Mets Questions After Francisco Lindor Move (www.mlb.com)

NEW YORK — Friday is the deadline for teams to exchange salary figures with their players who are eligible for salary arbitration, making it the day in which most with less than three years of service time agree to new contract terms.
Perhaps more important for the Mets’ purposes, it’s

NEW YORK — Friday is the deadline for teams to exchange salary figures with their players who are eligible for

, making it the day in which most with less than three years of service time agree to new contract terms.

Perhaps more important for the Mets’ purposes, it’s the day in which conversations tend to sow the seeds for subsequent talks about long-term deals. That’s an arena the Mets have largely avoided over the past decade, agreeing to long-term contracts with pitcher Jonathon Niese in 2012 and outfielder Juan Lagares in ’15 but otherwise allowing all their arbitration-eligible players to reach free agency.

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Now, under owner Steve Cohen, the Mets have the financial muscle to keep stars such as shortstop Francisco Lindor and outfielder Michael Conforto in-house. Will they? It’s one of the things I’m thinking about most right now:

The Mets are probably going to stay under the $210 million luxury-tax threshold.
Cohen has said it. Team president Sandy Alderson has said it. General manager Jared Porter has said it. The Mets have made it clear that they would like to keep their payroll under $210 million, if at all possible, because they know exceeding it would handicap them in future offseasons. The Mets have around $180 million to $185 million on their ledger, depending upon how arbitration negotiations go with Lindor, Conforto, reliever Edwin Díaz and others. That leaves the team with roughly $25 million to $30 million in wiggle room, or less if they want to maintain some flexibility heading into the season.

Can the team sign Lindor given those limitations?
Easily, in a vacuum. Luxury tax figures are based on the average annual value (AAV) of contracts. To be paid like a superstar, Lindor would require an AAV of $30 million or more.

With Cleveland last season, Lindor made $17.5 million, putting him on track to earn more than $20 million in 2021. If the Mets forgo that commitment in favor of a long-term deal, they would add less than $10 million to their ‘21 payroll. They can certainly afford that while staying under the luxury-tax threshold. … But, again, that’s in a vacuum.

What does it mean for the rest of the roster?
Here’s where things get tricky. We have established that the Mets can afford to sign Lindor to a long-term deal, but he is not the only expenditure on their wish list. The team has varying levels of interest in upgrading the outfield, adding a starting pitcher, further fortifying the bullpen, possibly altering the mix at third base and/or signing Conforto to a long-term deal. Simply put, the Mets will not be able to accomplish all of that this winter.

Extending Lindor, for example, would likely preclude the Mets from signing free-agent outfielder George Springer. Given that Springer is reportedly seeking a deal as rich as $175 million, doing both would probably shoot the Mets over the luxury-tax threshold without addressing any other areas of need. Only if Springer’s price comes down would such a duo make sense for the Mets, given their stated goals.

Also tricky is what signing Lindor might mean for Conforto, whose roots run deeper and who has expressed a desire to stay in New York long term. Conforto’s market value isn’t all that different from Springer’s, making it difficult for the Mets to sign him and Lindor while also staying below $210 million. And, again, that’s without addressing any other needs. Backloading the contracts for Lindor or Conforto isn’t a solution, as the luxury tax is based on AAV, not year-by-year contract value.

What about the future?
One final issue is that the Mets will return to paying suspended second baseman Robinson Canó $20.25 million in both 2022 and ’23, tacking an added expense onto their already significant monetary outlay.

The club would receive nearly $50 million in luxury-tax relief should pitchers Marcus Stroman, Noah Syndergaard, Dellin Betances and Jeurys Familia hit free agency after this season, but the club can’t just apply all that money to Lindor and Conforto. Stroman and Syndergaard would leave a sizeable hole in the Mets’ rotation; Betances and Familia, likewise in the bullpen. Without many obvious internal answers, the Mets would have to spend to replace those players.

What does it all mean for the Mets? The bottom line is that despite Cohen’s deep pockets, he and baseball operations officials have been clear they want to be smart about their expenditures. They will not, in Cohen’s words, “spend like drunken sailors,” even if they do reverse course and go over the luxury-tax threshold. It’s unrealistic to think the Mets will sign Lindor and Conforto to long-term deals, ink Springer to a free-agent contract and acquire another mid-rotation starter all in the same offseason.

Like every other team, the Mets are going to have to prioritize. In the coming weeks, they will show the world where exactly those priorities lie.

Anthony DiComo has covered the Mets for MLB.com since 2007. Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDiComo, Instagram and Facebook.



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