Francisco Lindor said Monday morning he’s open to negotiating a long-term contract with the New York Mets. But the four-time American League All-Star shortstop, who can become a free agent after the season, added this caveat: Negotiations need to be concluded by the end of spring training.
“I have never negotiated a contract during the season. Never,” Lindor said during an introductory Zoom conference with the media. “I like to do it before spring training, but once it gets to the point in spring training, it’s time to enjoy the ride and focus on winning. That’s the only thing I should be focusing on, not what I’m going to get, how much money I’m going to get, just focusing on my task.”
The Mets obtained Lindor and pitcher Carlos Carrasco in a deal last week with the Cleveland Indians for shortstop Amed Rosario and three prospects, inheriting a combined $31.5 million in contracts this season, $19.5 million for Lindor and $12 million for Carrasco. At $162 million, the Mets now have the third highest player payroll in Major League Baseball, behind the defending World Series champion Dodgers at $189.6 million, and the cross-borough Yankees at $166.8 million.
The luxury tax threshold this year is $210 million, a figure new owner Steve Cohen said he’s reticent about exceeding this season.
“I think at some point we will, but maybe not this season,” Cohen told the New York Post last month. “I’m not afraid to go over it, but you want to have flexibility on our payroll. Long-term contracts can limit a team’s ability going forward.”
That was well before the team’s baseball operations brass, Sandy Alderson and Jared Porter, swung the deal for the 27-year-old Lindor, a .285 hitter and one of the top players in baseball. There’s about a month before pitchers and catchers are supposed to report to camps–set to begin Feb. 16 in Florida and Arizona– which puts Lindor and the Mets on the clock.
The Dodgers signed pending free agent Mookie Betts to a 12-year, $365 million contract last July 28 before the MVP outfielder had even played an inning for them at the start of the 60-game COVID-abbreviated season. Betts helped lead the Dodgers to their first World Series win since 1988.
The Mets haven’t won since 1986. Like Betts, Lindor has that beaming smile and an infectious personality that can have a profound effect on any clubhouse. Like Lindor, the Dodgers obtained Betts along with pitcher David Price in a trade with the Red Sox just prior to spring training 1.0 last February 10.
Like the Dodgers, the Mets have the money. The Dodgers’ ownership group, Guggenheim Baseball Management, represents a hedge fund that manages $500 billion in assets. Cohen, who purchased the Mets for $2.42 billion from Fred Wilpon last Nov. 6, is personally worth $13 billion.
Lindor said he’s certainly open to remaining with the Mets, just as he wanted to stay in Cleveland, although those discussions went nowhere.
“To all those fans out there, I live life day by day,” Lindor said. “I’m extremely happy and excited about what’s happening right now, but I haven’t really sat down and talked to anybody. Yeah, I had welcoming conversations, and I’m excited about it. I can’t wait. I have never been against signing an extension. I have never been against signing long term. I’m sure there will be some conversations. We’ll see what happens.”
Under Cohen’s watch, the Mets had previously signed free agent catcher James McCann for four years, $40.6 million, including $8.15 million for this season. McCann’s deal is the longest contract for a Major League free agent thus far this offseason. Nearly 300 players are still unsigned, including the top quartet of starting pitcher Trevor Bauer, outfielder George Springer, infielder D.J. LeMahieu and catcher J.T. Realmuto.
Lindor and the Mets have to weigh the issue of this year’s collective bargaining for a new Basic Agreement. The current five-year deal expires on Dec. 1, and there’s a chance that if a new deal is not agreed to by then, the owners could lock out the players for the 2022 season.
Under those circumstances, Lindor may not want to be in the open market, signing a short-term extension while the labor issues are resolved.
“Well, look, we’ve got Francisco for a year,” Alderson, back with the Mets as president of baseball operations, said last week. “We hope he’s fantastic in 2021. There’s every reason to talk to him about some long-term arrangement. Not getting into that [right now], we feel comfortable. We’ll see where it goes.”