How Lindor and Carrasco Upend the NL East by Dan Szymborski January 11, 2021 We’ve written many words talking about the blockbuster deal that sent Francisco Lindor and Carlos Carrasco to the Mets, and rightly so: It’s rare for two players of such impact to be acquired by a single team in the same trade. We know that the Mets are now a better team than they would have been if not for the trade, at least if you hold onto the apparently quaint notion that bringing in superior players makes your team win games and, as a result, is desirable. But just how much better? I don’t have a time machine, but having a projection system allows me to evaluate a lot of scenarios. Let’s start by looking at the ZiPS projections for the NL East standings before the trade, with all other roster assumptions through Sunday evening remaining the same. ZiPS Projections – NL East, No Lindor Trade Team W L GB PCT Div% WC% Playoff% WS Win% Atlanta Braves 93 69 — .568 65.6% 18.2% 83.8% 9.7% New York Mets 86 76 7 .531 17.1% 26.4% 43.5% 3.1% Washington Nationals 85 77 8 .525 15.9% 24.9% 40.8% 2.8% Philadelphia Phillies 76 86 17 .469 1.0% 3.5% 4.5% 0.2% Miami Marlins 74 88 19 .457 0.5% 1.8% 2.2% 0.1% The Mets were hardly dead in the water before the big swap, but from a projection standpoint, they looked to be underdogs to the Braves. This wasn’t necessarily due to a lack of top-end talent, but rather to not having enough top-end talent to counter the team’s lack of depth, especially in the rotation. Either adding more stars or improved depth could bump up these numbers for the Mets. They did both. Lindor is quite obviously a star and Carrasco very frequently one, though more of the regular sort (like our sun) than a supergiant. The addition of Lindor isn’t a depth move, given that the Mets had to move two competent middle infielders to get him, but they didn’t give up any pitching to bring Carrasco to Queens. That was a point of serious concern, as New York would have otherwise had to count on all of Noah Syndergaard, David Peterson, and Steven Matz to be both healthy and effective. Absent this deal, the Mets would have had to make another, probably less impressive addition, or tried Seth Lugo or Robert Gsellman in a rotation role where they’ve been less effective. ZiPS Projections – NL East, Post Lindor Trade Team W L GB PCT Div% WC% Playoff% WS Win% Atlanta Braves 92 70 — .568 48.9% 29.6% 78.5% 8.3% New York Mets 91 71 1 .562 39.9% 32.5% 72.4% 7.0% Washington Nationals 85 77 7 .525 10.5% 20.8% 31.3% 2.1% Philadelphia Phillies 76 86 16 .469 0.5% 2.3% 2.8% 0.1% Miami Marlins 73 89 19 .451 0.2% 1.1% 1.3% 0.1% As a clear underdog to the Braves but with more of a fighting chance than the Phillies or the Marlins overall, the Nationals take the biggest hit of any NL East team from the trade. Atlanta technically loses a win in the standings while Washington doesn’t, but the percentages are the key as the wins are merely rounded numbers. Fewer of the latter’s upside scenarios result in a divisional title, and the loser of a Mets vs. Braves battle is likely a superior Wild Card contender compared to the Nats. The Braves naturally take a hit as well, but they’re in a stronger position for a Wild Card run; the loser of the Dodgers-Padres contest is the favorite for one Wild Card, but Atlanta would still have the odds in its favor to take the second one. The Mets didn’t just add roughly five wins on average; they added five very high-leverage ones in terms of making the playoffs. Excellent teams and terrible teams have less to gain when making such a gigantic improvement. For a team like the Dodgers, it represents diminishing returns, and a team such as the Rangers needs an entire squad of Lindors and Carrascos. Playoff Percentage Change from Lindor Trade Team Current Before Lindor Trade Change Cleveland 6.2% 21.8% -15.7% Washington Nationals 31.3% 40.8% -9.5% Atlanta Braves 78.5% 83.8% -5.3% St. Louis Cardinals 33.1% 34.9% -1.8% Chicago Cubs 31.1% 32.9% -1.8% Milwaukee Brewers 26.4% 28.1% -1.7% Philadelphia Phillies 2.8% 4.5% -1.7% Cincinnati Reds 29.3% 31.0% -1.7% Arizona Diamondbacks 5.5% 7.1% -1.6% San Diego Padres 92.3% 93.6% -1.3% Los Angeles Dodgers 93.1% 94.3% -1.2% Miami Marlins 1.3% 2.2% -0.9% San Francisco Giants 0.9% 1.2% -0.3% Pittsburgh Pirates 1.9% 2.1% -0.2% Colorado Rockies 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% Baltimore Orioles 0.1% 0.1% 0.0% Texas Rangers 0.3% 0.2% 0.0% Detroit