Francisco Lindor is moving to a new city and team that is willing to meet his salary demands.
The four-time Cleveland all-star shortstop – one of baseball’s best all-around players – was traded Thursday along with pitcher Carlos Carrasco to the New York Mets, who have a new owner willing to spend at baseball’s highest levels.
“They did not come cheaply,” Mets president Sandy Alderson said. “What we’re trying to do is create a new reality rather than deal with perception.”
Cash-strapped Cleveland sent Lindor and Carrasco to the National League’s Mets for infielders Andres Gimenez and Amed Rosario, right-handed pitcher Josh Wolf and outfielder Isaiah Greene – a move the American League team hopes will keep it competitive and capable of ending baseball’s longest World Series title drought.
Dealing Lindor, who is eligible for free agency after the 2021 season, was inevitable for mid-market Cleveland, which is unable to compete financially with MLB’s big spenders and dropped roughly US$30-million in payroll by dealing two prominent players and fan favourites.
“These are people we care about, not just players, and guys that loved the organization and have great memories here,” said Cleveland’s president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti, who said he was in tears when he spoke with Lindor and Carrasco. “Trades like this are really tough. But it’s the right thing to do.”
For the Mets, landing Lindor is a home run and another major move by hedge-fund owner Steven Cohen, who bought the team on Nov. 6 from the Wilpon and Katz families and has pledged to increase spending.
One of his next big-ticket items figures to be signing Lindor to a long-term contract, something Cleveland couldn’t do.
The 27-year-old Lindor can affect the game with his bat, glove and legs. A two-time Gold Glove winner, he is a career .285 hitter and averaged 29 homers, 86 RBIs and 21 steals in his six major league seasons — all with Cleveland, which drafted him in 2011 and developed him.
He also has been the face of the Cleveland franchise, with an infectious smile and joy for playing that has made him one of city’s most popular athletes. But he’s gone now, leaving the team without its best player and the city’s sports fans grumbling about owner Paul Dolan.
Carrasco is one of the game’s best comeback stories, overcoming leukemia to become one of the AL’s steadiest starters. The 33-year-old has a 88-73 career record with a 3.73 ERA.
With an abundance of young pitchers, including Cy Young Award winner Shane Bieber, Cleveland was in position to move a player of Carrasco’s calibre.
He can be replaced. Finding someone to fill Lindor’s shoes will be much tougher.
Once Cleveland’s pandemic-shortened 2020 season ended with a loss to the New York Yankees in the wild-card round, it became a matter of when, and not if, Lindor would be traded. Talks intensified Monday.
The team had run out of options. Lindor has turned down numerous long-term contract offers, betting on himself and knowing he could get more money from a major-market team when he becomes a free agent.
He is signed for only another season, so the Mets will have to get to work quickly on locking him up for the long term.
“We’ve had one conversation with him and no conversations with his agent,” Alderson said. “We acquired Francisco because of his present ability and the possibility that he could be a Met long-term. There’s no guarantee of that. It’s something that we will approach, you know, in the next few weeks.”
Cohen is hoping to turn around a franchise that has not won a World Series since 1986.
The Mets fired general manager Brodie Van Wagenen and brought back Alderson, the former GM, as team president. Alderson hired Jared Porter from Arizona as GM.
Lindor had US$6,481,481 in prorated pay from a US$17.5-million salary last year, and he is eligible for free agency after the 2021 season.
Carrasco is signed at US$12-million in each of the next two seasons, part of a deal that includes a US$14-million team option for 2023 with a US$3-million buyout. The option would become guaranteed if he pitches in 170 innings in 2022 and is found to be healthy for the 2023 season.
Since Cohen’s takeover, the Mets have kept pitcher Marcus Stroman for an US$18.9-million qualifying offer and signed right-hander Trevor May to a US$15.5-million, two-year contract and catcher James McCann to a US$40.6-million, four-year deal. New York also signed injured right-hander Noah Syndergaard to a US$9.7-million, one-year deal.
“We’re closer to one player away,” Alderson said.
The Mets gained more financial flexibility when second baseman Robinson Cano was suspended in November for the 2021 season after a positive test for a performance-enhancing drug, eliminating his US$24-million salary.
New York’s payroll is approaching the US$210-million luxury-tax threshold.
“It’s a significant demarcation. I wouldn’t say that it’s a line that cannot be passed,” Alderson said.
Alderson anticipates a coronavirus vaccine will enable a full season or close to a 162-game schedule.
Rosario is eligible for arbitration for the first time after earning US$225,474 prorated from a US$608,780 salary.