In six seasons with Cleveland, Francisco Lindor showed a multitude of skills that, with an irrepressible passion and a bewitching smile, became one of the most exciting, charismatic and successful baseball players.
Starting Thursday, Lindor will be exhibiting the full package for the Mets and will have the chance to do something even deeper. Given his age, talent and apparent commitment to the sport and the fact that he will end up signing with the club on a long-term basis, 27-year-old Lindor has the chance to become the best all-round positional player the Mets have ever had.
“He could beat them all,” said Bobby Valentine, who has played, trained, managed and is a television analyst for the Mets since 1977. “His toolbox has the best tools, I think, from anyone who has ever played for the Mets.”
Mike Piazza kept hitting the ball and had a better average but was not a top defender or runner. Carlos Beltran was the best free agent in franchise history, but he broke down a few after his first four years on the team. Darryl Strawberry hit the ball to the moon and had the speed to steal bases, but it was less consistent on the plate and couldn’t keep up with Lindor’s defense.
Jose Reyes had the speed and the smile, David Wright had some prime years behind him, and Keith Hernandez had an undeniable influence on the 1986 championship team.
But Lindor, which the Mets acquired in a blockbuster deal in January, can rival any of them in substance and style. As a switch hitter, he hits power from both sides of the record and makes runs. He’s an excellent defensive shortstop. He uses his speed and his know-how for the basic paths and regularly shows that he can score points in the gap from the first base on a ball, grab an additional base or steal one if necessary – and all with a captivating flair a flash of sometimes multicolored hair.
Ron Darling, the former Mets pitcher turned broadcaster, said Hernandez was the best he’d ever played with. Hernandez’s rare combination of offensive and defensive skills, as well as his unparalleled knowledge of the game, instincts, performance in clutch situations and his reputation as an admired teammate made Hernandez special.
“Lindor has these qualities,” said Darling, who has watched Lindor play since his first major league appearance in 2015. “He has to stick with it and do it, but Lindor has the option of going into the hall one day.” of Fame in a Mets Hat. That could happen, he’s that good. “
The stats are already shimmering on Lindor’s baseball reference page, enticing Mets fans to view him as the foundation of the future as long as the Mets can sign him to a contract renewal now or at the end of the season. Negotiations were held during spring training but the player and team are reportedly tens of millions of dollars apart and Lindor has announced that talks will end earlier this season. That would make him a free agent after the season. At that point, he could sign with the Mets again or join another team.
The market for Lindor would be robust.
Before the 2020 season, which was shortened by the pandemic, he scored at least 32 home runs and 40 doubles in each of the three seasons. He scored at least 99 runs in each of his last four seasons and led both leagues with 129 runs in 2018. He has a career batting average of 0.285 and a base percentage of 0.833 plus the slugging percentage. In the last four seasons he has had the most home runs (111) and extra base hits (258) among the shortstops.
He is also one of the defensive wizards of baseball. Lindor won the Gold Glove Award for shortstops in the American League in 2016 and 2019. For the past five seasons, FanGraphs has placed him in the top six of shortstops in the Ultimate Zone Rating – a metric that measures a player’s overall defensive contribution. He was number one last year. And for traditionalists who value the safety of the field stake, Lindor’s acrobatics hasn’t stopped him from breaking a 0.981 mark, which is the fourth active shortstop and the eleventh highest ever.
Which current or past Mets player can boast this combination of speed, dexterity, strength and defense? Certainly only a handful. If any.
There is no way to definitively quantify a subjective discussion about the best Mets positional player of all time. However, if wins over replacements – a collection of statistical data that tries to measure all of a player’s skills as the park and era adjusts – are viewed as a rough benchmark, then Lindor can do very well.
According to the Baseball Reference, he joins the Mets with a cumulative WAR of 28.8. Averaging 4.8 wins a year is impressive, but Lindor’s numbers would undoubtedly be stronger if it weren’t for last year’s shortened schedule that would have cost him up to 102 games. For the previous five seasons, he had averaged 5.52 WAR per year, up from a high of 7.8 in 2018. While those numbers would eventually go down, as any aging player does, the Mets could reasonably expect Lindor’s Prime to last for several years, and he’ll stay on the team beyond 2021.
If those prime years can match or exceed his prime years in Cleveland, Lindor could stand out from many Mets greats.
