Remember when New York Mets owner Steve Cohen and president Sandy Alderson cautioned that they were more than one player away from being a playoff contender, and it could take years before they have legitimate World Series aspirations?
That was two months ago.
“Well,” Alderson says, “we’re closer to one player away.”
The Mets became World Series contenders Thursday, and pose a powerful threat to dethrone Atlanta in their division, winners of the last three NL East titles.
After two months of trade talks, the Mets acquired one of the game’s top players, landing four-time All-Star shortstop Francisco Lindor, along with veteran starter Carlos Carrasco. In return, Cleveland receives shortstops Andres Gimenez and Ahmed Rosario, and two players that were not among the Mets’ top 10 prospects: starter Josh Wolf and outfielder Isaiah Greene.
Meanwhile, the Mets still are engaged with free-agent closer Liam Hendriks and center fielder George Springer, and have had trade talks with the Chicago Cubs for third baseman Kris Bryant.
When asked if they had the appetite for another big move, Alderson said: “We are always hungry.”
Yeah, the Mets are back.
“We’re not perfect,’’ Alderson says, “but this moves us forward quite a bit. We still have work to do. We’ll see if it takes us out of certain players or become a candidate for certain players.”
And for Cleveland, well, it may be the perfect day to announce your new nickname.
Cleveland owner Paul Dolan told his front office he needed to shed payroll, and the team certainly did that. Cleveland, which had reached the postseason four of the past five years, whacked about $67 million off their payroll. Carrasco is owed $27 million on his contract and Lindor is expected to command about $20 million in salary arbitration.
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This is a team that was in the World Series four years ago, won 91 games in 2018 with four pitchers who started at least 25 games with Corey Kluber, Mike Clevinger, Trevor Bauer and Carrasco. And now they’re all gone, along with any hopes of contending.
“It resonates with me personally,” Cleveland president Chris Antonetti said. “I was in tears in the conversation with Carlos and Francisco. And they were as well.”
In New York, well, the Mets have become the new Yankees.
They are stealing those back-page headlines.
Just when frustration was building in the Mets’ fan base, signing only free agent catcher James McCann and reliever Trevor May for a total of $55.5 million, along came Thursday’s news.
It’s the East Coast version of last year’s Los Angeles Dodgers’ trade when they tried to land Lindor, pivoted, traded for Mookie Betts, signed him to a record 12-year, $365 million contract before opening day and watched him lead them to their first World Series championship since 1988.
Yes, Lindor could have that kind of impact, too, with Alderson saying that they will broach a long-term contract extension with him in a few weeks. There’s no guarantee he won’t test free agency at the end of the season, but the Mets pulled off this trade with all intentions that he’ll be sticking around.
“What we have to offer is a great city, a great baseball city, and an organization we hope that’s on the rise,’’ Alderson said. “There’s a lot of excitement with new ownership. There are a lot of reasons we should be optimistic.’’
Really, Lindor, 27, is made for New York with his outgoing charisma and charm, let alone surreal talent.
“Many players you watch and appreciate,’’ Alderson said. “Others, you watch and smile. That smile is not just a function of appreciation, but also an emphatic reaction to how they play the game.
“I think Lindor is the kind of player that makes one smile.’’
You’re talking about perhaps the greatest shortstop in the game, winning two Gold Gloves, two Silver Sluggers and leading all shortstops with 138 homers and 344 extra-base hits since his arrival. The only players who have ranked higher defensively since 2017, according to FanGraphs, are Betts and free-agent shortstop Andrelton Simmons.
Certainly, he’ll be a blessing for a starting rotation that could be the best in the National League with two-time Cy Young winner Jacob DeGrom, Marcus Stroman, David Peterson, Steven Matz, Noah Syndergaard (returning in June), and now, Carrasco.
Carrasco, 33, who led the American League with 18 victories in 2017, ranked seventh with a 2.91 ERA in 12 starts, striking out 82 in 68 innings last season. He is tied for 10th with 69 victories, 11th with 1,001 strikeouts and 15th in ERA (3.54) since 2015.
It has been five years since the Mets were in the playoffs, 35 years since they won the World Series, but on Thursday, hope finally returned to Queens.
Atlanta still is the team to beat in the NL East, and the NL pennant still runs through Los Angeles, but after what the Mets accomplished Thursday, anything now is possible.
“I think what we’re trying to do is create a new reality,’’ Alderson said, “and let the perception follow.’’
The reality is that the Mets are for real.
The Mets are for real, and awfully dangerous.
Follow Nightengale on Twitter: @Bnightengale
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