In time, yes, this will be all about Steve Cohen’s money. Because if the New York Mets’ new owner didn’t expect to lock up the best shortstop in baseball to a nine-figure contract before he hits free agency in 10 months, then Cohen never would have authorized giving up two young major-league shortstops to get him.
For now, though, the Mets pulled off Thursday’s blockbuster trade for Francisco Lindor — easily the biggest move of the offseason — because they had the player inventory to do so.
And, really, that’s what this is all about for the Phillies.
Twenty-three months ago, the Phillies acquired their franchise player, signing Bryce Harper to the largest contract ever for a free agent. But they still haven’t surrounded their $330 million man with the supporting cast to make the playoffs. It cost manager Gabe Kapler his job, led to general manager Matt Klentak’s demotion, and thrust the organization into this strange state of flux under new president of baseball operations/Mr. Fix-It Dave Dombrowski.
The Mets, whose playoff dry spell is actually five years shorter than the Phillies’ nine-year drought, have now preyed upon the payroll-shredding Cleveland Indians to obtain their franchise player. And they will inject Lindor (and veteran starting pitcher Carlos Carrasco, too) into a roster that was at least deep enough to withstand trading away Andrés Gimenez and Amed Rosario, both of whom could start at shortstop for the Phillies right now. The Mets also parted with right-hander Josh Wolf and outfielder Isaiah Greene -- both minor leaguers -- in the deal.
Lindor will likely bat atop an order that features Michael Conforto, Pete Alonso, Dom Smith, Jeff McNeil, and recently signed catcher James McCann. Carrasco will join a rotation that includes two-time Cy Young Award winner Jacob deGrom, Marcus Stroman, and eventually, rehabbing starter Noah Syndergaard, and be backed up by relievers Edwin Diaz, Jeurys Familia, and Trevor May.
And many people will forecast that the Mets have gone from a mere playoff contender into a pennant hopeful, if not the outright favorite to win the National League East. The Atlanta Braves still hold that distinction, at least until Cohen doubles down on his investment by signing free-agent center fielder George Springer or pitcher Trevor Bauer.
(Signing Springer or Jackie Bradley Jr. could also enable the Mets to dangle 27-year-old center fielder Brandon Nimmo — and his .394 on-base percentage over the last four seasons — in another trade, perhaps for more pitching help.)
But Lindor brings instant star power. He’s a four-time All-Star and a two-time Gold Glove winner, with the speed and power (back-to-back 20-homer/20-steal seasons in 2018-19) to be a leadoff-hitting force. He also has a smile that could power the Big Apple and the charisma and pizzazz to thrive in that city.
And Lindor is 27, one year younger than Harper, which makes him the perfect superstar foil for 19 games between the NL East rivals, including a May 2 showdown on Sunday Night Baseball. Think ESPN won’t take advantage of that matchup as often as possible?
But divisional supremacy in 2021 and beyond — and once again, Cohen will see to it that Lindor is able to buy, not rent in New York — will come down to more than merely Lindor vs. Harper.
Like the Phillies, the Mets’ farm system is light on elite prospects, a concession that even Cohen made recently on Twitter. But the Phillies’ major-league roster is top-heavy, too, a reality that became evident last season when Harper, Aaron Nola, Zack Wheeler, Rhys Hoskins, Alec Bohm, and J.T. Realmuto fell short of the playoffs in an expanded 2020 field. Realmuto is now a free agent, and his return appears to be a 50/50 proposition, at best.
Is the Mets’ roster, from 1 to 26 and 27 to 40, good enough to get Lindor back to the postseason?