Mets Acquire Lindor, Carrasco in Blockbuster Trade

For years, rumors have circulated that Francisco Lindor was available in trade. Cleveland, ever penny-pinching, always looked unlikely to sign him to an extension. He’s due to reach free agency after this season, which put a clock on the situation. Today, that clock struck midnight. As first reported by Jeff Passan, the Mets have acquired Lindor and Carlos Carrasco in exchange for Amed Rosario, Andrés Giménez, Josh Wolf, and Isaiah Greene.

It’s easy to like New York’s side of the deal. Lindor is one of the 10 or so best position players in baseball, and at 27, he’s just entering his prime. In addition, he’s one of the best defensive shortstops in the game, a huge upgrade for a team that induces a ton of grounders.

He’s a free agent after this year, of course, which limited Cleveland’s return for him, but the Mets have talked all offseason about signing marquee free agents, and Lindor blows this year’s crop out of the water. None of the available free agents this winter project for more than J.T. Realmuto’s 4.1 WAR, and none of the top 10 are younger than 30. Lindor is better, younger, and arguably more marketable than anyone on that list, and it’s not particularly close.

Most of the best hitters in baseball get there by, well, hitting. Lindor does that too — Steamer and ZiPS think he’ll be the third-best batter at the shortstop position in 2021 — but he gets an outsize proportion of his value from defense. From 2018 to 2020, he’s been the second-best shortstop defender in baseball per UZR, behind only Andrelton Simmons. DRS has him fourth, behind Simmons, Paul DeJong, and Nick Ahmed. Per Outs Above Average, he’s second only to Ahmed. No matter how you slice it, his defense is stellar.

If you plug Ahmed or Simmons (and probably DeJong, too) into your lineup, you’re sacrificing offense for defense. Not so with Lindor. His worst season at the plate was 2020, but even then, he managed a .258/.335/.415 line, good for a 100 wRC+. For his career, he’s a .285/.346/.488 hitter, a line buoyed by his phenomenal contact skills. Despite an aggressive approach at the plate, he strikes out only 14.1% of the time while walking at an average rate, which gives him a high floor.

Though he brings plenty of other positive qualities to the table, that contact skill is his only true standout offensive ability. He displayed shocking power in 2018, barreling up 9.3% of his batted balls on the way to 38 home runs, but for the most part, he gets to his stats by being roughly average when he makes contact while making far more contact than the average hitter. In his career, he’s accumulated a .383 xwOBA on contact and a .380 actual wOBA on contact, a hair higher than the .376 and .370 marks the league as a whole has accrued over the same time period. Even average power plays up when you get so many opportunities, though, which is how he put together three straight 30-homer seasons from 2017 to 2019.

That total package works out to a good but hardly overpowering hitter, one who would be above average at any position on the diamond without approaching the rarefied air of the Mike Trouts and Juan Sotos of the world. Combine it with the defense, and you get something special. ZiPS thinks Lindor will continue to put up MVP-caliber seasons for years to come:

ZiPS Projection – Francisco Lindor
Year BA OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB OPS+ DR WAR
2021 .268 .335 .487 628 101 168 38 2 32 88 60 106 20 122 8 5.8
2022 .267 .336 .494 599  97 160 39 2 31 85 58 104 17 124 7 5.6
2023 .265 .335 .486 584  94 155 38 2 29 82 57  99 16 122 6 5.2
2024 .264 .331 .481 565  90 149 35 2 28 79 54  93 16 120 5 4.7
2025 .262 .330 .479 545  85 143 33 2 27 75 52  87 16 119 4 4.4

What might Lindor command in free agency? The Mookie Betts extension provides a general guide. Betts got 12 years and $365 million in new salary commitments, and like Lindor, his first season of free agency will be his age-28 season. That’s a significantly bigger outlay than we expect it to take to sign George Springer, the free agent the Mets have been most linked to, but if Springer gets the deal we expect, Lindor won’t be meaningfully more expensive per year, and he’ll be 40 at the end of his deal as compared to 36 for Springer. He’s also, you know, Francisco Lindor.

