In what will be seen as a triumph for a big-market baseball franchise with the newest, most exciting owner in the game, the New York Mets were able to complete a trade today that will bring former Cleveland Indians Francisco Lindor and Carlos Carrasco to Citi Field in 2021.
While not the first move of the offseason for the Mets, this is easily the biggest they have made since the end of the World Series commenced Hot Stove happenings. In fending off other potential suitors that have stalked the Indians for Lindor’s services over the course of the last two years, the Mets have brought in arguably the best shortstop in all of baseball.
For those who may be less familiar with his resume, over the course of the last 3 seasons combined, Lindor has slashed .277/.343/.502. That’s good enough for the 5th best weighted Runs Created+ of any shortstop over that period while including an admittedly disappointing offensive 2020 that could have been brought on by continual trade rumors just as much as the hodgepodge nature of the COVID-19 shortened season. Even with the questionability of his 2020 at the plate, Lindor will be a welcome addition to what was already an offense with the ability to be prolific in 2020. He’s likely to hit near the top of the order in 2021, surrounded by the likes of other talents such as Michael Conforto, Pete Alonso, and Jeff McNeil, among others.
Still, while Lindor’s offensive numbers sank in 2020, his focus on the defensive side of the field did not. He was rated as the best defensive shortstop in baseball by both Fangraphs’ Defensive WAR and Ultimate Zone Rating Over 150 Games and tied for second in the less theoretical measure that is Statcast’s Outs Above Average. Since Statcast’s inception in 2017, only the Diamondbacks’ Nick Ahmed and the Angels’ Andrelton Simmons have accumulated more Outs Above Average than Lindor at shortstop.
Lindor had also been a vocal team leader in his former outpost with the Tribe and has appeared in the playoffs in four of the six seasons of his Major League career. He is a charismatic star capable of being one of the ten best players in baseball. Frankly, MLB is lucky to now have someone of his persona in a location like New York. Beyond all of that, he will be a vital piece to a Mets squad that looks primed to throw yet another gauntlet down on what projects to be a very competitive National League East division in 2021.
Also instrumental to potential future success for the Mets may be Carrasco. Unlike Lindor, who will be directly in his prime age of 27 in 2021 and in his final season of arbitration, Carrasco is an 11-year veteran of the Majors with 2 years and $27 million left on this contract. He will be 34 years old for the 2021 season. He does have miles on both his arm (over 1200 innings pitched) and body but has a long track-record of success in his career among a flurry of Indians starting rotations that were among the best in baseball in the back half of the 2010 decade, producing more WAR as a pitching staff than any other team from 2016 to 2020. He should reasonably slot into the third spot in the Mets rotation behind perennial Cy Young candidate Jacob deGrom and newly re-signed Marcus Stroman and would provide an experienced arm that could make for a formidable playoff rotation without even considering the possible mid-season return (or sooner) of Noah Syndergaard from Tommy John surgery.
This all goes without saying that the Mets may not be entirely done adding pieces to their 2021 equation. New York finds themselves bolstered by new owner Steve Cohen and his willingness to step up as a spending dynamo at a time when most MLB teams are suffering through COVID-related restrictions to team revenue. It is notable that the Mets are still $32 million below the luxury tax for 2021. That could very well be a barometer for their continued appetite to add talent.
One concrete name that the Mets have been interested in is another former Indian, closer Brad Hand. Mets General Manager Sandy Alderson admitted resisting the urge to claim Hand when he was non-tendered back in November and Jon Heyman of the MLB Network has since reported the team’s continued interest. Hand would be added to a bullpen that found itself with a middle-of-the-road ERA of 4.60 in 2020 and that already includes the addition of former Minnesota Twin Trevor May this off-season.
Even larger free agent names such as Trevor Bauer, George Springer and DJ LeMahieu have also been bandied about as potential additions to the Mets roster and will all likely fit under the luxury tax, or at least be very close.
