The New York Mets are in the midst of an identity crisis. When Steve Cohen bought the team and finally put an end to the Wilpon Era, expectations were sky-high. Cohen set a three-to-five-year timeline to end a World Series drought that has stood over 35 years, creating immense pressure to not only win, but win big.
At Cohen’s introductory press conference, an invigorated Sandy Alderson spoke with the media and painted a picture of better days for the Mets. They would set out to establish a new front office and spend in free agency to rebuild a contender in short order. The Mets made the biggest move of last offseason, trading for four-time All-Star Francisco Lindor. Who they immediately awarded with a 10-year $341 million contract extension before he even played a game in New York.
Lindor was to become the new face of a new era of Mets baseball, finally giving Jacob deGrom the type of team that would allow his brilliance to flourish in October. Through the All-Star break all was going as planned. While Lindor’s first half of the season was far from spectacular, the Mets held first place for 90 days and looked well on their way to their first NL East title since 2015.
Then disaster struck after the break, as Lindor pulled his oblique and deGrom never returned to finish what could’ve been an MVP season. The Mets endured one of their worst second-half collapses in franchise history, falling from first to third place, while turning in their fourth losing season in the last five years.
Now it is once again the Atlanta Braves who are the class of the NL East, representing their division in their second-straight National League Championship Series. Meanwhile the Mets are in the exact same place they were a year ago. Once again searching for leadership in their front office to rebuild a championship contender on the fly.
While Cohen’s first major investment did not pan out as expected in 2021, if he really wants to contend in 2022, the Mets are going to have to double-down on the bet they made with Francisco Lindor and build a team in his image. That means signing his two Puerto Rican National Team besties to create the most star-studded infield in the sport.
DeGrom might be the best player on the Mets, Pete Alonso may be the fan-favorite, but make no mistake, this is Francisco Lindor’s team.
Lindor is tied to this franchise longer than even their top prospects. The 27-year-old shortstop will not be a free agent again until 2032 and will be bringing home $34.1 million a year in the blue and orange for the next decade. The Mets need to do everything in their power to get the best version of Lindor. Which is exactly what they tried to do at this year’s trade deadline by acquiring Javier Baez.
Baez set himself up perfectly for his own free agency, mashing to a 143 wRC+ over the final stretch of the season with the Mets. While Baez might have been the best Met in the second half, his buddy Lindor quietly closed out the season very strong as well.
Due to the Mets being out of the race, it went fairly unnoticed that Lindor hit .257/.346/.549, with nine home runs and 25 RBI across his last 30 games playing alongside Baez. Lindor’s 138 wRC+ in September might not be sustainable over a full year, but it is close to mark he put up in 2018 when he had a 7.7 fWAR season. The Mets need to do whatever they can to keep Lindor at his best and keeping Baez around would seem like the simplest answer to doing that.
There is one problem though. Do you really want to invest long-term in Baez?
Baez is a great player to watch, there is no doubt about it. He showcases incredible acrobatics with his glove and ability to magically get around any tag. Not to mention the mammoth tanks he hits, while exuding more swagger than most players in the show.
And yet with all of that, he has a career 103 wRC+ across a sample that is well over 3,000 plate appearances. Baez was great at cutting down on his strikeouts and drawing walks in two months with the Mets, but you can’t just ignore his career 29.3% K rate.
Baez can certainly be a great player that is capable being an All-Star any given year. He just is not the player to make your number one priority if money is not an object. Especially in a market that includes Carlos Correa.
This offseason was always going to be known as the class of elite shortstops, with Lindor, Baez, Correa, Corey Seager and Trevor Story all set to hit free agency in the same offseason. Lindor wisely cut the line to the bag last offseason, securing his massive payday from Cohen a year early, but now the other four shortstops are set to hit open waters together. Throw Marcus Semien in that conversation as well following a 45-HR season and this class is chock full of great shortstops for contenders to go after.
In a market saturated with talent, the Mets have to be very careful with how they approach free agency, making sure to maximize the leverage they can create as an attractive free agent destination.
Lindor recruiting both Correa and Baez feels very NBA, but that is certainly on the table with the way these superstars have been leaving tea leaves through the media.
Correa still has baseball to play, as his Houston Astros are in the ALCS for the fifth-consecutive season. But once the season is over, it does seem like the 27-year-old will be looking for greener ($$$$$) pastures.
In a recent conversation with NBC Sports Chicago’s Gordon Wittenmyer, Correa spoke about how extension talks with the Astros broke down in the offseason and how he does not expect them to meet his asking price now.
“It was like, ’Take it or leave it; this is what we’ve got.’ And now my value has gone up. If they didn’t want to meet my price in spring training, now that I led the league in [Baseball Reference] WAR at 7.2 and I’m in the playoffs helping the team, I don’t know if they’ll meet my price now.”
Correa was also quoted stating an interest in maybe playing on the East Coast for the two teams in New York, whether that is with the Mets or the Yankees.
Entering free agency, Correa is wise to keep all of his options open to drive up his price as high as possible. On a recent playoff broadcast Alex Rodriguez (who Correa’s game has often been compared to) predicted that Correa could be baseball’s next $400 million player. While he might come short of that, there is no doubt that a contract over $250 million is in Correa’s future.
That is very steep price tag, but considering what Lindor received on his contract, it is not completely out of the realm of possibility. Correa is certainly far more deserving of that type of a long-term pact than Baez.
Let’s take a look at how these three shortstops stack up when it comes to their stats up to this point in their careers.
Lindor’s defense is the great separator that makes him the most valuable player of the three, but it is clear that Correa brings the most offensive punch with his career 128 wRC+. The 2015 AL Rookie of the Year just put together a career-best 5.8 fWAR season after mashing a career-high 26 home runs.
He is also still adding to his value helping his team in what could be another World Series run. In the ALDS against the Chicago White Sox, Correa went 5-for-13 (.385) with two doubles and four RBI.
The Mets are going to have to shell out a ton of money to secure either one of these free agents, but Correa is by far the safer bet to make over a long-term pact.
At 6-foot-4, Correa has always profiled as a third baseman, with many projecting that to become his eventual home later in his career. Now just like on the Puerto Rican National team, Correa can play to Lindor’s right, giving the Mets their long-awaited replacement of David Wright.
If the Mets can only land one, Correa also makes more sense to fit with their current roster, as Jeff McNeil could still return to his natural position of second base. But the beauty of making Correa a priority, is that it could also create more leverage for the Mets in their free agent talks with Baez.
There are only so many $250+ million contracts to go around and with a saturated free agent class, Baez may not enjoy that type of a market this offseason.
The Mets could be the team that presents Baez with the most attractive short-term deal, giving him the ability to make a high salary while competing for a World Series with two of his best friends. This way the Mets are not tied to Baez’s inconsistency long-term, but still enjoy the best years of his prime.
Building a team in Lindor’s image is a risky thing to do, considering the long-term financial commitment of having him and Correa under contract for over half a billion dollars. Still, it is the kind of all-in risk that Cohen should make if he wants to deliver on his promise to bring a World Series back to New York.