Our two biggest takeaways from Francisco Lindor’s introductory Zoom call Monday were the shortstop’s readiness to sign a contract extension and his love for pizza. Could this get any easier for the Mets?
Of all the places Cleveland might have shipped Lindor, it wound up being a team with the sport’s richest owner in Steve Cohen and the best city on the planet for pizza. This is a layup, even during the quarantine. Have a few pepperoni pies delivered to Tom Seaver Way and hammer out the details between bites.
Rarely does the timing work out so well.
Sure, you can bring up the economic uncertainty facing Major League Baseball, the concerns about another virus-shortened season and cratering gate revenues. It’s a legit problem.
But not quite as much in Flushing, thanks to Cohen’s $14.6 billion fortune. Or apparently places such as Chavez Ravine, where the Dodgers had no trouble trading for Mookie Betts (pre-pandemic) in early February and then handing him a 12-year, $365 million extension before he even took a swing for them — and during the final days of the sport’s six-month shutdown.
The Red Sox supposedly sacrificed the all-world Betts for the sake of payroll flexibility, just as Cleveland decided that Lindor, its own franchise player, was too pricey to lock up long-term after negotiations collapsed last spring. Both got very lucky with their landing spots.
When COVID-19 shuttered spring training camps and the regular season was put in limbo, conventional wisdom suggested Betts would be hurt by the brewing economic storm. But the Dodgers recognized Betts as a unique talent of high character and not only chose to pay him accordingly but doubled down on the investment to keep him in SoCal for life.
Four months later, the Dodgers won the World Series for the first time in 32 years, with Betts playing a significant role. Not a coincidence. And it’s hardly a stretch to say Lindor could figure into the same scenario for the Mets, spurred by his own $300 million extension, with the peace of mind knowing that he’d set his roots in New York. A challenging place for some, maybe, but not those with Lindor’s attitude. Just as Betts was the perfect L.A. story, Lindor seems to be arriving in a New York state of mind.
"We all know everybody’s talking about how it’s comparable to Mookie," Lindor said Monday. "Mookie fell into a great situation and felt comfortable with the Dodgers and made the decision that was best for him and his family. I’m not against a long-term extension. It just has to make sense for both sides. We’ll see what happens."
Obviously, Lindor is thrilled with the Betts comp. Same age (27) at the time of the trade, game-changing talents on both sides of the ball, each heading into his walk year. And once Lindor’s reps started talking about $300 million with Cleveland, that effectively guaranteed he was headed elsewhere this winter.
Being traded to the Cohen Mets, however, was simply an idea whose time had come, and Lindor didn’t sound as if he was faking the excitement. His trademark smile beneath the Mets cap looked genuine.
Despite his sincere love for Cleveland, Lindor realizes the door that just opened for him — with Cohen’s checkbook to follow.
You think Lindor would be this happy if Cleveland dumped him on the Madoff-crippled Mets of the previous decade? Or any of those 70-something-win clubs leading up to the 2015 World Series run? The Mets are in the sweet spot right now, the ideal convergence of promising young talent with billionaire Uncle Stevie’s fanboy thirst to build a champion. How many spots exist like this in MLB?
I’ll answer that for you. None.
Even the player known as Mr. Smile stretched his grin to the boundaries during Monday’s conversation.
"New York is New York," Lindor said. "There’s an unlimited amount of resources. Everything is at the tip of your fingers . . . If there’s something missing, we’re going to go get it and we’re going to find a way to win."
We’ve been hearing that a lot from the Mets’ hierarchy since Cohen took over, and it sounds as if Lindor is buying in after a few telephone calls. But the clock is ticking. Lindor bluntly stated Monday that he has never negotiated during the season and doesn’t plan to deviate from that strategy.
Now is good, though. And last week, team president Sandy Alderson said he’s willing to start negotiations. If Lindor is to be believed, all he seems to need is the number that Cleveland couldn’t provide.
It’s a calculated risk for the Mets, but everyone saw what the payoff can be after witnessing what Betts did for the Dodgers last season. Lindor is another of those special players who tends to be worth the gamble.
"Hopefully we can get a long-term deal done," Lindor said.
Right time, right place. The rest shouldn’t be too hard to figure out.