CLEVELAND — The Indians drafted and developed Francisco Lindor, who blossomed into an All-Star shortstop and one of baseball’s best all-around players.
Cleveland chased a World Series title with him.
They’ll now do it without Lindor.
Knowing they could never meet his price, the Indians dealt the four-time All-Star and pitcher Carlos Carrasco to the New York Mets, who have a new owner willing to spend at baseball’s highest levels in order to get his franchise back on top.
The cash-strapped Indians sent Lindor and Carrasco to the Mets on Thursday for young infielders Andres Gimenez and Amed Rosario, and two minor league prospects: right-hander Josh Wolf and outfielder Isaiah Greene. It’s a move Cleveland hopes can keep it competitive and capable of ending baseball’s longest title drought.
The Indians knew this day was coming. That didn’t make it any easier.
“They’re special people in addition to special players,” said Chris Antonetti, the team’s president of baseball operations, adding he cried when informing the players they were New York bound. “Trades like this are really, really hard to make. But at the same time, we feel it’s the right thing to do for us.
“Hopefully this will be – as painful as it is right now – a trade that positions us to be successful moving forward.”
Dealing Lindor, who is eligible for free agency after the 2021 season, will cut roughly $30 million off the Indians’ payroll and allow them to rebuild.
For the Mets, the acquisition is another sign owner Steve Cohen means business.
“They did not come cheaply,” Mets president Sandy Alderson said of Lindor and Carrasco. “What we’re trying to do is create a new reality rather than deal with perception.”
A billionaire hedge fund manager, Cohen bought the team on Nov. 6 from the Wilpon and Katz families and pledged to increase spending. One of his next big-ticket items figures to be trying to sign Lindor to a long-term contract, something the Indians couldn’t do.
Lindor, who will be playing in a far different spotlight than he experienced in Cleveland, impacts the game with his bat, glove and legs. A two-time Gold Glove winner, he’s a career .285 hitter and averaged 29 homers, 86 RBIs and 21 steals in his six major league seasons – all with the Indians, who drafted him in 2011.
He’s been the face of the Indians’ franchise, with an infectious smile and joy for playing that has made him one of Cleveland’s most popular athletes. But he’s gone now, leaving the Indians without their best player and the team’s fans grumbling about owner Paul Dolan.
Cleveland had run out of options. Lindor has turned down numerous long-term contract offers from the Indians, betting on himself and knowing he could get more money from a major-market team when he becomes a free agent.
It may seem unfair, but Antonetti has long acknowledged the Indians don’t have money to throw around.
“What we have to do is deal with the reality of what the system is,” he said. “In this case, we had a top pick, got a really good player, he developed into a star, we made multiple attempts to try to sign him. That didn’t happen and now he’s transitioned to another organization. That’s just the reality of the professional baseball landscape right now.”
Carrasco is one of the game’s best comeback stories, overcoming leukemia to become one of the AL’s steadiest starters. The 33-year-old righty has an 88-73 career record with a 3.73 ERA.
Beyond his stats, Carrasco was a team leader. But with an abundance of young pitchers, including Cy Young Award winner Shane Bieber, the Indians were in position to move a player of Carrasco’s caliber to fill more holes.
Carrasco can be replaced. Finding someone to fill Lindor’s shoes will be much tougher.
The 25-year-old Rosario is a good start. He was New York’s primary shortstop the past three-plus seasons, though he struggled at the plate last year and lost playing time to Gimenez.
“We think he has a chance to help our major league team either as a shortstop or as a player that could play multiple positions, or settle at a different defensive position,” Antonetti said. “But, a guy with great ability.”
Lindor is signed for only one more season, so the Mets will have to get to work quickly on locking him up for the long term.
“We’ve had one conversation with him and no conversations with his agent,” Alderson said. “We acquired Francisco because of his present ability and the possibility that he could be a Met long term. There’s no guarantee of that. It’s something that we will approach, you know, in the next few weeks.”
Cohen is hoping to turn around a franchise that has not won a World Series since 1986, and been overshadowed by the crosstown Yankees. Cohen intends to change that, with Alderson and new general manager Jared Porter running an overhauled baseball operations department.
Carrasco is signed at $12 million for each of the next two seasons, part of a deal that includes a $14 million team option for 2023 with a $3 million buyout. The option would become guaranteed if he pitches 170 innings in 2022 and is found to be healthy for the 2023 season.
Since Cohen’s takeover, the Mets learned pitcher Marcus Stroman accepted an $18.9 million qualifying offer and signed right-handed reliever Trevor May to a $15.5 million, two-year contract and catcher James McCann to a $40.6 million, four-year deal. New York also signed injured right-hander Noah Syndergaard to a $9.7 million, one-year deal, avoiding arbitration.
The team hopes Syndergaard can return from Tommy John surgery in June.
“We’re closer to one player away,” Alderson said.