Francisco Lindor could ignite Steve Cohen’s first clash with Yankees

Now the filet mignon gets served.

Now we’ve reached the fireworks factory.

We’re all fixing for a Yankees-Mets Hot Stove battle, thanks to the footing being even or downright flipping?

Let’s give a big New York welcome to Francisco Lindor.

More than any current free agent, the non-free agent Lindor stands as the sort of talent that both Big Apple teams should seriously consider acquiring. One year away from the open market, his original team the Indians, hurting financially, have notified other clubs of their intention to trade him this winter, an industry source confirmed (as first reported by USA Today).

The timing looks more optimal for the Mets than for the Yankees. However, Lindor possesses such a high upside, such magnetism, that he should compel the Yankees to think creatively about adding him.

Why? Start with analytics, because you all secretly love them: From 2015 through 2020, Lindor tallied a total of 28.4 wins above replacement, as per Baseball-Reference.com. That ranks him sixth in all of Major League Baseball during that juncture, behind these Fab Five: Mike Trout, Mookie Betts, Nolan Arenado, Paul Goldschmidt and Manny Machado. Such a six-year stretch puts a guy halfway to Cooperstown. At 26, Lindor is by far the youngest member of this group. His subpar 2020 (0.8 WAR) can easily be shrugged off as small-sampled 2020-ness.

Then turn to the type of player (five-tool) and person (dynamic) he has established himself to be, and you’re talking about the type of guy who can sell tickets, if clubs ever sell tickets again. Who can star in commercials.

For the Mets, a Lindor import appears easier: Make Amed Rosario or Ronny Mauricio (or Andres Gimenez, if the Indians like him more than the other shortstops) the centerpiece of what would be a multi-player trade package. Steve Cohen, who tweeted Thursday he hoped to close on his purchase of the Mets as soon as Friday, can afford the sort of extension ($300 million over 10 years? The COVID economy is tough to calculate) that would keep Lindor out of free agency.

For the Yankees, fitting in Lindor represents a game of roster Jenga: If they acquire Lindor and his 2021 salary, that likely means no DJ LeMahieu, given their intention to cut payroll. And in order to get Lindor, they’d probably have to feature either Gleyber Torres or Luke Voit as the primary piece. Could the Yankees replace Voit at first base with Miguel Andujar, who has played that position only in spring training? Could they find a way to trade Giancarlo Stanton, as Joel Sherman suggested, in a way that would open payroll space for LeMahieu to come back? A Yankees extension for Lindor also would be trickier due to their luxury-tax concerns; they could sign him to a one-year contract for 2021 for about $20 million, then grant him the extension starting in 2022 to keep their 2021 bill down.

Lindor would be worth the Yankees’ while in a way that J.T. Realmuto and Trevor Bauer wouldn’t because of his age and marketability; the Mets very likely will be in on Realmuto and perhaps Bauer. For all the chatter about the Mets trying to steal LeMahieu from the Yankees, he doesn’t fit them positionally, and call me crazy, but I don’t think LeMahieu would revel in switching New York sides, not after how much he enjoyed his time in pinstripes. It brings to mind Andy Pettitte’s refusal to leave the Yankees for the Red Sox in the 2003-04 offseason.

Nah, the most sensible inaugural Cohen-Steinbrenner vault-opening challenge is Lindor, who of course could be traded to any major league team. Will it happen? I’m skeptical because of the Yankees’ budget. Yet in this offseason, don’t rule out industriousness, flexibility or the unexpected. When you can expect Lindor to be traded, all teams should be in on that, the New York twin powers (sounds odd, right?) at the front of the line.

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