Mets Ink Francisco Lindor to Ten-Year Extension

When the Mets traded for Francisco Lindor earlier this offseason, an extension felt likely, even certain. As the season rolled inexorably closer with no deal in place, however, that likelihood (certitude?) ebbed: The Mets seemed tied to their offer, Lindor had a March 31 negotiation deadline, and no one was budging. Last night, the impasse ended: The two parties agreed to a 10-year, $341 million extension that will make him the highest-paid shortstop in history, as Jon Heyman first reported.

Lindor’s brilliance hardly needs recapitulation, but for giddy Mets fans drinking in every piece of marginalia about this deal, I’ll offer a quick one. If Andrelton Simmons didn’t exist, Lindor would be the best defensive shortstop of the 21st century. He boasts a rare combination of mobility, sure hands, a strong arm, and defensive instincts. If those sound like everything you could ask for in a shortstop, you’re not wrong. There’s really no way of overstating it, because this isn’t a place where eye tests and various wonky metrics disagree. Every advanced defensive metric places him among the top handful of defenders since he entered the league, with only Simmons and Nick Ahmed as peers. The eye test will tell you that his mere presence stabilizes an infield and calms the pitchers in front of him. The talent and panache on display nightly is simply irrefutable.

Lindor isn’t quite that accomplished at the plate, but he’s no slouch there either. He is, for the most part, a classic leadoff hitter. He has a solid grasp of the strike zone and strong contact skills, as demonstrated by his career 7.6% swinging strike rate. That keeps his strikeout rate down; his 14.1% career rate will make you forget what baseball looks like these days. This isn’t a Willians Astudillo situation where he limits strikeouts by swinging at everything, either; his 8.1% walk rate is roughly average. When you strike out much less than average and walk at a normal rate, it’s hard to be bad.

That’s not to say that Lindor is Juan Soto at the plate. As you might expect from a slight shortstop, he doesn’t boast eye-popping power on contact. As measured by wOBACON (that’s wOBA on contact, but we analysts never miss a chance to reference bacon), he’s slightly above average, with a .380 mark in his six-season career as compared to .370 for baseball as a whole. Average power on above-average opportunities (remember: he hardly strikes out, which means more balls in play) produces solid counting statistics, as his three straight 30-homer seasons (2017–19) can attest.

I can tell you all that, and I can tell you that Lindor is known as Mister Smile for his relentlessly upbeat demeanor and overall delightfulness. I can tell you that he projects to be the Mets’ best position player since the days when Carlos Beltrán and David Wright shared the field. None of that is new information, but it doesn’t make it any less valid. It’s worth mentioning, though, lest we lose sight of the player on the field while we talk about the contract that will keep him on that field.

As always happens in one of these articles, I’ll break down the ZiPS projections for Lindor’s on-field value throughout the life of the contract in a bit. It’s the internet; if you want to ignore the next chunk of paragraphs and zip down to the big table with the fancy columns, be my guest. But before we do that part, I think it’s worth mentioning the value of an exclusive negotiating period, as demonstrated by this signing.

How much could Lindor have expected to make in free agency next offseason? We can’t know. How much would the Mets have been willing to pay to get the job done? We also don’t know. But I think we assign too much certainty to both these estimates and our approximation of fair value.

The estimates you’ll see below aren’t immutable truths. They aren’t the only estimates that exist, and they aren’t even the only reasonable ones; change the weight on different inputs, and you could skew your estimate of Lindor’s ten-year projection by a huge net amount. Converting wins to dollars is hardly settled science, even if we did have a perfect win estimate, further complicating matters.

Every team operates in that uncertain space, and every player does too. The Dodgers might see $370 million as “fair value” for Lindor, the Yankees $310 million, and the Mets $350 million. That’s not a wild spread of estimates; teams have their own models, and it’s not like they share.

Furthermore, negotiations don’t work in the frictionless way we discuss them. This isn’t an open-outcry auction with every team having last right of refusal via a bidding system; teams make free agents their “last and best” offers without knowing the other deals on the table. The Mets reportedly offered $325 million to Lindor before sweetening the pot to best Fernando Tatis’s total guarantee, and if this negotiation were happening on the open market, they might have left it at that; here’s our number, call us back if you want to talk more.

But when other teams are also involved, the “if you want to talk more” isn’t guaranteed. If another suitor offered $345 million, there’s no guarantee that Lindor would have come back to Queens to give them a chance to counter. It’s not like $325 million, or $341 million, or any other round number, is some written-in-stone level past which the Mets wouldn’t go; that’s simply an amount they were willing to pay to secure Lindor’s services, and an amount at which he was willing to offer those services.

