A star shortstop and a veteran starting pitcher join the Mets, bolstering a team that is rapidly rebuilding under new ownership.
Francisco Lindor was hard to miss in Cleveland’s spring training clubhouse one morning early last March. He is a magnetic presence anyway, with a buoyant personality and a winning smile, and he was also the only player in the room with a shock of curly hair dyed bluish silver.
This was a more exciting day than most in Goodyear, Ariz., because one of Lindor’s teammates, the right-handed pitcher Carlos Carrasco, was making his first start since the spring of 2019, when he learned that he had chronic myeloid leukemia. Carrasco fought the disease for three months, a span that included the All-Star Game in Cleveland, where he was part of a stirring on-field tribute, and he returned as a reliever late that season.
“He cares so much about the game, about spending time with us,” Lindor said. “That’s all he kept on saying: ‘I want to be back, I want to play the game, I want to be with you guys, I miss you guys.’ It shows bravery, trying to get back with us as soon as he can. It made us feel like: ‘Why are we complaining about being cold or hot or slumping? Don’t take anything for granted.’”
Lindor and Carrasco helped Cleveland reach the playoffs in 2020, for its fourth time in five seasons, and on Thursday they embarked on a new adventure with the Mets. In the first blockbuster trade of Steve Cohen’s ownership, the Mets acquired the pair for infielders Amed Rosario and Andres Gimenez, the pitching prospect Josh Wolf and the outfield prospect Isaiah Greene.
“It’s one of the hardest things in baseball to get: a shortstop, a superstar in his prime, a charismatic personality, a guy who makes his teammates better,” Mets General Manager Jared Porter said. “And adding a guy like Carrasco in the same deal just lengthens out the rotation and really gives a different look from the other guys in the top half. We’re excited. It’s definitely satisfying. We gave up significant resources to get them.”
Maybe, maybe not. In parts of four seasons with the Mets, Rosario was little better than league average. Gimenez was a consensus top-100 prospect before his promotion to the majors last year, while Wolf and Greene were ninth and 10th in the Mets’ prospects rankings at MLB.com.
“We gave up two prospects that we really like, but they weren’t part of our top six or seven, if you just look at some of the lists objectively,” said Sandy Alderson, the Mets’ team president. “We have never said we’re not going to trade prospects out of our system, but what we’ve done is, we’ve said to ourselves and expressed to others that we’re not moving the top handful of our players. I think this deal respects that.”
It is a surprisingly painless deal, at least for now, and continues Cohen’s blissful honeymoon with the Mets. The team signed catcher James McCann (four years, $ 40 million) and the right-handed reliever Trevor May (two years, $ 15.5 million) in December, and has now added a solid starter in Carrasco and, perhaps, the game’s premier shortstop.
Lindor, who turned 27 in November, is a slick fielder with a .285 career batting average and a power-speed combination rarely seen around Flushing. In each of the two seasons before the coronavirus pandemic, Lindor had at least 30 homers and 20 stolen bases. No Mets player has done that since Carlos Beltran and David Wright in 2007, and only three others have done it in franchise history: Mike Cameron, Howard Johnson and Darryl Strawberry.
Even better, Lindor plays with such flair and effervescence that his nickname is Mr. Smile, describing the default expression for both Lindor and those who watch him.
“There are many players that you watch and you appreciate; there are other players you watch and you smile,” Alderson said. “And that smile is not just a function of appreciation, but also kind of an empathetic reaction to how they play the game. I think Lindor’s the kind of player that makes one smile.”
Among 31 shortstops with at least 1,000 plate appearances over the last four seasons, Lindor ranks first in homers (111) and extra-base hits (258), and fourth in on-base plus slugging (.844). He won Gold Gloves in 2016 and 2019.
For Mets fans with long memories, a splashy trade for an All-Star Cleveland infielder does not evoke warm feelings. The team dealt for Carlos Baerga in 1996 and Roberto Alomar before the 2002 season, and both players were busts.
But Baerga was overweight, and Alomar was 34 years old. The more apt comparison is the Mookie Betts trade between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Boston Red Sox last winter. Like the cost-cutting Cleveland franchise, the cost-cutting Red Sox shed a highly paid veteran starter (David Price) by packaging him with a four-time All-Star who was 27 years old and had one year left before free agency.
The Dodgers knew what to do next. They signed Betts to a 12-year, $ 365 million contract extension before opening day and went on to win their first championship since the 1980s. The Mets, who have also been waiting since then for a title, hope to follow that blueprint.
Signing Lindor would help set the market for the extraordinary class of shortstops set to hit free agency after this season. The group also includes the Chicago Cubs’ Javier Baez, the Houston Astros’ Carlos Correa, the Dodgers’ Corey Seager and the Colorado Rockies’ Trevor Story, and all are former first-round draft picks in their 20s who signed out of high school.
The Mets did not request a negotiating window to talk with Lindor before the trade. Alderson said the Mets would pursue a long-term contract soon but had not yet spoken with Lindor’s agent.
“We acquired Francisco because of his present ability and the possibility that he could be a Met long term,” Alderson said. “There’s no guarantee of that. It’s something that we will approach in the next few weeks, but at this point, we felt comfortable giving up the group of players we did for both Lindor and Carrasco, recognizing that Lindor is only under contract for one year, and Carrasco for two plus an option.”
Carrasco, who turns 34 in March and had a 2.91 earned run average in 12 starts last season, is owed $ 12 million in each of the next two years, with a $ 14 million option (or $ 3 million buyout) for 2023. Lindor earned more than $ 17 million last season and is eligible for salary arbitration. He had long been the subject of trade rumors as Cleveland shed the pillars of its 2016 American League pennant-winning team.
“Ultimately the only thing I can do is worry about what I’m doing today,” Lindor said that morning in March, “and I’ll worry about tomorrow later.”
Tomorrow arrived for him on Thursday, in a new city with an old friend.