Tigers 0.1% 0.1% 0.0% Seattle Mariners 2.9% 2.7% 0.1% Kansas City Royals 1.0% 0.7% 0.3% Boston Red Sox 8.0% 7.5% 0.5% Los Angeles Angels 20.7% 20.1% 0.6% Oakland Athletics 65.1% 64.3% 0.8% New York Yankees 89.3% 88.6% 0.8% Houston Astros 51.5% 50.6% 0.9% Toronto Blue Jays 27.0% 26.0% 1.1% Tampa Bay Rays 72.6% 70.9% 1.7% Chicago White Sox 80.5% 76.3% 4.2% Minnesota Twins 74.8% 70.1% 4.6% New York Mets 72.4% 41.5% 30.9% Let’s ask a slightly different question: Would any other team in baseball have seen as much of a benefit from an improvement of this magnitude as the Mets did? To answer this one, I again rewound to a pre-Lindor trade world and simulated the 2021 season 30 times, giving each team a go with five additional wins on their roster. How these five wins are added doesn’t really matter for this exercise. Maybe a team’s “Lindor trade” is bringing in Nolan Arenado from the Rockies, or signing Trevor Bauer, or getting George Springer. I then ranked all 30 teams by their increases in points of playoff percentage. Changes in Playoff Probability with Five More Wins Team Before Lindor Trade Five More Wins Change New York Mets 41.5% 70.7% 29.2% Chicago Cubs 32.9% 60.6% 27.7% St. Louis Cardinals 34.9% 62.4% 27.5% Milwaukee Brewers 28.1% 55.4% 27.3% Washington Nationals 40.8% 68.1% 27.3% Cincinnati Reds 31.0% 58.2% 27.2% Toronto Blue Jays 26.0% 52.7% 26.7% Cleveland 21.8% 47.8% 26.0% Houston Astros 50.6% 76.3% 25.7% Los Angeles Angels 20.1% 45.3% 25.2% Minnesota Twins 70.1% 92.2% 22.1% Oakland Athletics 64.3% 86.1% 21.8% Tampa Bay Rays 70.9% 89.9% 19.0% Chicago White Sox 76.3% 92.6% 16.3% Boston Red Sox 7.5% 23.6% 16.1% Arizona Diamondbacks 7.1% 22.4% 15.3% Philadelphia Phillies 4.5% 16.9% 12.4% Atlanta Braves 83.8% 95.8% 12.0% Seattle Mariners 2.7% 11.7% 9.0% New York Yankees 88.6% 97.5% 8.9% Miami Marlins 2.2% 10.3% 8.1% Pittsburgh Pirates 2.1% 10.0% 7.9% San Francisco Giants 1.2% 6.7% 5.5% San Diego Padres 93.6% 99.1% 5.5% Los Angeles Dodgers 94.3% 99.1% 4.8% Kansas City Royals 0.7% 4.7% 4.0% Texas Rangers 0.2% 2.5% 2.3% Baltimore Orioles 0.1% 1.3% 1.2% Detroit Tigers 0.1% 1.0% 0.9% Colorado Rockies 0.0% 0.1% 0.1% The Mets come out on top here, suggesting that at least by my projections, they were precisely the team most in need of such an improvement. Note that the change is slightly smaller here than in the first tables as ZiPS actually projected the Mets added 5.3 wins, not an even five. Still, adding nearly a third of a playoff spot in one fell swoop is an impressive achievement. When reading this chart, the feeling that most washes over me is burning rage about the state of the NL Central. In a season in which all five teams in the division appear to be in a bitter race to be the least ambitious club in the division, there never has been a better time to go for broke. Outside of parting with Kolten Wong, the Cardinals have arguably made the fewest direct statements of premature towel-throwing, so may there’s still time for them to put together an 88-win team — a veritable juggernaut in division terms. Cleveland also ranks highly here; a Lindor trade would have been a huge boost to its 2021 odds, but the team made it in the wrong direction! With Houston looking weaker in the past, the three contending AL West teams would also benefit from a major addition. Either the A’s or Astros would have much better odds of putting away the rest of the division after such a move, and the Angels could use one to reach near-parity with their rivals, something they really ought to be doing while they still have the best player they will ever have in his prime. Similarly, Toronto’s interest in signing Springer is backed up by the projections here. There’s also a word of caution here for the Phillies: Even if, by some happenstance, the team does end up bringing back J.T. Realmuto, that’s not nearly enough by itself. Running the numbers for World Series probability doesn’t change much. Divisional battlers (Dodgers/Padres, Yankees/Rays, White Sox/Twins) get a larger boost than in the chart above, while the mid-tier wild card contenders get smaller ones. But the Mets stay on top, with 3.7 additional percentage points of championship probability besting the other 29 teams. The Mets made a huge move, involving actually great players while addressing areas of concern, in a situation in which the organization sees the largest benefit. It’s been a long time since that sentence wouldn’t have shocked me.