In an offseason soggy with uncertainties both threatening and actually falling from the sky, the New York Mets on Thursday, the seventh day of January, and already wrangling with the free agents Trevor Bauer and George Springer, traded for shortstop Francisco Lindor and pitcher Carlos Carrasco.
That they are blessed with a billionaire owner with an impression to make and who was largely untouched by the pandemic-stricken, profit-sucking 2020 season — he closed on the purchase of the team in early November — made the Mets this baseball winter’s blue-and-orange fulcrum.
So it was that the Cleveland Indians arrived with a player they’d determined they had to trade — Lindor, the four-time All Star, weeks from his walk year — and a soon-to-be-34-year-old pitcher due $27 million over the next two seasons — Carrasco. They got back four players and then solemnly returned to the business of trying to be a little smarter, a little more wary and a little more thorough, which is both admirable and still at its best becomes a day when you must trade Francisco Lindor for something less, maybe even a lot less.
“I have to operate in reality,” a subdued Chris Antonetti, president of baseball operations for Cleveland, said Thursday afternoon. “And the reality is the system that we have. Our responsibility is to try to build the best team we can within the system. Just hoping that it will be different isn’t going to help us be a championship team. So, do I wish reality were different or that there were different conditions in place that could give us a better chance at keeping a player like Francisco? Of course. But that’s not the cards we’re dealt.”
Who else is going after stars this offseason?
This is, of course, where hedge funds and opportunistic baseball executives come in.
There is no reason for the Mets to stop now. The game would seem to favor big money spent wisely (or, for that matter, recklessly), given most owners would be happy to tell you about the coupons they’ve taken to clipping to cover 2020’s losses. The coming season promises further economic inconveniences, though no one can say for sure what those will be. There could be fans, there could be empty ballparks, there could be both. The season could start on April 1 or June 1. There will be player salaries to pay, but over 162 games? Over 130? Fewer still?
A short and painful 2020, an unpredictable 2021 and then a 2022 that will bear the scars from those seasons along with a looming and hairy labor negotiation have pushed the industry to its heels. General managers are explaining to frustrated agents that the market must reflect the whole world and not just the sliver of it where baseball lives, that fact also playing out in the recent light returns on, for example, Yu Darvish, Blake Snell and Lindor. The Mets took on perhaps $35 million for ‘21 on Thursday and league sources suspect the Indians had perhaps one other serious suitor for Lindor (and Carrasco), that being the Toronto Blue Jays.
To that end, one of the top 20 free agents has signed, Korean infielder Ha-Seong Kim with the San Diego Padres. The Padres — like the Mets and, soon, the Blue Jays — are remarkable this winter for the spiritedness of their roster building. Meantime, the high end of free agent players — catcher J.T. Realmuto, outfielder Springer, starting pitcher Bauer — remain available five weeks from the scheduled opening of spring camps.
Mets president Alderson: ‘We’re always hungry.’
So, to the Mets, Thursday’s trade was still warm when they were fielding questions about what could come next.
If they would get right to work on a contract extension for Lindor.
“Well, look, we’ve had one conversation with him and no conversations with his agent,” said Sandy Alderson, Mets president. “So, you know, we acquired Francisco because of his present ability and the possibility he could be a Met long term. There’s no guarantee of that. It’s something we will approach in the next few weeks.
“I think we do have optimism. I think what we have to offer is a great city, a great baseball city, an organization we hope is on the rise. There’s a lot of excitement associated with new ownership. I think there are a lot of reasons why should be optimistic about any follow-up decision we want to make.”
If the addition of catcher James McCann for $40 million over four years and then Lindor and Carrasco will have any bearing on coming decisions/offers for, say, Bauer and Springer.
“I think the market will dictate some of our decisions over the next few weeks,” Alderson said. “We feel we’ve made a major impact on the team. We’re not perfect. So, we will still be active, talking, in the marketplace. But I do think this moves us forward quite a bit. There’s still some work to do. And we’ll see whether this takes us out on certain players or makes us a candidate for other players.”
If there remains an appetite for another large contract.
“What’s the appetite?” Alderson said. “We’re always hungry. We’re always hungry. I think that’s something we will address in the aftermath of this. Obviously we’ve been thinking about what impact this has on other things we might have considered or might want to do. I think when the dust settles here in the next couple of days we’ll have a better idea of that. I think this deal will have some impact in the marketplace generally. We’ll see what that is.”
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