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SportsColumnistsDavid Lennon

With Francisco Lindor contract done, Steve Cohen will have more big-deal decisions to make in near future

New York Mets right fielder Michael Conforto (30)

New York Mets right fielder Michael Conforto (30) congratulates shortstop Francisco Lindor (12) after Lindor made a play to end a scoreless third inning for the Houston Astros during a spring training baseball game, Saturday, March 27, 2021, in Port St. Lucie, Fla. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky) Credit: AP/Lynne Sladky

Opening Day deadlines have been a moving target for the Mets this year. Pressured by the first one, they managed to complete Francisco Lindor’s 10-year, $341 million deal with roughly 20 hours to spare — not knowing, of course, that the season’s first pitch was about to be delayed indefinitely because of the Nationals’ COVID-19 outbreak.

Fast-forward to Sunday, and the Mets again were on the brink of another Opening Night — we’re hoping for real this time — against the Phillies at Citizens Bank Park. That made it logical to ask Michael Conforto, a pending free agent himself, if his negotiations will be tabled until the season is complete, just as Lindor had pledged to do.

His answer? Conforto is done talking to us about it. But he stopped short of making any proclamations about cutting off conversations between the Mets and his agent, Scott Boras. That apparently leaves the door open to a possible midseason extension. But how realistic is that after new owner Steve Cohen just cut a huge check to Lindor for the third-richest contract in MLB history?

I’d never say never. There’s always a percentage chance with these things. Still, the Mets have more than just Conforto on the horizon. Noah Syndergaard and Marcus Stroman also will become free agents at the end of the season, and Jacob deGrom’s opt-out after the 2022 season now feels uncomfortably close as well.

 

DeGrom surely is not thrilled with his current contract, a five-year, $137.5 million deal that pays him $36 million in 2021, which happens to be the same season Trevor Bauer is pulling in $40 million. A pretty good indication of that: He fired CAA — his previous rep and Brodie Van Wagenen’s former shop — then hired VC Sports Group, the agency that got Mookie Betts $365 million last season, in a pandemic, before he played a game for the Dodgers.

SNY reported over the weekend that the Mets — no doubt sensing deGrom’s dissatisfaction — already had cracked the door open on potential extension talks before shelving them for this season. But Lindor required the team’s full attention, not to mention a sizable chunk of Cohen’s vast fortune, and it’s reasonable to assume the Mets’ owner would like to see how the ’21 club performs before digging back into the vault again.

Lindor’s contract doesn’t kick in until 2022, but the Mets already have committed $127 million for next season’s payroll, and that’s without knowing what lies ahead for a potential new player compensation system in the next CBA (the current one expires in December). Whatever happens isn’t going to change the fact that Cohen is the single richest owner in the sport, worth an estimated $14 billion. And judging by his record deal with Lindor, an extension that nearly tripled David Wright’s previous mark, Cohen doesn’t mind spending big when he’s convinced it’s a smart investment.

"Obviously, everybody knows that Steve Cohen is a wealthy, wealthy guy," Conforto said Sunday. "He’s a wealthy Mets fan. But I think he was pretty clear that he wasn’t just going to be throwing around money carelessly. You know he was going to trust in his guys that he’s hired to make the baseball decisions, and so I didn’t have any expectations of him just throwing around money all over the place.

"But I think he did the right thing with locking in a player that we traded for and gave up some good guys to get. I think all in all, it worked out great."

Securing Lindor saved everyone from the huge distraction that his looming free agency would have caused, especially after it became public knowledge that he initially turned down $325 million.

But for Conforto and the others, the Mets can afford to take their time.

Conforto is a homegrown Met who has affection for the franchise, so even if he has a monster season, Cohen could work that edge to get him back as long as he ponies up the cash.

Syndergaard, who won’t be back until June, still has to prove he’s healthy coming off Tommy John surgery. Stroman is a wild card after taking the COVID-19 opt-out a year ago.

The only concern about deGrom is that he will turn 33 in June. But given that the back-to-back Cy Young Award winner adds a few ticks of velocity every year older he gets, he seems to be aging in reverse, like Benjamin Button.

The recent obsession with Lindor mostly overshadowed the Mets’ other business, but consider the 2021 season an audition for Cohen, who will be figuring out the next Met to make mega-rich.

"I could see the team looking a lot different over the next couple of years," Conforto said. "I can’t really speak to whether or not they can pay all those guys or what our capacity is to keep everybody."

On the eve of the Mets’ second Opening Day, it wasn’t a question that needed to be answered right away. Ideally, we’ll have games to watch now.

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