Francisco Lindor Is Primed To Be Even Better

Francisco Lindor Is Primed To Be Even Better

February 17, 2024 0 By Dan Freedman

*A version of this article first appeared in the IBWAA “Here’s the Pitch” Newsletter on February 16, 2024.

Please don’t allow us to forget about or overlook the splendor and greatness of Francisco Lindor.

When Lindor was in Cleveland, his brilliance was appreciated. In fact, he was beloved, but always with the jaundiced eye of: “This small market team will never be able to afford this magnificent player long-term.” And that turned out to be correct.

Before the 2021 season, then Guardians sent Lindor (with Carlos Carrasco) to the Mets for Amed Rosario, Andres Gimenez, and two prospects. And in typical big-market fashion, the Mets immediately signed Lindor to a 10/$341 million contract.

Under the white hot lights of the Big Apple and the pressure a $341 million contract thrusts upon a player, Lindor hit under .200 over the first two months of the 2021 season. The fans in Queens didn’t totally sour on him by Memorial Day, but it certainly wasn’t a great first impression. And New York fans are a difficult lot to win over, or win back, if you make a poor first impression.

And then, while batting .158, slugging .200, with one home run under his belt in his first 26 games with the Mets, Lindor grabbed second baseman Jeff McNeil by the throat in an altercation behind the dugout.

While this kerfuffle played out in the New York tabloids, the story changed from a fight to a mild argument to a simple disagreement over whether they saw a rat or a raccoon in the bowls of CitiField. Regardless of the actual story (one which we may never know), it was a bad look for the $300 million guy with the sub-Mendoza batting average.

Lindor tried to redeem himself over the course of the rest of the season, but he didn’t exactly set the world on fire. Playing around an oblique injury that thwarted him in parts of July and August, Lindor hit .252 with 16 home runs after May. “Mr. Smile” ended 2021 with an OPS+ of 100, and his worst career statistics in nearly every offensive category.

2022 was much closer to a standard Lindor season. He hit .270, tallied 26 dingers, drove in 107 runs, and had a 125 OPS+. He even came in ninth in MVP voting.

But to the fans and the media, the first two months of 2021 (on the field and just off of it), and his $34 million salary, still loomed large. So heading into 2023, Lindor had a target on his back, justified or not. Lindor, with his huge smile and flashy batting gloves, seemed made for New York, but to the victor goes the spoils, and you must perform to get the love. According to Mets fans, he had not yet performed.

If Lindor hoped to get that giant apple-shaped monkey off his back early in 2023, he didn’t do himself any favors. He came out of the gate hitting .218 in March/April, but did slug four home runs. May and June weren’t much better: .227 and .230, respectively. He did hit 6 dingers each month, and was trending in the right direction. In mid-June, Lindor’s wife, Katia, gave birth to their second daughter. And the sleep deprivation did him some good. In the twelve games after becoming a “girl dad” twice over, Lindor hit .310, belted four home runs, and had an OPS of 1.035.

In July, he hit another five round-trippers, with an OPS of .923. In August, he kept it going, collecting 32 more hits, nine for extra bases, with a .371 OBP. And then in September (of a wasted season for the club), Lindor continued to build. Seven home runs, eleven extra base hits, 19 RBI, and an OPS of .868.

When the season was done, Lindor had made the Flushing fans smile with 31 homers, 98 RBI, a 120 OPS+, and his first time joining the 30/30 club (actually 31/31). All of which led to Lindor winning the Silver Slugger award for the third time (but his first in New York). From the time of his second child’s birth, only four players had more bWAR than Lindor, and all of the other players laced them up in Los Angeles and Atlanta.

With the exception of a few bumps in the road, if you looked closely and in the aggregate, the Lindor that we all knew and loved has been there all along. It is just that sequencing in sports matters, and that may have allowed the fans in New York to miss it.

So, now Lindor enters Year Three of his massive contract in a good place, ostensibly physically as well as mentally. The team – despite a rough 2023 – is built to win, with a strong rotation and depth at nearly every position. It is all set up for the All-Star shortstop to have another MVP-caliber season, the type that the Mets faithful all anticipated when the club acquired him and then signed him to the largest deal in franchise history. The Lindor of old has been there all along, but now is the time for him to take it to the next level.