If Lindor were the only piece headed to Queens, Mets fans would have every right to be ecstatic. In keeping with their perpetual goal of shedding salary, however, Cleveland also included Carrasco in the deal. He isn’t the generational talent that Lindor is, but he’s an excellent second starter or an absurdly overqualified third starter if you think Noah Syndergaard slots into the number two spot upon his return.

That statement in itself is a remarkable one considering the adversity Carrasco has faced. In 2019, coming off a dominant two-year stretch, he was diagnosed with leukemia. After a three-month battle with the disease, he returned to the team as a reliever in September, then picked up where he’d left off in 2020, delivering 12 starts and a 2.91 ERA (3.65 xFIP). His walk rate ballooned, but he otherwise roughly resembled his former dominant self.

It’s easy to call Carrasco an inspiring story and leave it at that, but that sells him short by a good margin. He was the 22nd-best pitcher in baseball in 2020 by WAR and 12th-best by RA9-WAR. He’s not doing it with smoke and mirrors, either: he induced swinging strikes on 15.1% of his pitches, the seventh-best mark among starters. If the Mets didn’t already have Jacob deGrom, we’d be calling Carrasco their ace.

Unlike Lindor, Carrasco isn’t approaching free agency. He’s under contract for two more years at $13 million per year, a bargain for the production that ZiPS expects:

ZiPS Projection – Carlos Carrasco
Year W L ERA G GS IP H ER HR BB SO ERA+ WAR
2021 11 7 3.60 27 23 142.7 123 57 21 37 166 118 2.9
2022 10 7 3.62 24 21 126.7 111 51 19 33 144 117 2.5
2023  9 7 3.83 24 20 124.7 112 53 20 33 140 111 2.2
2024  9 6 3.80 22 19 116.0 104 49 18 31 130 111 2.1
2025  7 6 3.96 20 17 102.3  94 45 17 28 114 107 1.7

Of note, ZiPS is a far better forecaster of talent level than playing time. Pitchers are always one ligament away from the Injured List, but if Carrasco hits our Depth Charts projection of 174 innings pitched, that works out to a 3.5 WAR season — roughly equivalent to Blake Snell, Stephen Strasburg, or Aaron Nola. Carrasco is older than those three — he’ll be 34 this season — but pitchers break more so than they age, and a healthy Carrasco will give the Mets another stud pitcher to complement deGrom, Syndergaard, and Marcus Stroman.

Carrasco also has a vesting option that kicks in if he pitches 170 innings in 2022 and is healthy to start 2023. At $15 million, it’s a bargain if he’s healthy and effective, and it carries a $3 million buyout if he doesn’t reach that 170 IP threshold. All in all, Carrasco looks like both an excellent pitcher and a financial bargain — production in the same general zip code as former teammate Trevor Bauer on a wildly cheaper contract.

To get these two huge upgrades, the Mets parted with two major league shortstops and two prospects. Rosario was the everyday shortstop in New York in 2018 and ’19 after debuting in late ’17. He initially struggled defensively, but started to put things together there as 2019 wore on. At the same time, he took a step forward on offense, paring his free-swinging ways back to unlock his solid bat-to-ball skills.

2020 was a rough one for Rosario. He struggled at the plate, swinging too often at bad pitches. His strikeout rate climbed to 23.1%, his walk rate fell to an abysmal 2.7%, and he didn’t hit for the sneaky power he’d shown in previous years. All told, it led to a 76 wRC+, a big step back from his form in late 2019.

In fact, he struggled so much that he lost playing time to Giménez, who is also headed to Cleveland. Giménez was a less-heralded prospect than Rosario, but he outplayed him in 2020. His game profiles very similarly, though with less power — he’s aggressive at the plate and has good bat-to-ball skills. At only 5-foot-11 to Rosario’s 6-foot-2, he’s less likely to grow into more power, but he displayed the skills of an average major leaguer in tough circumstances in 2020, and he’s still only 22.