If anyone tells you that they know the extra $16 million (with unknown deferrals) the team offered moves this deal from good to bad, they’re lying. It’s all guesswork, albeit with a ton of data driving the guessing. And the Mets’ estimate of fair value isn’t as important as their puke point, the number they wouldn’t be willing to go above. If their fair value estimate was $338 million, it’s not like they’d be ecstatic to seal the deal at 325 and unwilling at 341; things don’t operate that way.

Instead, the two sides, without any confusing intervening offers, simply negotiated a number that could make both happy. Both sides off-laid risk here. The Mets get to skip going into the winter without a star shortstop locked up, which lowers the risk that they’ll need to pay more to get their man, or simply miss him. If the Yankees were willing to pay Lindor $380 million (to pick a number out of a hat), and the Mets were intent on signing him, then hey, they just saved $39 million. Lindor avoided the risk that contract offers would come in lower. If the Yankees (they’re a fun hypothetical team to use) offered only $300 million and the Mets stood pat at $325 million, great; Lindor made $16 million by signing this deal now.

If you start thinking about contracts less as teams trying to extract surplus relative to some modeled expected value, and more as teams and players exchanging educated guesses to see if their incentives line up, the trade-and-extend move makes more sense. We don’t know the highest number New York would pay, and we don’t know the lowest number Lindor would accept, but by trading for him earlier this offseason, the Mets got to find out if those numbers overlapped — and they did.

Fine, fine, you can see what we estimate for these ten years of Lindor’s steady brilliance. You’ve earned it by sitting through my half-baked economic treatise. ZiPS projects him for roughly 34 wins from 2022 to ’31:

ZiPS Projections – Francisco Lindor
Year BA OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB OPS+ DR WAR
2022 .264 .331 .491 595 95 157 38 2 31 85 56 106 17 122 7 5.3
2023 .265 .332 .495 582 94 154 37 2 31 85 55 99 17 123 6 5.3
2024 .266 .333 .501 563 91 150 35 2 31 83 53 94 17 125 5 5.1
2025 .265 .329 .499 543 87 144 33 2 30 79 49 88 18 123 4 4.8
2026 .263 .325 .495 521 82 137 30 2 29 76 45 82 16 121 3 4.3
2027 .260 .321 .484 496 75 129 27 3 26 71 41 75 15 117 2 3.7
2028 .254 .311 .455 468 67 119 24 2 22 62 36 67 14 107 1 2.7
2029 .247 .301 .435 437 59 108 21 2 19 54 31 59 12 99 0 1.9
2030 .240 .291 .396 404 50 97 17 2 14 44 26 50 10 86 -2 0.9
2031 .226 .273 .341 287 31 65 10 1 7 25 17 31 5 68 -1 -0.1

Handily enough for those converting WAR to dollars, that comes out to a clean $10 million per win. That’s in line with our estimate of Mookie Betts’ extension last year, and he feels like a good comparison point; since Lindor’s debut in 2015, the only two position players with more WAR are Betts and Mike Trout.

Again, though, turning a big contract like this into a dollars-per-WAR estimate misses the real point. The Mets would have preferred to spend $20 million less, and Lindor would have preferred to receive $20 million more, but a little surplus value isn’t the point of the deal; building a team is the point of the deal, and the Mets have indisputably done that.

This deal stands as the third-largest in history, trailing only the extensions signed by Betts and Trout. Given that Lindor has been the third-best position player of recent vintage (pitcher contracts are different beasts), trailing those same two, that sounds quite reasonable. Time will tell what becomes of it, but at the moment, both sides must be thrilled with the outcome. The Mets got their man, at a price that they were willing to pay. Lindor got his contract, the most ever awarded to a shortstop. And both sides agreed to that deal without the crushing uncertainty of an open market. There are no losers here, except the other teams who hoped for a bite at the Lindor apple this offseason.





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

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tz
Member

I swear, it’s like the Mets and Lindor looked at Dan’s ZiPS projections for the contract, the Mets added a couple million a year for Lindor’s “face of the franchise” value, Lindor asked for a few million a year more and then they sort of split the difference.

Such logical behavior is a 180 degree turnaround from the Mets of previous years.

Joser
Member
Member
Joser

Having an owner with such money to spend and a willingness to spend it is certainly a change from the Mets of the recent past.

SirCharlesK
Member
SirCharlesK

Definitely a nice change of pace over pretending they’ll explore all options and signing the retread’s retread.

Lanidrac
Member
Lanidrac

It also helps that they’re no longer in debt to Madoff’s pyramid scheme…at least I assume so. When exactly did they finish paying that off?