Last winter it was Mookie Betts heading from Boston to LA. This offseason Francisco Lindor is the face of a franchise on the move, as the star Indians shortstop has been traded along with veteran starter Carlos Carrasco to the New York Mets for infielders Andrés Giménez and Amed Rosario and two prospects in the first mega-move of the Steve Cohen era in New York.
Here’s five takeaways from the blockbuster deal:
1) Let’s start with the obvious: This is a terrific trade for the Mets.
This is the huge move the sport has been waiting for since Cohen became the franchise’s owner roughly two months ago. Lindor and Carrasco will transform the dynamic of the team’s roster, potentially for several years to come. Lindor, 27, is a four-time All-Star, two-time Gold Glove Award winner and one of the best all-around players in MLB. Since his debut in 2015, the switch-hitter and five-tool superstar has been the fifth-most valuable player in the sport, according to Fangraphs’ Wins Above Replacement metric. He’s also one of the most fun and dynamic talents in the game today.
Lindor is coming off a down 2020 in which he hit just .258 with eight home runs in 60 games, but averaged 34 longballs and 21 steals per season while hitting .278 over the prior three campaigns. Advanced metrics also show no skill regression in 2020, with Lindor posting the highest hard hit percentage of his career.
The big question regarding Lindor is whether the Mets will be able to lock him up to a long-term contract extension before he’s set to hit the open market next offseason. That’s what the Dodgers were able to do with Betts, and New York’s new regime has inspired confidence that a similar situation may develop.
Lindor and Carrasco (who we’ll discuss more in a moment) were acquired at the cost of two relatively encouraging but largely unproven young middle infielders (Giménez and Rosario) who were made expendable by the addition of Lindor, as well as the organization’s ninth and 10th-best prospects, according to MLB Pipeline. Pitcher Josh Wolf is 20 years old and has thrown just eight professional innings. Outfielder Isaiah Greene is 19 and has yet to play in the minor league since being drafted 69th overall last year.
This is a trade you make every day and twice on Sundays if you view yourself as a contender. With this one move, the Mets have transformed themselves from a playoff contender to a legitimate World Series contender. That’s how much of an impact Lindor and Carrasco can make.
2) This was the final major step in plunging the Indians into full rebuild mode.
In an offseason full of uncertainty, the Indians trading Lindor at some point was one of the most guaranteed developments. It was just a matter of when and to where. To a level more extreme than perhaps any other major league franchise, the Indians’ ownership, the Dolan family, has prioritized drastically cutting payroll over fielding a truly competitive baseball team. To be very clear, this is a process that has been going on for several years now.
In 2018, the Indians won 91 games, with four pitchers starting at least 25 games: Corey Kluber, Trevor Bauer, Mike Clevinger and Carlos Carrasco. Every single one of those pitchers has since been traded away for the primary purpose of saving money.
“Some rival evaluators believe that under the circumstances, Cleveland got good return,” ESPN’s Buster Olney tweeted Thursday afternoon. “It had to dump money and everyone knew Lindor would be traded, and rival execs see the package as better than what the Cubs got for Darvish.”
A few things to keep in mind: 1) A good portion of the circumstances the Indians were in were circumstances the organization actively chose. 2) The Indians did not have to dump money. That was an ownership decision. There’s no law, no rule that said they had to look at a payroll that ranked 24th in the majors in 2020 and decide to cut costs to the point of an embarrassingly low payroll of roughly $35 million. They did not “have to” do that. 3) Of course the package is better than what the Cubs got for Darvish. Given their age and contract situations, Carrasco alone should have had roughly as much trade value as Darvish. And that’s before you get to the 27-year-old generational talent in Lindor. So simply getting a return better than what the Cubs got for Darvish doesn’t somehow justify this move from that angle.
Aside from José Ramírez, Shane Bieber and a few other pitchers, the Indians are essentially sporting a AAA roster at this point, and there’s little reason to expect any major improvements to that in the weeks to come. You should feel sorry for that fanbase, but not a front office that’s making deliberate decisions to prioritize saving money over competitiveness. But hey, at least now they have the financial flexibility to try and find another superstar only to trade him once they deem him too expensive.
3) The Mets rotation is becoming really impressive.
Not to be lost in the excitement of Lindor is the value Carrasco, another fan favorite in Cleveland, brings to a Mets team that was looking to continue strengthening its rotation. The 33-year-old was voted by players, managers and executives across the league as the Sporting News American League Comeback Player of the Year after he returned from a life-threatening leukemia diagnosis to start 12 games in the shortened season and post a strong 2.91 ERA.
Carrasco, who owns a 88-73 record and 3.77 ERA in 11 big-league seasons, is under team control for the next two seasons and has a $14 million team option for 2023. He’ll join a rotation that includes two-time Cy Young winner Jacob deGrom and Marcus Stroman and figures to also feature Noah Syndergaard at some point this summer as he returns from Tommy John surgery.
In 2020, the Mets rotation outside of deGrom posted a collective 6.33 ERA. With the additions of Carrasco and Stroman, the team is gaining both in depth and quality arms.
4) The cost for a team to dramatically improve this offseason is really pretty low.
With the vast majority of MLB teams clearly intent to either cut payroll or have it remain at roughly the same level, the logic for this is sound. There are really only a few clubs that have shown a willingness to commit to spending money this offseason, so there’s less competition in trade discussions.
The Padres acquired Blake Snell from the Rays and Darvish from the Cubs without giving up a single one of their top seven prospects, per Baseball America rankings. The White Sox gave up their No. 5 prospect, Dane Dunning, to acquire Lance Lynn from Texas, but were able to hold on to their top two pitching prospects.
There’s a big opportunity this winter for a team willing to spend even a little bit to significantly improve their club. The vast majority of the top free agents remain on the market and may very well end up receiving less than their normal market value given the current state of the game.
5) There’s a good chance the Mets aren’t done making big moves.
This club is clearly a big market force again, and they may very well not be finished shopping this winter. A signing of Trevor Bauer, though certainly not impossible, seems much less likely with the addition of Carrasco. But there are still several other prominent starters who could be a good fit, and the club still has a need in center field. A few weeks back it seemed momentum was building toward the Mets signing George Springer. That seemingly remains a possibility.
Michael Mayer of the USA Today Network’s MetsMerized reported Thursday that the Mets have been in contact with free agent outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. He’d be another logical option to handle center and would come at a much lower cost than Springer, which could make sense if the club is anticipating inking Lindor to a long-term deal. With an owner who’s indicated a willingness to spend big, it’s unlikely we’ve seen the last notable move of the Mets’ offseason.
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