Eleven months after the Red Sox traded Mookie Betts to the Dodgers, Mets executives Sandy Alderson and Jared Porter followed a similar blueprint in obtaining Francisco Lindor from Cleveland.
To acquire Betts, the Dodgers took on 34-year-old David Price and what at the time was $48 million on his remaining salary, along with the $27 million that was due Betts.
They sent three prospects to the Red Sox, one who was major league-ready in outfielder Alex Verdugo.
In return for Lindor, the Mets took on Carlos Carrasco, who turns 34 in March, and the $27 million remaining on his contract. Lindor’s salary for next season hasn’t been determined but is forecast to be approximately $20 million.
The Mets gave up four prospects, two who are major league-ready in infielders Andres Gimenez and Amed Rosario but don’t have as much promise as Verdugo.
The Dodgers signed Betts to a 12-year, $365 million extension in July and he led them to a World Series championship. You can be sure the Mets will work diligently at securing Lindor to a long-term deal.
Lindor doesn’t merit the same contract Betts landed. But New York seems like a perfect fit for the 27-year-old from Puerto Rico, especially with the Mets intent on contending under new owner Steve Cohen.
“I think we do have optimism,” Alderson said. “I think what we have to offer is a great city, a great baseball city, an organization that we hope is on the rise. There’s a lot of excitement associated with new ownership.
“I think there are a lot of reasons why we should be optimistic about any follow-up decision that we want to make.”
As for a championship, the Mets may still need a few pieces to get there. But a dynamic leadoff hitter and Gold Glove shortstop puts them a lot closer than they were the day before.
“It’s one of the hardest things in baseball to get — a shortstop, superstar player in his prime, a charismatic personality, a guy who makes his teammates better,” Porter said.
Like Betts, Lindor is more than a good hitter and fielder. He runs the bases aggressively and plays with both a sense of purpose and a flair. His nickname, Mr. Smile, fits.
In another parallel to Betts, Lindor’s clubhouse presence is that of a leader by example who prioritizes daily competitiveness. Until a player gets to a large market, you can’t be sure how he’ll adapt to that environment. But nothing suggests Lindor will have any issues.
Since 2016, Lindor has 306 extra-base hits and 24.7 WAR. Only Betts, Colorado’s Nolan Arenado, and former Cleveland teammate Jose Ramirez have hit those marks.
The Mets aren’t competing directly with the Yankees. But in a market where a star player brings credibility, Lindor puts the Mets back in the spotlight.
“What we’re trying to do is change the reality and let the perception follow,” Alderson said. “We think this is a significant move for us. I don’t know that it should have been unexpected.”
The Dodgers won the World Series without Price, who opted out of last season because of the pandemic. But Carrasco is potentially a big piece for the Mets.
He was 60-36 with a 3.40 ERA from 2015-18 before successfully fighting leukemia in 2019. Carrasco had a 2.91 ERA last season and has three postseason starts on his résumé.
Carrasco fits in nicely behind Jacob deGrom and Marcus Stroman in the rotation as the Mets wait for the return of Noah Syndergaard from Tommy John surgery.
The Mets have gone down this path before. They signed free agent Carlos Beltran to a huge deal before the 2005 season and made the playoffs once when he was on the roster.
Their trade for Johan Santana in 2008 was another landmark, especially considering the Yankees also were in pursuit. Santana never appeared in a playoff game for them.
But Lindor feels more like the start of something, not a finishing touch. That’s where the trade differs from the Dodgers, who needed Betts to put them over the top. The Mets still have work to do.
Their payroll as computed for luxury-tax purposes is approximately $180 million. That would allow them another pricey addition without exceeding the initial threshold of $210 million.
Cohen has suggested he’s willing to push past the limit, but not necessarily right away.
“It’s a significant demarcation,” Alderson said. “I wouldn’t say it’s a line that cannot be passed. But it’s definitely a significant consideration when you get to that level. So we’ll see where we are when we start the season.”
The Mets need a center fielder and have been tied to free agent George Springer for weeks now. Or they could reach out to Jackie Bradley Jr., a player Porter knows well from his time in Boston.
