The New York Mets made a winner’s move yesterday. They finally made good on new owner Steve Cohen’s promise to take big steps to improve his team, swinging a trade with Cleveland for All-Star shortstop Francisco Lindor and sturdy starter Carlos Carrasco. Lindor will have to sign a long-term extension to stay with the Mets, but there seems to be a very good chance that it comes to fruition.
The best part for the Mets? They pulled off the trade without including their highest-rated prospects. Instead, they sent off their two middling options to start at shortstop, Amed Rosario and Andrés Giménez, a 20-year-old pitcher (Josh Wolf) who has thrown eight innings in Rookie ball, and a recent draft pick (Isaiah Greene) whose 2020 season consisted of five games in high school. In return, they got one of the top 10 players in baseball and a valuable starting pitcher. Giménez likely has a bright future and the rest aren’t scrubs, but the Rocky Balboa quote still stands: ”That’s how winning is done.”
Nobody comes to this website to compliment the Mets. However, the impacts of this terrific move extend to the Yankees, who could have easily made this move and now have fewer options with Lindor off the market. While it was rumored that the Mets had interest in DJ LeMahieu, they are probably set in the middle infield, and have bigger fish to fry (perhaps George Springer and Trevor Bauer).
This leaves LeMahieu’s top suitors as the Yankees, Dodgers, and Blue Jays. He’d be a fine fit on any of these teams, but the Yankees are now in a position where they basically have to re-sign him to maintain the same level of offense they’ve grown accustomed to. The only way it really made sense to let LeMahieu walk was if the team was going to replace him with Lindor, a younger upgrade who would cost more in the long run but would have provided a splashy fit.
Now that Lindor is across town, the Yankees need to up the ante on their LeMahieu negotiations. Any other available options are a clear downgrade from the 2020 AL MVP finalist, and now LeMahieu also has some degree of leverage over the Yankees. He knows that they need to keep him now, and could take advantage of potential desperation.
If the Yankees keep LeMahieu around, he will reprise his role as the club’s second baseman, which also means that the club would be committing to Gleyber Torres as their long-term shortstop. This is the way it was always supposed to be for Torres, but the Yankees have occasionally balked at the idea that Torres is ready to be the full-time shortstop.
Torres’s defensive metrics at short (and at second base, for that matter) aren’t encouraging, but he will have to improve because he is the team’s only option there moving forward. Either he’ll have to pull the Derek Jeter route and make up for his suspect fielding with elite hitting, or he’ll have to show the promise at short that first sparked the Yankees’ interest back in 2016. The job is certainly all his at this point.
It was always the most likely outcome that the Yankees would re-sign LeMahieu and commit to Torres at short, but now that Lindor is off the market, the Yankees really have no other option. That’s not a bad thing, but they’re going to have to actually do it. The longer that LeMahieu lingers on the open market, the more he can change his mind. The Yankees’ priority moving forward has to be re-signing LeMahieu, and fast.
The most frustrating part of this move is that it shows the dichotomy between the Yankees and Mets. While the Yankees are pinching pennies and dishing out take-it-or-leave-it offers, the Mets are doing what it takes to actively improve their club. Adding Lindor made them better without mortgaging their future. Heck, they even received a second MLB piece in Carrasco, who would have been plenty useful to the Yankees. The Mets’ mastery of playing the market, using leverage and sparing no expense on upgrading the team is exactly what the Yankees should be doing, but instead they’re too busy trying to get under a payroll threshold so they won’t have to pay a luxury tax that they can absolutely afford.
The Yankees very well could have made this move, but they chose not to for what appears to be financial reasons. Although they have an excellent, familiar option left in LeMahieu, the indication is that once they sign him, they won’t be willing to spend much else on their remaining needs. It adds up to a 2021 Yankees team that is the same or slightly worse than the 2020 squad, which wasn’t good enough to finish the job.
Meanwhile, new contenders are emerging in San Diego, Toronto and right across town in Queens. A successful offseason requires an honest answer to the question “Did we make our team better?” Although the Yankees are still poised to be quite good in 2021, they haven’t shown enough interest in actually making the team better, which could cost them dearly this season.