Strawberry played eight seasons with the Mets, averaging 4.58 WARs per season. Beltran’s average with the Mets was 4.44 and Piazza was 3.08.
Reyes, the player Lindor could benchmark as a fast-paced, switchable shortstop with a joyful approach to the game, had an average WAR of 3.1 during his original nine-year stint with the team. Wright’s average WAR was 3.51.
Strawberry, Piazza, Beltran, Reyes and Wright were all great Mets positional players, and others like Gary Carter, Howard Johnson and Edgardo Alfonzo had sensational runs. But Howie Rose, who may have seen more Mets games than anyone else, agrees with Darling that Hernandez has the strongest claim to be the best all-around Met of all time.
Rose, who is now the team’s radio play-by-play announcer, attended his first Mets game at the Polo Grounds on July 6, 1962 – her first season. His career as a Mets broadcaster goes back to 1987 overrated.
Hernandez battled the Mets over 300 in his first four seasons, had a base percentage over 400 three times, was in the top 10 for the National League Most Valuable Player Award three times, and initially won five Gold Gloves Base.
“His glove said Rawlings on it, but it might as well have said Stradivarius,” said Rose, referring to the world-class violins. “Not only did he play the position, he played it and he was an excellent batsman too.”
Hernandez had an average WAR of 3.8 during his seven years with the Mets, but Rose pointed out that metrics could never explain Hernandez’s distinctive leadership skills.
Rose said Lindor has the talent to match Hernandez (more power but perhaps less virtuosity in the field) and is eager to see if Lindor, who plays an active role in the players’ union, also takes on a leadership role with the Mets.
“This group gets along, they have fun together, and they have a certain dynamic that any incoming player needs to be a little careful about as they wade through,” said Rose. “Lindor doesn’t seem to be particularly careful. His smile heralds his arrival and his ability confirms his standing. When it comes to leadership, it’s a tricky thing. But it seems natural to him. “
But not all comparisons for incoming stars are favorable, and Lindor isn’t the first player to come to Flushing about Cleveland with a crowded résumé. Roberto Alomar showed similar hope in 2002.
At the time the Mets acquired Alomar from Cleveland in 2001, he had an average annual WAR of 4.81, only a tick better than Lindors, but he had two terrible seasons in Queens. One notable difference between the two is that Alomar, who was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2011, was 34 years old in his first season with the Mets and seven years older than Lindor.
“You get him at a great age,” said Rose of Lindor. “Provided he signs again we’ll see what the best of Francisco Lindor should be.”
Jim Duquette, an analyst at MLB Network Radio, was the Mets’ deputy general manager at the time of the Alomar trade. He noted something else in Lindor’s favor.
“You can almost bet some people are made for New York, and I think Lindor is one of those guys,” said Duquette. “The energetic guys tend to thrive in New York, and I think Lindor has other gear too.”
Piazza, who flourished during his career in the New York Hall of Fame, noticed during spring training that Lindor has the temperament not only to thrive in the city but also to stand out in the shining spotlight.
“I think he did,” said Piazza. “He has to go out there and prove it, of course. But he seems like a really cool guy. He’s got dyed hair, that’s for sure. I like this.”
Lindor also longs for time on the field and has only missed 30 out of a possible 708 games in the last five seasons. Ross Atkins, the general manager of the Toronto Blue Jays, was the director of player development when Cleveland designed Lindor of Montverde Academy in Florida. Atkins noted a lesser-known reason for Lindor’s success and longevity.
“One thing some people don’t realize about Francisco is how strong he is and how physical,” Atkins said. “He’s not the tallest man, but he’s one of the strongest players in the game. And it’s not just that he can move weight. This is how he uses this power. He’s one of the better professional athletes in the world. “
With or without a long-term contract renewal, the experiment begins on Thursday when Mets fans begin to judge whether Lindor like Alomar, Jason Bay, Mo Vaughn and Kaz Matsui will collapse, become a year-long miracle and leave in 2022, or slots in the biggest Mets positional players any times.
“I’ve always been drawn to how much he loves to play,” Darling said of Lindor. “He can’t get enough of it, and boy, you love your superstar for being such a player. He still has to get out there and do it, but when it comes to sheer talent, he has a chance to be the best. “