Mets, Lindor seemingly at contract stalemate

March 31st, 2021

WASHINGTON -- Barring an 11th-hour change of heart from one side or the other, the Mets do not appear primed to sign Francisco Lindor to a long-term contract extension.

According to multiple sources, the Mets remain unwilling to increase their offer of 10 years and $325 million for Lindor, who in turn has shown no indications that he will decrease his ask of 12 years and approximately $385 million. That could still change, with one source cautioning that Lindor’s deadline is self-imposed; in other words, it’s possible he'll decide to negotiate even after Opening Day.

But for now, the Mets appear primed to head into the season with Lindor under an expiring contract, much to the puzzlement of owner Steve Cohen and others.

It was Cohen who personally extended the Mets’ $325 million offer to Lindor over dinner last weekend in Florida, tacking it onto the shortstop’s 2021 salary for a total outlay of 11 years and $347.3 million, according to sources. The offer was a counter to Lindor’s $385 million request, which Mets officials considered a starting point from which he would ultimately come down. That did not happen. As of Wednesday evening, Lindor’s agent, David Meter, had made only one offer -- approximately $385 million over 12 years -- to the Mets.

The team’s original $325 million offer included deferred money that would have lowered the total value of the contract, but a source said Cohen removed that aspect while dining with Lindor. In doing so, Cohen made the $325 million offer worth more in present-day money than Fernando Tatis’ $340 million contract and Mookie Betts’ $365 million deal. Although the deal wouldn’t technically make Lindor the highest-paid shortstop in Major League history, for all intents and purposes, it would.

For that reason, sources described Cohen as upset and baffled as the hours ticked down to Lindor’s self-imposed deadline. He and other Mets officials expected Lindor to meet them at $325 million, after they made an offer earlier in spring of around $300 million. Although the Mets consider Lindor a perfect fit for them at shortstop both on and off the field, they believe $325 million already exceeds their internal projections of his future performance. As such, they do not intend to increase their offer, nor meet Lindor in the middle.

Only Cohen, acting on his own, could break from that strategy. But sources described Cohen as wary of setting a precedent that he will blow past reasonable amounts for any player he hopes to sign. As he noted in his introductory press conference last November, Cohen wants to build a sustainable baseball operations model, not “spend like drunken sailors.” Signing Lindor to the second-largest contract in Major League history would run contrary to his ideals, not to mention potentially affect what the Mets can do in future seasons.

One source likened Lindor’s negotiations to those of reliever Craig Kimbrel, another Meter client who held out for $100 million or more when he became a free agent in 2018. Kimbrel ultimately did not sign until the following June, agreeing to a deal with the Cubs worth $43 million.

For Lindor, rejecting the Mets’ $325 million overture does not carry the same implications in terms of lost playing time, as he is already under contract for this season. But it does carry significant risk. Anything short of an All-Star-caliber 2021 season could decrease his value -- particularly with dynamic shortstops Carlos Correa, Corey Seager, Trevor Story and Javier Báez also due to hit free agency next winter.

The Mets would rather have Lindor than any of them, but not at any dollar amount. If Lindor does not sign, it would theoretically free more resources for the Mets to make a serious run at Michael Conforto, with whom they had not exchanged formal offers -- nor even talked specific dollars and cents -- as of Wednesday evening. Industry sources believe Conforto will seek a deal of $200 million or more, which is a problem for another day. Team officials want to resolve Lindor’s situation before proceeding with Conforto, who has not set a hard Opening Day deadline.

Lindor has set such a deadline, and doesn’t appear to be backing off. So, barring an 11th-hour shift in thinking, which is always possible in negotiations, the Mets appear set to head into the season with Lindor under their control for one year -- and one year only.

They’re at once both disappointed and accepting of that reality. Shortly after acquiring Lindor and Carlos Carrasco in a six-player deal that sent Amed Rosario, Andrés Giménez and a pair of prospects to the Indians in January, Mets president Sandy Alderson said he hoped to extend Lindor, but that “we felt comfortable giving up the group of players we did … recognizing that Lindor is only under contract for one year.”

“We gave up a lot of control for short-term control,” Alderson continued. “But I think we’re comfortable with that.”