Is timing right for Mets to extend star trio?
PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Essentially, the Mets had two reasons for remaining measured in their pursuit of free agents this winter. Long-term, the front office wanted to remain flexible, so that it would have the freedom to remain aggressive in future offseasons. Short-term, the Mets wanted to keep money in reserve to pursue extensions with players already here.
As team president Sandy Alderson put it, “At some point, even Steve Cohen runs out of money.”
So how might the Mets continue spending this spring? Although Alderson did not completely discount the possibility of offering extensions to pre-arbitration players like Pete Alonso or Jeff McNeil, he identified three impending free agents as his most likely targets:
Francisco Lindor, SS
The case for: Lindor is a star, arguably a top 10 player in baseball. More than that, he possesses the type of charisma that the Mets can market -- a “face of the franchise” magnetism that only comes around so often. Off the field, extending Lindor would represent the most significant sign yet that Cohen plans to spend his billions liberally. On the field, Lindor plays a premium defensive position at a high level and is just 27 years old. It’s reasonable to expect he still has many All-Star-caliber seasons ahead of him.
The case against: Cost, mostly. Even conservative estimates have Lindor at least approaching a $300 million deal, given the recent mega-contracts around the league for Mookie Betts (12 years, $365 million), Fernando Tatis Jr. (14 years, $340 million) and others. Even for the best players, deals of that nature carry significant risk, particularly on the back end. If Lindor signs even a 10-year contract, he will be 37 when it expires. To date, the largest contract the Mets have ever offered was their $138 million deal for David Wright in 2012. To more than double that for a player who has never played a game for them would be both a significant commitment and a significant risk -- with, of course, significant upside.
What they’re saying: “The great thing about this is I have an amazing agent, David Meter, and he’s going to handle all of that. That’s his job. That’s why he gets paid. So let him handle all of that. And then he’s going to call me and keep me in the loop, obviously, and then it’s going to be the decision after that. So, let him have all the headaches, let him run all the numbers and stuff. He’s got to chew it up and then give it to me.” --Lindor
Michael Conforto, OF
The case for: Generally speaking, homegrown players tend to be the most popular. Conforto has built a huge following since breaking into the Majors during the Mets’ playoff run in 2015; as such, there is a significant push from the fan base for the Mets to sign him. Of course, this isn’t about goodwill alone. Conforto has developed into one of the top all-around hitters in the National League, leading the Mets in batting average (.322) and on-base percentage (.412) last season with plenty of power. He only recently turned 28 and isn’t likely to require the sort of mega-deal that would push him into his late 30s. A six-year contract would probably be enough.
The case against: Despite his successes, Conforto has yet to deliver a full, All-Star-caliber season. He was well on his way in 2017, before a shoulder injury prematurely ended his season. Conforto hit 33 homers in 2019, but his average was .257. Last summer, Conforto made gains in all areas, but it was only a 54-game sample. Then, there is the matter of Conforto’s price tag. George Springer just reset the market for outfielders with his six-year, $150 million deal. Extending Conforto appears to be a more expensive proposition now than it was a year ago, when something in the low nine figures or even high eight figures would have been more realistic.
What they’re saying: “We’ve had Conforto for many years. He’s not only become an excellent player, but also part of, I think, the leadership group within the clubhouse. He’s represented the Mets for a long period of time and represented us well. And I think if it’s possible, we will make the effort to try and keep Michael with us.” --Alderson
Noah Syndergaard, SP
The case for: Coming off a lost season due to Tommy John surgery, Syndergaard’s stock has never been lower. His stuff remains elite, with the potential to be one of the best pitchers in the game when healthy. If the Mets can get him to accept a cheaper deal, even on a shorter timeframe to buy out a year or two of free agency, it could prove significant for their rotation in future seasons.
The case against: There’s a ton of risk associated with extending a pitcher who hasn’t taken the mound in 18 months. It also may be unrealistic to think Syndergaard would have interest in a long-term contract at this point, given that his stock could rapidly rise with a strong second half to 2021. He might be more willing to bet on himself than to give the Mets a discount right now.
What they’re saying: “Noah’s contract expires at the end of the year, and so it would, I think, be natural for us to at least talk about and explore the possibilities, the options. So, I expect that we will do that.” --Alderson