On the other side of the coin, this trade appears to be the final nail in the coffin for a run of Indians teams that reached the World Series in 2016 and have made the playoffs in every year since apart from 2019. Rumors that Lindor would be traded have persisted for multiple years, most notably since an interview given by Indians Owner Paul Dolan in 2019. While Carrasco was rumored to possibly be on the move due to the conflict between the Indians financial situation and their recent 3-year commitment to the veteran righty, his move comes as a bit more of a shock. Carrasco had spoken to his specific appreciation for the Cleveland community, had played more than a decade in Cleveland and even fought what is a continued battle with leukemia while being a part of that same community. Unfortunately, that relationship could not save him from the business that is baseball as payroll constraints have seen the continual deterioration of what was a roster plentiful with competitive talent to one that has lost integral pieces and parts over the last few seasons.
Six of the nine position players that started for the Indians in Game 1 of the last season’s 1st Round of the MLB Playoffs are no longer on the roster. Just two Indians that appeared in the entirety of Game 7 of the 2016 World Series remain. An Indians team that was absolutely carried by its sparkling pitching staff in 2020 just lost both a significant contributor to that staff, and one of the few non-question marks in their batting order.
In return, the Indians receive Gimenez, a 22-year-old infielder that will likely find a home in the center of the diamond for the Indians. 2020 was his rookie season as he slashed .263/.333/.398 for a very promising 105 wRC+, which in fact was a better number than Lindor was able to put up in 2020. Still, Gimenez doesn’t project to hit for power and while appearing strong at short, isn’t quite the slick-fielder that Lindor is either.
Supplementing Gimenez will be fellow middle-infielder Amed Rosario, who will be 25 years old in 2021. Rosario is a former top 10 prospect who has struggled to find consistency at the plate in the Major Leagues. He is coming off of a hot final month of 2020, hitting .366 with a .873 OPS, but only has one other month in his short career where has had an OPS of above .800. With the removal of both Lindor and 2020’s second baseman Cesar Hernandez through free agency, it is a real possibility that Rosario and Gimenez will be the Indians double play combination in 2021, although who will stand on which side of second base may yet to be seen. Statcast considers Gimenez far and away to be the better shortstop, although with a much smaller sample than Rosario. The statistical platform also suggests that Rosario’s handiwork with the glove has improved since his first foray in the Majors in 2017.
Also added to the trade are two youngsters in Wolf and Greene. Both are former 2nd round picks of the Mets in 2019 and 2020, respectively.
Greene has yet to play a professional game as the pandemic led to the cancellation of minor league baseball in 2020. He is a mere 19 years old, bats and throws left-handed and played centerfield in his high school career. Baseball America suggests another former Indian as a good comp for him, smooth-swinging outfielder Michael Brantley.
Wolf got his start for the Mets’ Rookie League team in 2019 and posted a fair ERA of 3.38 in 8 innings of total work. Multiple reports suggest his future may be as a reliever, but with the absolute pitching factory that the Indians developmental staff has become and how early the right-hander truly is in his development there will be plenty of time to decide on the best outlook for his future.
Ultimately, this trade seems to be the biggest move yet of our current iteration of baseball’s Hot Stove, and for good reason. In the wake of one contender struggling to reconcile their financial limitations (whether artificial or not) due to the continual ramp up of financial intensity that comes from putting a competitive product on the field year after year, another deeper pocketed but less established aspirant for baseball supremacy has emerged. Today’s trade is not only impactful due to the names in neon-lights that will be changing locales, but because of the true change in path for two of the league’s franchises. The Mets haven’t played a playoff game since their Wild Card game loss in 2016, the same year as the Indians started their four out of five year playoff run. Trends, or at the very least outlooks, are changing. For one fanbase that’s reason to be boastful and excited, for another, it is a bit of a funeral for what has and what could have been.
Featured Image Credit: Draft Kings