The New York Mets and Francisco Lindor came to an agreement in the literal 11th hour before Opening Day. The former Cleveland star, whom the Mets acquired in the offseason for two of their young infielders, set an Opening Day deadline for extension discussions with his new team. And for a while, it looked like things wouldn’t materialize.
In the end, much to the relief of Mets fans, Francisco Lindor and the Mets agreed to a 10-year, $341 million dollar extension. This deal is the third-largest contract in MLB, and $1 million more than San Diego’s Fernando Tatis Jr.‘s recent deal, making Lindor the highest-paid shortstop in the game.
And then came the Twitter eggs and naysayers screaming about how the Mets overpaid. That’s where we begin our journey. Because that’s completely wrong and misguided and here’s why.
Let’s talk about a player everyone knows and loves. A ballplayer who is widely known as the greatest active player in the game today. I am of course talking about Mike Trout, the 21st pick in the 2009 MLB Draft. In every statistical category, Trout is the elite. Already surpassing Hall of Fame totals before reaching age 30, Trout represents the contract ceiling for the league. Truly, how can anyone get paid more than Mike Trout? How?
So ahead of the 2019 season, as Bryce Harper and Manny Machado were settling into their new $300 million mega-deals, Mike Trout and the Angels threw down the hammer. Trout and the Halos agreed to a 12-year, $430 million dollar deal, which averages out to $37.1 million a year. That was the highest AAV (Average Annual Value) for a contract, until Trevor Bauer‘s three-year deal with the Dodgers was announced. Regardless, the question that was being asked is: Is Mike Trout worth $37.1 million dollars a year?
And we actually have a hard answer to that question thanks to FiveThirtyEight: Yes. In fact, it’s a steal.
“At first glance, about $36 million per year seems like a tremendous deal for the Angels. According to FanGraphs’ estimated market values based on wins above replacement (WAR), a player with Trout’s 2018 production should have been worth about $79 million last season. That’s nothing new for Trout: FanGraphs estimates that he was worth $55 million (in 70 percent of a full season) in 2017, $78 million in 2016, and $74 million in 2016. So if Trout continues his recent pace, the Angels will basically be paying him half of what he’d be worth on the open market over the next few seasons.”– Neil Paine and Travis Sawchik, FiveThirtyEight.com
FanGraph’s estimated market value of a single win above a replacement (WAR), is $8 million dollars. So it stands that Mike Trout is getting paid to average 4.6 WAR a season based on his contract evaluation. In his first season under the extension, Trout won the AL MVP. He wasn’t done, however, winning his seventh Silver Slugger, and was voted to his eighth All-Star Game. When the dust settled, Trout posted a 7.8 WAR, a season worth $62.4 million dollars.
So what does this have to do with Francisco Lindor’s extension? Let’s take a look.
With his $34.1 million AAV, Lindor needs to average 4.3 WAR a season for the next ten years. That’s the mark to make his contract worth market value. Can he do it? Absolutley. In the first five full seasons of Lindor’s career, he’s averaged 5.3 WAR, and over the last three he’s averaged 5.9. Francisco Lindor’s contract is not an overpay but based on the market value of WAR, he’s coming in at a discount.
The problem with equating one contract to another is that it’s like comparing apples and oranges.
Let’s talk about Giancarlo Stanton, the contract that gets brought up more than any other in these types of conversations. The deal that was presented to the Marlins slugger after the 2014 season by then-owner Jeff Loria was meant to do two things. First off, this deal was meant to lock up a potential franchise star at a young age, to build around for the next few years. Secondly, at a time when interest in the South Florida team was waning, it was meant to jumpstart the fanbase. How can I say that for certain? Because the Marlins paid a fraction of that mammoth price tag before shipping Stanton to New York.
The idea of signing a star to a big deal was what Jeff Loria wanted to instill in his fans. Seriously. The Marlins paid Stanton $30 million of that $325 million over the next three seasons and then shipped him off to the Bronx. Not only that but since Stanton was shipped to the Yankees he’s only played one full season. Over the last two years, Stanton has played 41 games in pinstripes.
That’s not good for anyone.
Same with Albert Pujols who signed his huge deal with the Los Angeles Angels in 2012. Living up to his 10-year, $242 million dollar contract proved difficult for Pujols, mainly because injuries slowed his step, and years of grinding finally took their toll. Similar to Miguel Cabrera‘s deal in Detroit, Pujols and the Angels synced up on his downturn, a turn that was exacerbated by injuries.
But to look at both of these contracts and compare them to that of Lindor, Trout, Tatis, Jr., and others is doing a lot of heavy lifting.
To look at these deals and think “the risk outweighs the reward” is not giving front offices enough credit. Perhaps, it’s a matter of looking at the larger picture.
For $341 million dollars, the Mets are expecting at least 42.6 WAR from Lindor. Is that possible? Well, let’s look at some comparable players. Baseball Reference has both Derek Jeter and Cal Ripken Jr. listed as comparable players to Lindor through age 26. From age 27-37, which is the length of Lindor’s deal, Ripken Jr. accumulated 54.7 WAR, while Derek Jeter amassed… get this… 42.6 WAR, the exact number Lindor would need to meet the evaluation of his deal.
Let’s take this a step further, and look at another shortstop with a big contract. From age 27 to 37, Alex Rodriguez padded his resumé with 60.6 WAR, the majority as a member of the New York Yankees. Were some of these numbers aided by PEDs? Yes, but A-Rod averaged on 132 games per season during that stretch. So it’s not like he was blasting 24/7, 162 games a year. And A-Rod’s contracts are not too far off in their valuation in regards to Lindor’s deal.
So if you think Francisco Lindor lands somewhere between Derek Jeter, Cal Ripken Jr., and A-Rod, then guess what? You might also happen to believe that Lindor’s contract is not an overpay.
Regardless, of what happens on the field, let’s look at the impact this signing has had on the fanbase. While a morale signing is never a fantastic idea (see: Stanton’s extension in Miami), in the case of the New York Mets, this deal seems to be a long time coming.
Prior to this extension, the biggest contract to ever be handed out by the Mets was David Wright‘s 8-year, $138 million deal in 2012. The most recent deGrom extension of 5 years, $137.5 million comes close but falls just shy. David Wright was the captain of this team, the franchise face. As was Beltran with his 7-year, $119 million deal, and like deGrom is with the team now. And while deGrom does a fantastic job on the mound, he’s far more reserved than Wright or Beltran.
The Mets investment in Cespedes didn’t bear any fruit and his departure from the team in 2020 was a fitting end to a chaotic relationship. But from that chaos, comes Francisco Lindor. The Mets were lucy to be blessed with plenty of talent at shortstop in their farm system and they cashed in Amed Rosario and Andres Gimenez for the game’s best. That’s the big gamble. Dealing two future stars for one current star. But the Mets knew what they wanted and they’re getting that tenfold in Lindor.
That this team feels fun and light again, is nothing short of a miracle considering that a year ago they were unwatchable. Queens is once again home to a big market club. That’s worth the money, especially if it puts the rest of the league on notice.
So, you can yell into the void that Francisco Lindor’s contract is an overpay, and I’ll save the tweets to revisit in ten years and we’ll see who is right. But the way the money lines up, Francisco Lindor’s deal is solid.
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