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SportsColumnistsDavid Lennon

Steve Cohen promised he would raise the bar for the Mets, and Francisco Lindor is proof of that

Francisco Lindor ofCleveland in the dugout prior to

Francisco Lindor ofCleveland in the dugout prior to a game against the Twins at Target Field on Sept. 12, 2020, in Minneapolis. Credit: MLB Photos via Getty Images/Harrison Barden

The most amazing part of Thursday’s blockbuster swap for Francisco Lindor and Carlos Carrasco is that the Mets didn’t even need a shortstop.

They already had two sufficiently good major-league players with room to grow at the position in Amed Rosario and Andres Gimenez, as well as supposed future star Ronny Mauricio lower in the pipeline.

There were much higher priority holes for them to fill this winter. Other places for money to be spent. Shortstop? Nope.

But they wanted Lindor. And that’s the difference.

Faced with the choice of guessing on the ceilings of Rosario and Gimenez or reaching for an All-World, face-of-baseball talent in Lindor — despite only a single guaranteed year of control, mind you — the Steve Cohen Mets reminded everyone Thursday that being good is no longer good enough in Flushing.

Cohen promised he would raise the bar. For expectations, for talent, for pure entertainment value. And Lindor is all of that, packaged into a speedy, often spectacular 5-11 frame. He’s the caliber of player every team covets and precious few can afford, especially these days.

So in the ultimate irony of baseball 2021, the Mets now are a team that strips the small-market clubs of their most valuable assets, not even blinking at the prospect of having to pay Lindor in excess of $250 million to keep him beyond this season. (Alderson actually made a point to thank grief-stricken Cleveland for forking him over.)

And the kicker? Lindor is a luxury item — not a necessity. But the Mets saw an opportunity to get a status symbol along with a superstar, and that’s brilliant for the brand, too.

Alderson repeatedly has referred to baseball as an entertainment business, but we’re not talking Tebow-mania here. Lindor is more than a four-time All-Star, multiple Gold Glove winner and perennial MVP candidate. He’s an electric personality whom people pay to see and teammates want to be around. On the scale of franchise-transforming trades, this is Piazza-Santana level, the next game-changer for the 21st century.

"There are some players — many players — that you watch and you appreciate," Alderson said. "There are other players that you watch and you smile. 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 is the kind of player that makes one smile."

For the stoic Alderson, framed by the constraints of a Zoom call, that’s him breaking into his happy dance. Same goes for new general manager Jared Porter, who did a herculean job of keeping his business face on when discussing what was nothing short of a front-office fantasy come true — acquiring a pair of elite players in Lindor and Carrasco without sacrificing the team’s most treasured prospects.

"It’s one of the hardest things in baseball to get: a shortstop superstar player in his prime," Porter said. "He’s a great defender, a great baserunner, a great hitter. Very charismatic, high-energy player. I think his teammates feed off of that. I think he feeds off of it, too. He likes playing and performing in the biggest moments as often as he can. I just think that he’s, the best way to put it, he never stops looking to get better and improve."

Porter said it sounded as if Lindor was in a batting cage when they spoke on the phone, further testament to his work ethic and someone "who leads by example."

He’s the exact player the Mets hope to continue to build their team around, which is another reason Alderson/Porter clearly had to have him.

No disrespect to Jacob deGrom, a two-time Cy Young Award winner and arguably the best pitcher in the sport, but Lindor arrives in Flushing as the Mets’ biggest star by virtue of his everyday impact.

Lindor’s brand isn’t going to do much in the NL East standings, but there is a vibe that he brings, another layer of legitimacy, that magnifies the Cohen effect. And Lindor still is another five weeks away (hopefully) from stepping on the field in a Mets uniform for spring training.

"Any time a player brings an extra dimension in terms of personality, in terms of how they present themselves, how the fans will react to that player, that all has to be taken into account," Alderson said. "He’s obviously done lots of things over his young life and we expect he’ll continue to do them in New York. That was not a huge consideration, but at the margins, a great benefit for us."

The caveat with any Lindor deal was his pending free agency at the end of this season, but Alderson didn’t sound all that concerned, probably because his boss is worth $14 billion. You can afford to be casual about that stuff when money no longer is an issue. They can crunch the numbers later.

Alderson & Co. just grabbed the top player available this winter basically because he was there for the taking. And with Lindor on board, the Mets have made us think anything is possible.

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