Mets, Francisco Lindor have set themselves up for contract disaster

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WASHINGTON — “You tried your best and you failed miserably. The lesson is, never try.”

— Homer Simpson

The Mets have been trying to sign Francisco Lindor, their newly acquired All-Star shortstop, to a ginormous extension. As Lindor’s self-imposed Opening Day deadline looms, however, the two sides were failing miserably to find common ground.

If the player and team had resolved back on January 7, when Lindor became a Met via a trade with the Indians, to table all long-term financial decisions until the conclusion of the 2021 championship season — to take the year to get to know each other — then they could launch their title quest in relative peace Thursday night at Nationals Park. Instead, the attempt to get something done has publicly disclosed a wide gap in valuations (Lindor wants $385 million over 12 years and the Mets want to pay him $325 million over 10 years), turned up the heat on both sides and set up multiple parties with something to lose. As longtime SNY broadcaster Ron Darling put it to Sirius XM’s Chris Russo on Wednesday, “…it will be a mess.”

Who has the most to lose if the season starts with Lindor still an impending free agent? Let’s rank them:

1. Francisco Lindor

Credit must go to the man for betting on himself. Because by turning down the Mets’ offer, and by his counteroffer getting out there, Lindor sacrifices a percentage of his new-car smell.

Will he still receive a roaring welcome from the pandemic-regulated Citi Field crowd at the April 8 home opener? Will a slump produce the sort of boos that Mike Piazza experienced when he first became a Met? How will he handle such attention while upgrading from the American League Central to the National League East? 

It should be noted that Lindor also has the most to gain here. Because if he thrives under such pressure, then he’ll be well within his right to turn to Steve Cohen in November, summon Kevin Costner from “Draft Day” and proclaim, “We live in a different world than we did seven months ago. $385 million won’t get it done.”

2. Steve Cohen

If the Mets had signed either of J.T. Realmuto or George Springer — or Trevor Bauer, although we all know that would’ve proven a disaster — then the team’s rookie owner could conduct these Lindor talks through a different prism. Instead, the game’s richest man still seeks his first nine-figure investment after spending 10 figures to buy the team.

Let’s face it: Cohen’s maiden voyage has featured more bumps than anyone anticipated, from the Jared Porter mess to Cohen temporarily removing himself from Twitter due to purported online threats to Sandy Alderson’s hiring of Mickey Callaway getting called into question to the Bauer pursuit and whiff. Not signing Lindor would serve as one more bump before Cohen’s first season starts.

3. Mets fans

So emotionally battered in the wake of Bernie Madoff’s 2008 arrest and the penny-pinching that followed, these poor folks just want a team that can play up to its market size and hold its own against the industry’s other jewel franchises.

The Mets have significantly improved their roster under Cohen and Alderson. Nevertheless, everyone understands the value — not just on the baseball side, but also on the morale side — that comes with signing a superstar to a super contract. In the short term, at least, it sends a surge of energy through the organization and its fan base. Not doing so in Lindor’s case would carry the opposite effect.

4. Major League Baseball

The league announced Wednesday that Lindor ranked eighth among top-selling jerseys. And keep in mind the tracking started last November, yet Lindor has been a Met only since January. That’s a bona fide hit.

The whole sport benefits when a high-energy, accomplished player lands on a high-profile club. There surely would be some disappointment in the offices of Rob Manfred and Tony Clark, even though it can’t be voiced, if Lindor’s Mets stay winds up as a mere fling.

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