Francisco Lindor wanted more than Fernando Tatis Jr. Steve Cohen wanted Francisco Lindor long term.
And the new Mets owner was not going to let $16 million spread over 10 years — or longer, considering there are deferrals in this deal through 2041 — keep him from what he wanted or from making a defining statement on the eve of his first Opening Day running the Mets.
After all, Cohen had pledged to run the Mets like a mega-market franchise. He had said he would like to emulate how the Dodgers go about their business.
Last year, Los Angeles traded for Mookie Betts before he entered his walk year. Then the Dodgers signed the great outfielder to a 12-year, $365 million extension one day before the delayed 2020 season began.
In moving up what was a 10-year, $325 million bid — by adding those $16 million — Cohen guaranteed Lindor $341 million. That is the third largest contract of all time. It trails Mike Trout ($426.5 million) and, yep, Betts. It also removes 2021 as a walk year for Lindor. Instead, he walks into the good graces of Mets fans while Cohen further endears himself to the faithful by not, um, dodging his promises.
That is not where he was heading. Lindor had asked for 12 years at $385 million. Cohen initially indicated he would not budge beyond $325 million. The hours ticked toward Lindor’s deadline of Opening Day or wait until after the season. A sense grew of intractability. That Lindor would risk irritating Met fans before regular-season Game 1 by spurning more than $300 million. That Cohen would invest prospects for one year of Lindor and then let him walk.
Instead, both sides were playing their parts. They were posturing. Lindor had shown a willingness to turn down $200 million-ish from Cleveland a few years back to gamble on himself. He knew the gamble would pay off with at least $100 million-plus even if he took Cohen’s offer. But Tatis had signed a 14-year, $340 million extension five weeks ago and climbing above it became Lindor’s quest.
And how was Cohen going to refuse? This offseason his wallet helped make the Mets better. But it was hardly a pristine opening chapter. The club failed to land a president of baseball operations with a few desirable candidates concerned about enlisting with Cohen due to his business-world reputation. Cohen’s choice for GM, Jared Porter, had to resign a month into the job after confirming a report of sending lewd texts to a female reporter while he worked for the Cubs. While Mickey Callaway’s managerial tenure predated Cohen, he was hired to the Mets by Cohen’s handpicked team president Sandy Alderson. So there was stain when Callaway also was alleged to have acted inappropriately toward women, some while a Mets employee.
Plus, Cohen made the negotiations with Lindor public, a tactic that would have made not signing the star shortstop all the worse. Among other items, he crowdsourced ideas for how to get a deal completed with Lindor. In the end, he didn’t need theory. Just his thick wallet. It is his advantage. Recently, another executive, predicting that Lindor would eventually sign, asked me, “Do you know how little $300 million over 10 years is to Steve Cohen?” I will assume $341 million over 10 years also is not going to stress the richest owner in North American team sports.
Still, there is risk here. There is always risk with any contract, and the larger the pay, the more the gamble. Before Wednesday night, the most the Mets had ever guaranteed a player was David Wright’s eight years at $138 million and that deal blew up on the organization.
This contract is for $203 million more. Lindor will make $22.3 million this season before this extension even kicks in. It will run through 2031 when Lindor will be 37. By signing on, Lindor will hear an ovation next Thursday even from a 20 percent capacity crowd at Citi Field for the home opener tinged with thanks and aspirations and joy. Whether Lindor can retain the goodwill with great play now becomes a storyline, perhaps for a decade-plus. There are no opt-outs in this deal, and Lindor has the right to block trades to 15 teams. He brings switch-hitting offense, Gold Glove defense and enough charisma to captivate Queens.
He also represents something more for the Mets. He is Cohen’s tent pole. The first star acquired in this regime and the first megadeal. Cohen pledged his financial might was part of the package of him owning the team. He flexed Wednesday night with Opening Day just hours away. He bought a star long term and good vibes at least short term.
With “Play Ball” about to ring out, Cohen stepped up to the plate as he promised he would.