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Grading the Francisco Lindor trade

It’s only an A+ because there isn’t a higher grade.

MLB: Chicago White Sox at Cleveland Indians David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

Maybe you were getting antsy after a couple quiet weeks. Maybe you started to have doubts about how serious Steve Cohen was. Those doubts should’ve been silenced on Thursday, as the Mets traded for Francisco Lindor and Carlos Carrasco by parting with Amed Rosario, Andres Gimenez, Josh Wolf, and Isiah Green.

Lindor hardly needs any introduction, so let’s skip over him for a moment and talk about the other pieces involved in this trade. Amed Rosario is, at this point, a failed former top prospect. Sure, the underlying physical tools that made him peak in the top-10 on some lists are still there, but he’s arguably gotten worse since coming to the majors. His defense remains poor, he can’t recognize spin at all, and the power has never developed as expected. Might things have turned out differently with better player development? Sure, and some team could still probably tap into him and make him a useful piece. Right now though he’s not a piece a contender has any use for, and getting some value for him in a trade is a good thing.

Josh Wolf and Isiah Green are both interesting second round prep prospects. Wolf is a projectable right-hand pitcher who hasn’t shown super premium stuff just yet - in other words, a total lottery ticket in a demographic that usually doesn’t work out so well. Green, meanwhile, was a somewhat divisive prospect in the 2020 draft. He’s another fun gamble, someone who could be a high-upside center fielder but again is very far away. We had Wolf and Green 7th and 13th on our top-25 respectively (Baseball Prospectus had them 8th and 9th), so while both are fun to dream on, neither cracked the top two tiers of what is a weak Mets farm system.

Finally, the Mets also sent Andres Gimenez to Cleveland. Gimenez had a very solid debut in 2020, supplanting Rosario to take over the starting shortstop job and providing both an immediate defensive upgrade and a a base stealing threat that the Mets haven’t had for years. That was certainly a good performance, and Gimenez has plenty of attributes you want around - above average shortstop defense, speed, solid feel to hit. However, his almost total lack of power will likely limit him to more of a supporting role, as he’s unlikely to post consistently above-average offensive lines with so little thump in his bat. In other words, a cost-controlled 1-2 win player who lacks much upside beyond that.

Moving to what the Mets got back, Carlos Carrasco is probably now the second best starting pitcher on the team. He’s averaged nearly 5 WARP per 200 innings since 2016, and that includes a 2019 season where he was diagnosed with and overcame Leukemia. His contract is a steal as well - two years, $24 million with a $14 team option ($3 million buyout) in 2023 that vests with 170 healthy innings in 2022. That’s less than what Jake Odorizzi will probably sign for and Carrasco is a demonstrably better player. Yes, he’s 33 and some decline should probably be penciled in, but he fills a critical need at a below-market cost.

And now we come to Lindor. Mike Trout is the best player in baseball and these days, Mookie Betts isn’t that far behind. After those two, however, you’d be hard stretched to find anyone definitively better than Lindor. He’s as good a defender at shortstop as there is. In each of the last three full MLB seasons, he’s hit more than 30 home runs and stolen more than 15 bases. His worst full season checked in at 3.8 WARP per Baseball Prospectus, and he’s not had a DRC+ under 117 since 2016. For those of you worried about his “down” 2020, 1) it was 266 PA in a very weird year and 2) his hard hit percentage was literally unchanged from 2019 per Statcast. Yeah, there was a bit of a dip in his exit velocity and he squared the ball up a bit less often, but the sample size is so small next to his larger body of work it almost doesn’t matter.

Let’s rephrase that whole spiel into a couple words: Lindor is inarguably a top 5-8 player in the sport. That’s the bottom line. He’s as safe a bet for four wins year-in and year-out as there is, and he usually tops that. Hell, Lindor hasn’t even had a season where he’s reached his peak in all aspects of his game - defense, power, contact, speed - together at the same time. If it ever all clicks in the same season, that’s a clear-cut MVP. He’s accrued 26.4 WARP / 28.9 fWAR and will play the entirety of the 2021 season at 27.

Detractors of this move will of course bring up that Lindor is in a walk year and is going to require a gargantuan contract extension (9-12 years, $270-$350 million). To counter that argument, consider that Lindor is either younger (Nolan Arenado, Anthony Rendon), better (Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, Carlos Correa, Corey Seager), or both (Trevor Story, Javier Baez) than any other option you could’ve considered as an alternative investment over the past three years. Mookie Betts is the exception here, and perhaps the relative proximity of that move makes this opportunity feel more commonplace than it is. The fact is that prime-age superstars don’t leave their current team very often and when you have a chance to get one, you should spend prospects, money, or both to get it done.

On that note, let’s circle back to what the Mets actually spent here. Sans Gimenez, this would’ve been a pretty fair trade for Carrasco alone - perhaps a slight overpay given the current economics of the sport. The Mets proceeded to add a floor-over-ceiling shortstop to their side of the deal and got the best shortstop in baseball back. Sure, Green or Wolf could both work out and be top-100 prospects in three year’s time, but it’s fairly likely that Cleveland barely ever gets as much WAR from the four players the Mets sent them as the Mets will get from Carrasco and Lindor over the life of their current contracts. Furthermore, while they’ve technically only acquire one season of Lindor, having an exclusive negotiating window on an extension will most likely save them money relative to what he’d have signed on the open market.

This trade is an A+. Is as slam dunk of an A+ as you can get. It would’ve been an A+ even if the Mets had given up Matthew Allan instead of Wolf, or if it had been Pete Crow-Armstrong instead of Green. There’s a potential quibble to be had about how this affects the rest of the offseason if the Mets are committed to staying below the luxury tax, but that doesn’t affect this transaction’s stand-alone grade. Get excited, because this is the biggest, best trade the Mets have made since Mike Piazza and arguably in their entire franchise’s history.