Inside the Clubhouse: What can the Mets build with Francisco Lindor?

This week Inside the Clubhouse looks at what the Mets are building with Francisco Lindor, how the Astros might upgrade their bullpen and more.

Steve Cohen made a promise to New York Mets fans to make big moves this winter. On Thursday, he delivered.

The trade to acquire Francisco Lindor and Carlos Carrasco from the Cleveland Indians not only makes the Mets clear favorites in the National League East, but it puts them in a position to compete for a pennant. And the price to acquire both players — Amed Rosario, Andres Gimenez, Josh Wolf and Isaiah Greene — is viewed by rival executives as a clear win for the Mets.

Lindor, 27, is one of baseball’s best players and instantly becomes the new face of the Mets. He has been the most valuable shortstop by FanGraphs’ version of Wins Above Replacement since his first full season in 2016. The Mets believe that while his offensive numbers dropped in 2020, that he is capable of being their best two-way position player since David Wright.

Lindor, of course, is entering the final year of his contract and the Mets were not granted an exclusive negotiating window as part of the trade. But in parting with Gimenez and Rosario, the team expressed confidence they will be able to sign Lindor to a long-term extension that figures to be in the $200-300 million range.

“We’ve got Francisco for this year, we hope he’s fantastic in 2021 and that there’s every reason to talk to him about some long-term arrangement,” Mets president Sandy Alderson said. “We’re comfortable with that and what we might be able to do going forward.”

The other piece of the deal, Carrasco, fills one of the Mets’ biggest needs. Alderson and general manager Jared Porter were actively exploring the trade and free-agent markets looking to upgrade a Mets rotation that was one of the worst in baseball in 2020. They identified Carrasco, 33, as an ideal fit considering 1) he is coming off a strong season and 2) he is under control at $12 million in 2021, $12 million in 2022 with a $14 million club option in 2023.

When it became possible to acquire both in the same deal, the Mets pounced. It gives them a transcendent talent at shortstop and fills out a rotation that features Jacob deGrom, Marcus Stroman and Carrasco with Noah Syndergaard returning in June.

The question now shifts to what’s next. And when asked if the Mets had the appetite to make another big move, Alderson said: “We are always hungry.”

The Mets have not ruled out signing free-agent outfielder George Springer, as first reported by Jon Heyman of MLB Network, though such a move may prove difficult. Springer, 31, will land a deal well over $100 million and the Mets’ 2021 payroll is currently $179 million, per Roster Resource, leaving them with roughly $31 million to spend before hitting the luxury tax.

It is a hurdle, Alderson said, that the team is aware of but one they are open to clearing should the right opportunity present itself.

When was the last time a Mets executive said that?

The balance of power continues to shift in the National League East. If Cohen’s proclamations of turning the Mets into a perennial contender are any indication, the Lindor trade is only the beginning.

Astros actively trying to upgrade the bullpen

The Houston Astros are “the most aggressive” team in pursuing high-leverage relievers, according to a person familiar with the situation.

Reliever Blake Treinen was of strong interest to the Astros before he re-signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers, with Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic reporting that the team hoped to sign both Treinen and Liam Hendriks. Such a move would have given the Astros two All-Star caliber relievers to pair with Ryan Pressly, with one team official remarking, “If we get to the seventh (inning) with the lead, game over.”

The Astros, meanwhile, continue to pursue Hendriks and have also shown interest in free-agent reliever Brad Hand, according to league sources.

Hendriks, 31, is the consensus top free-agent reliever and would provide a drastic upgrade to the Astros’ bullpen. Since 2019, he ranks first in ERA (1.65) among closers with at least 25 saves and his WHIP (0.897) ranks third behind Josh Hader (0.835) and Roberto Osuna (0.865). Hand, 33, is a free agent after the Cleveland Indians declined his $10 million club option. He is a three-time All-Star and finished last season with a 2.05 ERA in 22 innings and led the American League with 16 saves.

It is unclear if the Astros have similar visions of pairing Hendriks with Hand (or any other free-agent reliever) as they did with Treinen. But the Astros will need to get creative in finding ways to eat innings to take pressure off a young rotation that will be without Justin Verlander for most, if not all, of the 2020 season as he recovers from Tommy John surgery.

Building a top-five bullpen may be their way of doing that.

Evaluating Alex Colome’s market

The market for free-agent reliever Alex Colome includes the Houston Astros, Boston Red Sox, Washington Nationals, Minnesota Twins and Chicago White Sox.

Colome, 32, has connections to almost each organization from his time with the Tampa Bay Rays. He has relationships with Astros general manager James Click and Boston Red Sox Chief Baseball Officer Chaim Bloom. He worked with Nationals coaches Dave Martinez and Jim Hickey and Twins manager Rocco Baldelli. And he just spent the last two seasons with the White Sox, finishing with a 2.27 ERA in 83.1 innings.

Since 2016, Colome ranks fourth in baseball with 19 multi-inning saves and third in saves (138), behind Kenley Jansen (170) and Edwin Diaz (141). Since 2019, he has the third-best ERA among closers with at least 25 saves and ranks seventh in WAR (2.0).

Colome’s success in 2020 will be hard to replicate, given that he did not allow a home run and finished with a .200 batting average on balls in play. But he has a 2.95 career ERA in 424 innings and a strong Statcast profile and appears positioned to land a solid one or two-year deal in free agency.

Agents, players growing frustrated with slow winter

Even during the COVID-19 era, as teams continue to claim they are dealing with financial constraints, the words of Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman from the 2016 winter meetings hold true: “If you’re always rational about every free agent, you will finish third on every free agent.”

It is Jan. 8, and George Springer, Trevor Bauer, J.T. Realmuto and D.J. LeMahieu remain unsigned. There are few indications that any of them are closer to signing than they were at this time last month. Some agents, as Bob Nightengale of USA Today wrote, believe teams are attempting to keep the market saturated so they can sign players in late-January, early-February for pennies on the dollar.

Teams, however, have turned to the trade market to upgrade their rosters. The Mets acquired Lindor and Carrasco from the Indians. The Padres acquired Yu Darvish and Blake Snell in separate deals with the Cubs and Rays. The White Sox acquired Lance Lynn from the Rangers.

What has agents concerned is that few teams are actively looking to compete in 2021, with most looking to shed payroll and hoard cheap, controllable assets. Some of the high-end free agents have been waiting for clarity on what the Mets will do this winter. Even then, none of those players have received offers from the other 29 teams that they believe are indicative of what they are worth. And frustration from both players and agents is starting to grow.

“If you’re going to sign my player,” one agent said, “you need to f***ing pay up.”

Around The Horn:

  • Free-agent pitcher Spencer Patton is drawing interest from seven teams. Patton, 32, has spent the last four years as a high-end setup reliever in the NPB after stints in the majors with the Texas Rangers and Chicago Cubs. He is capable of making consistent multi-inning appearances and has one minor-league option remaining.
  • Right-handed pitcher Tomoyuki Sugano is in agreement on a four-year, $40 million deal to return to the Yomiuri Giants, as Rosenthal reported. The deal contains three opt-outs, meaning that Sugano can come to MLB in 2021 after receiving interest from the San Diego Padres and Toronto Blue Jays, among others.
  • It has been quite a week for Jhoulys Chacin. On Wednesday, he became a United States citizen. On Thursday, he celebrated his 33rd birthday and signed a deal with the New York Yankees.

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