jarring failure. They certainly have the means to ensure Lindor plays the rest of his career in Queens, but the essential matter is whether they have the will.