Opening Day came early for the Mets. This Opening Day arrived before the first pitches of the new season would be thrown. Opening Day for the Mets came on Wednesday night, when it was reported that All-Star shortstop Francisco Lindor -- one of the bright stars of the game and someone who can be the best all-around player the Mets have ever had -- had agreed to a contract extension worth $341 million over 10 years.
Once this was the kind of deal the Yankees made for star players. Now new Mets owner Steve Cohen and his team president, Sandy Alderson, make the biggest deal they have ever made in team history.
Lindor and his people had set Opening Day -- originally scheduled for Thursday but postponed due to contact tracing involving the Nationals -- as a deadline for a contract extension, one that would essentially keep him at Citi Field for the rest of his career. We started to hear that the Mets were offering 10 years and Lindor wanted 12, with a lot of money separating them still. They worked it out. You knew they would.
One of the things we all love about baseball is that there’s no clock. The Mets beat the clock. Their season wasn’t supposed to start until a little after 7 eastern time in Washington against the Nationals. It really did start early.
The Mets didn’t get free-agent pitcher Trevor Bauer, even though they tried. Outfielder George Springer ended up with the Blue Jays. But the biggest acquisition that any team made in the offseason was Lindor, in the trade that brought him to the Mets from Cleveland. They made the kind of trade that the Dodgers made for Mookie Betts one year ago. That was before Betts got the second biggest contract in baseball history (second to Mike Trout’s) and the Dodgers locked up Mookie – who has the same skill set that Lindor does -- for the rest of his career.
Mookie helped the Dodgers win their first World Series since 1988. The Mets, who won their last World Series -- only the second in their history -- in 1986, now hope Lindor can do the same for them. As a shortstop. A switch-hitting shortstop. Batting second, for a very long time.
New York is a star place. The Yankees have always had their stars, for sure. But now the Mets have the best position player in town in Lindor. They have Pete Alonso, who broke Aaron Judge’s rookie record for home runs in 2019 with 53, across the infield from Lindor. And they have Jacob deGrom as their ace. deGrom won two Cy Young Awards in a row and finished third last year. Other teams can think they have the best pitcher. The Mets believe they have the best starting pitcher in the world.
Getting Lindor didn’t make the Mets the favorite to win the National League East. The Braves are still the favorites to win the East, and the Nationals are out to prove that last year’s disappointment in the short season was a fluke. The young Marlins of Don Mattingly made the playoffs in 2020. The Phillies aren’t bad, but might not make the postseason, not in a meat-grinder of a division like this.
But Lindor’s presence on the Mets, at the plate and on the bases and at short, changes so much for them. He changes the team’s personality, and not just because of his own dazzling personality. He makes their lineup look every bit as formidable as any in the National League, him and Alonso and Michael Conforto and a scrappy hit machine named Jeff McNeil. That is just the short list. Dom Smith can hit. J.D. Davis can hit. James McCann, the new catcher, is an upgrade behind the plate, and both he and Lindor make the Mets much stronger defensively up the middle, a major weak spot in recent years. There are questions about the bullpen. Who doesn’t have questions about the bullpen? We don’t know when Carlos Carrasco (hamstring injury), who came from Cleveland with Lindor, and Noah Syndergaard (recovering from Tommy John surgery) will join the season.
But the baseball season in Queens got a lot better when it got out on Wednesday night that Lindor wasn’t going anywhere. Mets fans are about to find out just how talented he is, how exciting he is. Nothing against Judge or Giancarlo Stanton or Gleyber Torres, who is going to want to show that he’s the best shortstop in the big city. Still: You add up all the things Lindor can do on a ballfield, and he really is the best player in town. And how many times in the Mets’ history have they been able to say that?
On Wednesday, before the news about Lindor broke, I asked the great radio voice of the Mets, Howie Rose, for his thoughts about Opening Day in baseball.
“Even the day before Opening Day is unique in its own way,” Howie said. “The inner tachometer seems to idle a bit faster than most other day. As a kid, it was pure, exciting anticipation.”
Mets fans found out for themselves on Wednesday night. Lindor is staying. Pure, exciting anticipation. Not just for this year. For the next 10 years.