The Mets were one of several teams reported to have interest in Francisco Lindor back when the Indians are seemingly testing the market for the All-Star shortstop earlier this winter. Jeff McNeil was known to be one of Cleveland’s prime targets in talks with the Mets about Lindor, and The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal (subscription required) recently shed a bit more light on the “significant dialogue” between the Amazins and the Tribe.
“The Mets aggressively tried to acquire [Lindor] at the winter meetings,” Rosenthal writes, noting that it would “likely” have cost New York a three-player package consisting of Amed Rosario and two prospects. Both this proposal and Cleveland’s interest in McNeil were too much for the Mets, however, and beyond the cost in trade chips, Rosenthal has also heard from some corners that “finances played a significant role” in negotiations.
Lindor’s salary for the 2020 season hadn’t yet been finalized by early December, though MLBTR’s Matt Swartz projected the shortstop for a $16.7MM payday in his second of three arbitration-eligible seasons. As it happened, Lindor topped this projected number by agreeing to a $17.5MM deal for 2020, an even healthier raise than expected over the $10.55MM salary he earned in 2019. Assuming Lindor has another outstanding year in the coming season, his arb number for 2021 now looks to fall in range of $23MM-$24MM.
Still, something in the neighborhood of $41MM over a two-year span is more than reasonable for a player of Lindor’s caliber. The Mets were known to be trying to move Jeurys Familia and/or Jed Lowrie in order to create payroll space, and the club hasn’t made any hugely expensive acquisitions this winter, signing Dellin Betances, Rick Porcello, Michael Wacha, and Brad Brach to one-year contracts for a combined $25.6MM in guaranteed money (a total that could rise significantly based on options and incentive clauses in the various deals).
Taking on both a big salary and parting ways with controllable talent like Rosario, McNeil, or prospects was too much for the Mets’ liking, which isn’t an unreasonable stance. McNeil, after all, has been outstanding in his two MLB seasons and Rosario is coming off the best of his three big league campaigns, with the 24-year-old starting to deliver on some of the potential that made him one of baseball’s best prospects. That said, the overall crux of Rosenthal’s piece examines how the Mets are still feeling the impact of last offseason’s blockbuster trade with the Mariners, as the added salaries of Robinson Cano and Edwin Diaz (who both struggled badly in 2019) have limited payroll flexibility, while moving top prospects Jarred Kelenic and Justin Dunn both thinned out New York’s farm system and also made the team seemingly more wary about moving any more of its top minor leaguers.
Had the Mets not swung that deal with Seattle, who knows how the Amazins’ fate could have changed both during the 2019 season or into their business this offseason, as New York could have been more willing to take the jump on a swap for Lindor or another trade target in Starling Marte (though the Pirates also put a high asking price on Marte in talks with the Mets).
To be fair, Rosenthal notes that as great a player as Lindor is, he “was a luxury item, not a must-have” for a Mets club that already had Rosario, plus top prospects Ronny Mauricio and Andres Gimenez coming up the pipeline at shortstop. There’s also the fact that the Indians may not have been “especially motivated to act” on a Lindor trade, as the big returns Cleveland reportedly wanted in any potential deal indicated that the Tribe would only move Lindor if presented with a special offer. The door now appears to be closed on the possibility of Lindor being dealt this winter, as Cleveland addressed their own payroll concerns by trading Corey Kluber to the Rangers.