“We feel like we’ve made a major impact on the team,” Alderson said. “But we’re not perfect, so we will still be active talking in the marketplace. But I do think this moves us forward quite a bit.”
As for Cleveland, it’s grim. Its payroll for next season is now projected at $40 million, the lowest in the sport. Ramirez, at $9.4 million, accounts for nearly a quarter of that.
At this point, why not just trade Ramirez, too? He has an affordable (at least for some teams) $11 million option for 2022, his age-29 season.
Team president Chris Antonetti said he was in tears telling Carrasco and Lindor they had been traded.
The Indians still have Cy Young Award winner Shane Bieber and the makings of a good rotation. But there’s no replacing Lindor.
In a division with the Twins, White Sox, and improving Royals, manager Terry Francona will be challenged after five consecutive seasons of finishing first or second.
“Hopefully this will be — as painful as it is right now — a trade that positions us to be successful moving forward,” Antonetti said.
As was the case in Boston with Betts, the trade has produced anger within the fan base.
“We feel a lot of those same emotions. I can understand the sadness, the frustration,” Antonetti said. “I get it, I understand.”
Ozuna waits … and waits
Marcell Ozuna had a 1.067 OPS last season with 18 home runs and 56 RBIs in 60 games for the division-winning Braves, a seemingly perfect season going into free agency.
Ozuna then dropped agent Melvin Roman and switched to CAA in November, hoping that would further enhance his prospects.
But there is little buzz around the 30-year-old. The Braves have acknowledged wanting him back. But with National League teams still unsure if they will have a DH next season, it’s a waiting game.
The Blue Jays, who are eager for upgrades, could be a match. The perception around the industry is Ozuna is a better fit as a DH than playing the outfield on a regular basis.
Also, the Cubs remain hopeful of a reunion with Jon Lester. It’s a question of what makes sense for their payroll and what’s enough to get the 37-year-old lefthander to leave his home in Georgia to play a 16th season in the majors.
Lester is seven shy of 200 wins, which provides some motivation. But playing again also would afford him, hopefully, a chance to pitch at Wrigley Field with fans in the stands and get a proper sendoff into retirement.
PATIENCE A VIRTUE?
Last-place Sox taking their time
The Red Sox finished last in 2012. By Dec. 26, they had signed free agents David Ross, Stephen Drew, Ryan Dempster, Koji Uehara, Shane Victorino, and Jonny Gomes.
The Sox finished last in 2014. They signed free agents Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval and traded for Wade Miley and Rick Porcello by Dec. 12.
The Sox finished last in 2015. They traded for Craig Kimbrel and signed David Price by Dec. 4.
The Sox finished last in 2020. They have so far signed Matt Andriese, a long reliever, and Hunter Renfroe, a platoon outfielder.
Last-place finishes spurred quick, decisive action in previous years with ownership’s urging. It obviously didn’t work out well with Ramirez and Sandoval, but it paid off in two of those three years with a first-place finish and return to the playoffs.
But this time the Sox have so far made only incremental improvements and — like many other teams — are waiting for the market to come to them.
A few other observations about the Red Sox:
▪ It’s interesting to note that free agent righthander Collin McHugh only recently got a clean bill of health and is scheduled to throw off a mound for scouts later this month.
The Sox signed McHugh last March 5 hoping he’d be able to pitch at some point last season after recovering from an elbow procedure. But he never got on a mound before opting out.
▪ New minor league coach Bianca Smith is understandably, and deservedly, getting a lot of attention for becoming the first Black woman to land a coaching job with a big-league organization.
Here’s her philosophy on working with hitters: “Whatever works for the athlete. I never want to be that coach where it’s my way or the highway or I’m only going to teach this specific way of hitting.
“Because each athlete is different. You never know until you actually get to know that player what will actually work for them. I’ve had some who it might be a mechanical issue, others it’s more of a mental issue and you don’t need to work on the mechanical side as much. I see those as two different areas. Really, it’s just learning as many different methodologies as possible to better utilize what I’ve learned to help our players.