ZiPS sees Rosario as an average contributor right this minute:

ZiPS Projection – Amed Rosario
Year BA OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB OPS+ DR WAR
2021 .283 .316 .431 575 77 163 27 8 14 61 26 119 16 96 -3 1.9
2022 .282 .317 .437 549 74 155 27 8 14 59 26 117 15 98 -3 1.9
2023 .281 .317 .442 545 74 153 27 8 15 60 27 121 15 99 -3 2.0

Those three years will all be in Cleveland short of another trade. Rosario projects to earn $2.2 million in arbitration this year, his first year of eligibility. For a team that is perpetually shedding salary and trying to save a few pennies, that’s an attractive quality.

If you’re more into team control than 2021 production, Giménez looks even better:

ZiPS Projection – Andrés Giménez
Year BA OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB OPS+ DR WAR
2021 .248 .306 .381 436 59 108 19 6  9 40 23 108 26 81 3 1.3
2022 .257 .316 .418 421 60 108 21 7 11 43 24 101 26 93 4 2.0
2023 .254 .316 .424 429 62 109 21 8 12 45 26 108 26 94 4 2.1
2024 .252 .316 .425 428 62 108 21 7 13 46 27 111 24 95 4 2.1
2025 .252 .319 .430 428 63 108 21 8 13 47 29 113 24 96 4 2.2

With a whopping five years of team control remaining, Giménez looks like he can join Rosario as an average middle-infield corps for years to come, with the kind of financial certainty that would make Ross Atkins drool. Only one of them can play shortstop, but both have the range and arm to handle either second or third, so while there’s overlap between the two, it’s useful overlap.

To round out their return, Cleveland acquired two minor leaguers. Josh Wolf was the Mets’ second round pick in 2019, and he pitched in a handful of games that year after signing. I asked Eric Longenhagen about the prospect return, and he shared that Wolf has an atypical build and arm action for a starter, but that Cleveland has historically been good at altering deliveries to account for that. He sits 94-97 with a breaking ball that flashes plus, and Eric speculates that a new delivery might unlock better action and feel for a changeup that he sometimes throws. That said, he still projects as a reliever, though an impact one, and there’s certainly starter upside in there somewhere.

Isaiah Greene was a 2020 draftee, New York’s pick in the compensatory round. Again per Eric, the scouts who were highest on Greene see him as having good feel for contact with a frame that portends power in the future. He’s still raw in the field, with a scattershot arm, though he’s only 19 and didn’t play much in 2020 due to a pandemic-shortened senior season. Eric’s greatest concern is with his swing, a long, loopy contraption that will likely require a re-work. He appeared to start an overhaul in Fall instructs, our only look at him as a pro.

Cleveland has a penchant for drafting hitters from southern California, which raises the likelihood that their area scout there is behind the acquisition, as Greene has seen essentially no action since being drafted. Cleveland tends to pick up younger high schoolers — Greene is already 19 and a half — but it’s more a guideline than a rule, and there’s certainly a lot to dream on in his profile.

Perhaps most importantly for Cleveland, neither Wolf nor Greene needs a 40-man roster spot for several years. They have a logjam there, and by including two recent draftees in their return, they won’t be adding to the crunch with this trade. They’ll both profile in the 20-30 range on Cleveland’s prospect list as depth pieces with upside, though Eric likes Wolf (ranked 25th as a 40+ FV) more than Greene (28th as a 40 FV).

That’s the nuts and bolts of the trade. As for the bigger-picture implications, New York and Cleveland are both playing to type with this deal. Upon purchasing the team, Steve Cohen announced his desire to flex some financial muscle this offseason. Lindor fits that bill exactly — the reason Cleveland asked so little in return for him is that he’s a year away from signing a massive contract, and he’s slated to earn roughly $20 million in arbitration this year. As for Carrasco, his contract is hardly backbreaking, but hey, if he’s on offer, who would say no?

Cleveland started this offseason by waiving Brad Hand in a futile attempt to save $1 million. That followed their pre-season trade of Corey Kluber and in-season trade of Mike Clevinger. They shopped Lindor all season rather than sign him to an extension. At every turn, they’ve looked to economize, and this is merely more of the same.

