The New York Mets have some business to do during Spring Training beginning this week at Port St. Lucie. Getting extensions done for Michael Conforto and Francisco Lindor is right at the top of their list.
Let’s be clear: with the money that Steve Cohen has, he should be willing to extend both players before Opening Day.
But, if the Mets can’t work on getting both done simultaneously, then Conforto needs to come before Lindor.
Conforto is Cheaper than Lindor
It is obviously recognized that Cohen is the richest owner in Major League Baseball. He has plenty of money to lock up two of the Mets’ three most important players. But again, if one can only be done at a time, then Conforto makes more sense because he would come much cheaper than Lindor.
Conforto’s agent, Scott Boras, is known for having his clients discover their true value in free agency. He would likely only command a six or seven-year deal worth around $30 million a year (worth a total of about $180 million) to keep him from being a free agent.
Lindor, on the other hand, will be worth well north of $300 million, considering Mike Trout and Mookie Betts–the only two players who have a higher cumulative Wins Above Replacement over the past six seasons according to Fangraphs–received $426.5 million and $365 million respectively.
If the Mets can only choose one player to extend based on financials and length of the contract, they would choose Conforto because he is likely going to cost about half of what Lindor will cost, which gives New York more money to spend elsewhere and his contract will probably be half the length of Lindor’s deal.
No disrespect towards Lindor, but the bottom line is he hasn’t played a single game in a Mets uniform yet. Conforto, on the other hand, has established himself as one of the faces of the franchise and is entering his seventh season in a Mets uniform.
He has proven that he belongs playing right field at Citi Field for the rest of his prime. Conforto has been patient and hasn’t demanded a huge raise from ownership. In fact, he has done the opposite–telling reporters this offseason that he doesn’t want his contract talks to be a distraction for the team during the season.
In terms of his play on the field, it’s only getting better each year. His home run totals have increased from 12 (in 2016) to 27 (in 2017) to 28 (in 2018) and to 33 (in 2019) before the shortened 2020 season. According to ZiPS, Conforto is projected to be worth 3.3 Wins Above Replacement this coming season.
When a team is trying to decide whether or not a player like Conforto deserves an extension, they likely ask themselves three questions:
- Is this player getting better in the prime of his career?
- Is this player someone who represents the organization well on and off the field?
- Will he play an important role in helping the organization win a World Series?
The answer to all three of the above questions in Conforto’s case is yes.
Plenty of Great Shortstop Options in Free Agency…But Not in the Outfield
While Lindor is the better player, the next free-agent class is stacked with star shortstops. So even if Lindor doesn’t agree to an extension with the Mets, president Sandy Alderson and acting general manager Zack Scott have plenty of options to replace him.
It is shaping up to be the best shortstop free-agent class ever–Javier Baez, Carlos Correa, Corey Seager, Trevor Story, and of course, Lindor are scheduled to hit the market next winter. Marcus Semien and Andrelton Simmons both signed one-year deals with the Blue Jays and Twins respectively, so worst-case scenario the Mets could bring one of them in on a short-term contract as well.
Lindor will cost the most money of the five star shortstops. One of the few benefits of losing Lindor (if that were to occur) is the Mets wouldn’t be paying the shortstop they get as much money.
Meanwhile, Conforto is going to be the George Springer of next year’s free agency (if he gets there). Springer was easily the best outfielder available and was paid a handsome $150 million by the Blue Jays this winter.
Beyond Conforto, the best free-agent outfielders next year are Dexter Fowler (age 36), Tommy Pham (age 34), and Corey Dickerson (age 33).
Just to put it in perspective, Conforto’s total WAR the last two seasons is 5.7. Fowler (1.5), Pham (3.2), and Dickerson’s (1.1) combined for a total WAR of 5.8 the last two seasons. In other words, Conforto is worth about the same value over the last two years by himself as the other top three free-agent outfielders next year combined.
It’s safe to say that there will be plenty of suitors for Conforto. That means Boras will be able to shoot up the price for every interested team including the Mets. Cohen can’t let it get to that point.
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