“I’m open to really anything that helps them. I’ve told my players, ‘Challenge me, too, if you come up with something that works for you. If you can give me a good reason and you can show me that works, we’ll try it. If that doesn’t work, then fine, we’ll try something else.’
“They need to make their own adjustments in games. It can’t be me screaming at them from the dugout.”
It’s a big jump from coaching in Division 3 in college to pro ball. But that attitude will serve Smith well. In the end, the job is unlocking whatever talent a player has, not putting everybody in the same box.
▪ By the way, Smith’s brother, 22-year-old Reggie Cannon, is a right back with Boavista FC in Portugal’s Primeira Liga and the US men’s national soccer team.
Devers is Sox’ lone arbitration player
Friday is the deadline for teams and players to exchange arbitration figures. These are the proposed salaries from each side that would be submitted to a neutral panel at a hearing in February if no deal is made beforehand.
Rafael Devers is the only Red Sox player affected.
It remains unclear if statistics from 2020 will be projected over 162 games in determining the worth of players with more than three but fewer than six years of service time.
There are typically a flurry of signings leading up to the deadline as many teams have adopted a policy of ending negotiations at that point and going to a hearing.
Notable players facing decisions include Javier Baez, Cody Bellinger, Kris Bryant, Walker Buehler, Matt Chapman, Carlos Correa, Jack Flaherty, Joey Gallo, Lucas Giolito, Tyler Glasnow, Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez, Corey Seager, Gleyber Torres, and Trea Turner.
Francisco Lindor is part of this pool, as well. But even if he exchanges figures with the Mets, the sides will be working toward a long-term deal.
Devers and the Sox could not agree on a contact last season and he was renewed at $692,500. He should land a contract worth at least $3.4 million but perhaps as much as $6.3 million depending on how last season is viewed.
As a young baseball writer, there were few better experiences than a trip to Vero Beach, Fla., during spring training and watching Tommy Lasorda hold court in the dining room. His curse-per-minute rate was off the charts as he told stories peppered with references to Frank Sinatra and other celebrities. Lasorda, who died Thursday at 93, was genuine in his enthusiasm for baseball and especially his Dodgers. He was in Texas for Game 6 of the World Series last fall. “I kind of made a promise to him that we would win it before he left us,” manager Dave Roberts said. “He said that he was gonna stick around long enough for us to see us win the championship.” … MLB coaching staffs are starting to look like those of SEC football teams. The Mets are planning to have four pitching coaches next season. The actual pitching coach is Jeremy Hefner. He will have Jeremy Accardo and Ricky Meinhold as assistants with Ricky Bones as the bullpen coach. In all, the Mets list 10 people as coaches. The Giants have 13, including a quality assurance coach. Six coaches are allowed in the dugout at one time, but teams are free to have as many as they want in uniform. Only four coaches, as determined by the team, are eligible for accruing time in MLB’s pension plan and getting a share of licensing money … Mets president Sandy Alderson, a former Marine, on the right-wing mob that invaded the Capitol on Wednesday: “I found [it] disturbing on many different levels. And I’m sure most people did for reasons that come into play and questions that need to be answered. For somebody like myself who’s spent a few years defending democracy in some way, the last few years have been extraordinarily disappointing. But we have institutions that protect us from individuals in most cases. And it seems that those institutions not only have survived but have guaranteed our survival as a democracy.” … Alumni and friends of the Ted Williams Baseball Camp raised $5,925.40 for The Jimmy Fund via an online auction and donations. The group planned to hold the auction at the camp in July, but that was canceled by the pandemic. The Williams camp ran from 1958-86 in Lakeville. The Kid, of course, was an avid supporter of The Jimmy Fund … Happy birthday to Ted Bowsfield, who is 86. The lefthander was 5-5 with a 5.17 ERA in 38 games for the Red Sox from 1958-60. As a rookie, Bowsfield faced the Yankees four times and was 3-0, giving up nine earned runs over 26⅔ innings. The Sox traded Bowsfield to Cleveland in 1960, then he went to the Angels in the expansion draft.