WASHINGTON — Was there ever any doubt?
OK, maybe a little. The Mets got awfully close to Francisco Lindor’s self-imposed Opening Day deadline for a contract extension. Inside 24 hours, if you go by the scheduled 7:09 p.m. first pitch at Nationals Park.
But this was a deal that had to happen. From the moment Lindor was traded in early January to the Mets, a franchise purchased two months earlier by the sport’s single richest owner in Steve Cohen, it figured to be only a matter of time.
Ultimately, that was the case. It just took more time than we thought. But Lindor got his record-breaking 10-year, $341-million contract — yes, beating Fernando Tatis Jr.’s short-lived precedent for shortstops by a mere $1 million — and now the Mets have the cornerstone of Cohen’s promised culture change in Flushing.
Cohen had us going there for a while. With the handful of tweets this week suggesting that he was standing firm on his 10-year, $325-million offer, the hedge-fund titan put on his social-media poker face for the public. And it certainly didn’t help matters when Lindor’s ask surfaced as 12 years, $385 million, a mind-boggling sum that seriously upped the ante.
But if you stepped back to survey the situation, it was hard not to see common ground. Once Cohen and Lindor agreed to be on the right side of $300 million, there was no going back from there. Cohen needed his megastar after a modest dive into free agency this winter, and Lindor fits that role in every possible way.
Whatever questions the Mets had about Lindor coming in, he pretty much aced the spring-training audition, whether it was showing up in throwback Mets gear for a "Coming to America" photo shoot, excelling on the field or acting as another coach in the clubhouse. Lindor so impressed his teammates that Pete Alonso — previously known as the face of the franchise — didn’t hesitate to suggest this week that he should be paid $400 million.
In that sense, Cohen saved a few bucks, despite giving Lindor the third-biggest contact in MLB history, behind only Mike Trout ($426.5M) and Mookie Betts ($365M). As we anticipated, Cohen also obliterated the Mets’ records for spending, more than doubling the extensions handed out by the Wilpon regime for David Wright (eight years, $138M) and Jacob deGrom (five years, $137.5M).
As much as the Mets tried to play it cool, everyone knew Lindor couldn’t go into this season without a new contract, especially after turning down $325 million. It wasn’t unreasonable to imagine Lindor getting some pushback from the Citi fans at the April 8 opener if he already was preparing to be one-and-one in Flushing. Even manager Luis Rojas was getting uncomfortable when asked this week if that was a potential scenario.
"I don’t know," Rojas said. "I think the fans are going to appreciate the way he goes about the game every day. This guy’s here to win."
Now everyone gets to exhale. And with this deal, Mr. Smile has never been happier. Obviously, Lindor is the big winner here. He’s set for life with a Mets franchise that should be a contender for the remainder of his career, thanks in large part to Cohen’s billions. The possibilities in New York for his celebrity of his stature are infinite. And if the Mets win a World Series or three with Lindor, he gets elevated to legendary status along the way.
But this is a huge W for Cohen as well after a somewhat bumpy winter that had him embroiled in a pair of ugly team-related scandals — from the firing of new GM Jared Porter to the investigation of former manager Mickey Callaway’s harassment of female media members. Locking up Lindor for the next decade-plus (the extension doesn’t begin until 2022) doesn’t erase those matters, but it does give the fan base another reason to be excited about the team on the field.
Cohen seemed like he was playing a dangerous game lately with Lindor-related tweets about the negotiations, but perhaps he knew what he was doing all along. And the end result is what matters. Settling on $341 million wasn’t the halfway point between the two numbers, but it was enough to make Mr. Smile happy, and that should make anyone involved with the Mets thrilled, too.
"I’ve always known he was an unbelievable player," Alonso said this week. "But the amount of intangibles that man has is special. Also he's young, and what he can bring to a club for a very, very long time I can't even imagine what the potential could be to help out for the future."
Now Alonso and the Mets get to find out. Starting Thursday night against the Nationals, Lindor will be at shortstop, and there’s no need to worry about him playing for anyone else, anywhere. That in itself is a great Opening Night W for the Mets before a pitch is even thrown, regardless of what happens against the Nationals.