While shedding Lindor will feel disappointing to fans expecting the team to compete for the AL Central crown in 2021, trading Carrasco is in some ways even harder to digest. He was the longest-tenured member of the team, and clearly a team leader. He’s on a team-friendly contract; he’d command far more than his current salary in free agency. With another 25 days of service time, he would have hit 10 years of major league service time, which would grant him 10/5 rights and the ability to veto any trade.

In theory, Carrasco would be just as tradable then. There’s a small chance, however, that he would have refused a trade and that Cleveland would be stuck with the salary. Again, that shouldn’t be a problem. Carrasco is a bargain at that rate. There’s just one sticking point: Cleveland frequently behaves as though they’re unwilling to accept any chance of being forced to pay a player’s salary.

After the 2018 season, they declined to extend Michael Brantley a qualifying offer. That offer would have granted them a draft pick if he signed elsewhere, and if he stayed, that was hardly a bad outcome — it would leave the team paying a market rate for badly needed outfield depth. They decided the risk of his accepting the contract was too high, saw him sign a $32 million deal elsewhere, and spent the next two years with the worst outfield in the game.

It’s not clear that Carrasco falls into the exact same camp — perhaps the Mets asked for him in trade, or perhaps he was necessary to get a prospect Cleveland was interested in. There are reasons to trade Carrasco that aren’t at all related to eliminating financial corner cases. It’s hard to give the team the benefit of the doubt, however, when they’ve so consistently acted to minimize any potential cash outlays.

At the beginning of this offseason, we already knew that the Mets would look to spend and Cleveland would look to scrimp. In this trade, both teams are what we thought they were. For New York, it’s a portent of how the team will behave under new management — we now project them for the third-highest WAR total in baseball, behind only the Dodgers and Padres. For Cleveland, it’s less portent than confirmation. We now estimate their 2021 payroll at $40 million, the lowest mark in the game, and shedding talent in exchange for payroll relief has been their aim for years now. Which of those two is preferable is in the eye of the beholder, though I know where I fall – on the side of winning baseball.





Ben is a writer at FanGraphs. He can be found on Twitter @_Ben_Clemens.

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sadtrombone
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sadtrombone

This was a pretty fair return for Lindor and Carrasco given the former’s contract situation and the latter’s health concerns; Gimenez looks like he’ll be a good shortstop, and Rosario has some upside. But I do feel that Cleveland is so intent on never taking a big step back that they’re never going to get another window of contention like the one that just passed. When you have two of the most valuable players in baseball and a pitching staff that almost always has one league ace on it for a 3+ year window, I’m not sure it’s ever realistic to expect you’ll get that again.

Jettisoning Lindor and Carrasco makes this a .500 team for the next couple of seasons if things break right for them, and this team won’t really start to pick up again until that wave of prospects arrives in 2023/2024 and some of them form the core of the next team. By then, Ramirez and Bieber (and Rosario and Reyes) will be about done with their contracts, so the window of having a Top 5 position player and Top 5 starting pitcher will be completely gone. Cleveland in 2020 is now the 2016 White Sox, watching the prime and cheap control of their stars tick down as they’re surrounded by guys from the JV squad.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that if I were a Cleveland fan, I would have really wanted them to get higher-end talent that was further away, because unless Rosario breaks out in a big way there’s no way these guys move the needle in the next couple of years.

Shalesh
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Shalesh

This take seems reasonable until you consider Rosario’s pedestrian forecast and only FV40+ and FV40 ratings on Wolf & Greene. I’m not sure I’d trade Jeter Downs for those 3 and the BoSox got to dump Price’s contract in the process. Also, Betts’ 5-year Zips projection is only slightly better than Lindor’s if you look at Szym’s “Betts avoids FA” article in July. So any Betts premium over Lindor for 1 year is de minimus.

Finally, Cleveland’s farm system is far better than CWS in 2016, which only had Tim Anderson.

sadtrombone
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sadtrombone

I’ll agree with the last part. Regarding the first part, I don’t think Lindor is as good as Betts, although he’s certainly the best recent comparison. That ZiPs forecast was shocking and I’m not sure I believe the 50th percentile projection.