NEW YORK — It’s been nearly 11 years since Far Rockaway High School’s most prominent alumni, Bernie Madoff, was sentenced to federal prison for creating a $64 billion dollar Ponzi scheme that fleeced the nation. Yet, because Jeff Wilpon, Madoff’s least sympathetic victim so happened to own the Mets, his presence was still felt in Queens on a daily basis. A team that shared biggest market in baseball no longer competed for the absolute best talent in baseball and was content with rolling out mediocre rosters that rarely transcended the self-imposed sum of their parts.
But that spirit of constant penny pinching.
Francisco Lindor headlined a blockbuster trade between the Mets and Cleveland. Carlos Carrasco — a metronomic, bat-missing, frontline starting pitcher — was the second big name in the deal. He’ll also switch out his red and gray for orange and blue.
The Mets gave up, if you can call it that, Amed Rosario and Andres Gimenez — two young shortstops with real talent, but limited future with the team and two prospects from a weak system that are frequently ranked outside their top six.
Lindor, on the other hand, is why the English language has the word “superstar.” Excellent at every facet of the game, his exudes the confidence and charisma he displays when he leaves the field. By perennially competing for Gold Gloves at a premium defensive position, he fills a long-standing team need to catch the ball, while adding 30-home run power from both sides of the plate. Carrasco is a battle tested veteran that has, like Lindor, been with Cleveland for the entirety of their contention run. And while depth is never wrong, those shortstops were like two Corollas next to a Ferrari. Expect the Mets to extend or re-sign Lindor to a long-term deal that, health-permitting, will all but guarantee he ends his time as the best shortstop in franchise history.
With no shade to any of these four players leaving the Mets, none of them are Lindor and none of them should expect to be Lindor in the future. Also, until a few hours ago, Cleveland was a likely candidate to contend for the World Series as they have every year since nearly winning the title in 2016. So how did the Mets grab Lindor? Answering that question demonstrates that the miserly mentality that once plagued Queens isn’t gone, it’s just moved elsewhere.
Now, in fairness to Cleveland — they’re always pulling this crap. The small market franchise is known to trade stars for prospects as their players’ salaries begin to approach their on-field value. Everyone knows this. When this writer asked Lindor after another gutting postseason defeat to the Yankees if he thought Cleveland should invest more in their talented core, Lindor dryly laughed for six seconds before reminding everyone that Cleveland was “a billion-dollar team.” (According to Forbes, he’s right.) As much as Lindor has repeatedly expressed his love for Cleveland, his words and body language also showed that he was tired of their antics.
But, this move appears even worse for Cleveland. When the Red Sox traded Mookie Betts and David Price to the Dodgers — a trade immediately lambasted by many analysts given the apparently light return — they received much more in return, both in major league talent (the solidly above average Alex Verdugo) and prospects. The trade was functionally the same. One top 5 player on the last year of his deal and one 30-something starter with multiple years on their contract, but with Betts being a shade better than Lindor up to the point of the trade, and Price being far more expensive. It was a travesty then, how much worse is it for Cleveland given the worst return for, functionally, the same deal.
Of course, this isn’t even the only embarrassing salary dump since Christmas. Tampa Bay similarly traded Blake Snell, two years removed from a AL Cy Young and 60 days removed from tossing a dominant start in Game 6 of the World Series for a prospect return viewed as pennies on the dollar. Shortly after, the Padres dealt for the Cubs ace Yu Darvish, gave up little in consensus prospects and even had the privilege of the Cubs paying part of his contract.
These teams cite the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and the lost revenue from our current day depression, though curiously fail to reveal the accounting from all the other years of exploding valuations. It was the pandemic that likely pushed the Wilpon family into selling their beloved franchise to new Mets owner Steve Cohen.
Even still, most of the year’s talented free agents — like J.T. Realmuto, George Springer and Trevor Bauer — are still available with pitchers and catchers set to report, pandemic willing, in five weeks. Amazingly, the Mets are one of few teams active in free agency, bolstering weaknesses on the roster with multi-year deals for James McCann and Trevor May.
Something is spreading across the league, and the Mets have avoided its except in that they’re leveraging it for their own future success.
The Mets are finally healthy, and for those that love the team, it’s an amazin’ sight to see, but the rest of the league seems sick.