'Every year, you climb the stairs': Lindor sheds painful '23, eyes better '24

February 15th, 2024

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- The most remarkable aspect of ’s 30-30 season was not the fact that he became the first Met to achieve such a feat since David Wright in 2007, nor that he was the third Puerto Rican-born player to do it, nor that he was one of a record-tying four Major Leaguers to go 30-30 in the same year.

It was the fact that he accomplished all that with a bone spur in his right elbow, which began causing him pain during the first week of Spring Training in 2023.

In retrospect, Lindor said, he spent the entire season in “a lot of” discomfort, particularly when he swung and missed. Team trainers were aware of his plight. But Lindor never requested an MRI or an X-ray “because I knew it was going to show something that they weren’t going to let me play through.”

“It hurt, but I could play through it,” Lindor said Thursday at Mets camp, where he feels fully healthy for the first time in about a year. “And then throughout the year, it just got heavier and heavier. But it’s part of being a professional athlete. You have your aches and pains here and there, but you manage it.”

A day after the season ended, Lindor finally consented to the testing that revealed a bone spur, which he had surgically removed in October. Even though the Mets spent the entire second half out of realistic playoff contention, Lindor considered it important to “post up” every day, as he likes to put it, and be an example for how to conduct oneself in difficult times. That he finished with 31 homers, 31 stolen bases and a smattering of down-ballot MVP votes was a bonus.

Now, entering his age-30 season, Lindor hopes he can do even more on both an individual and team basis. Unlike many professional athletes, who use external criticism as fuel, Lindor doesn’t relish his team entering Spring Training with significantly less hype than it did a year ago. As he puts it: “I don’t see myself as an underdog.”

“It’s been the same since Day 1 -- I want to win,” Lindor added. “Nobody was expecting the Diamondbacks [last year], but I’m sure they were. Probably not too many people were expecting the Rangers either, but I’m sure they were as well. That’s kind of where every team is going to be in the same boat. It’s not about the expectations outside. It’s what you believe and what you think you can do.”

In many ways, Lindor represents the antithesis of the (relatively) frugal manner in which the Mets operated this winter. When he came to the franchise in a high-profile January 2021 trade and subsequently signed a record $341 million contract extension, Lindor kicked off an extravagant period in which new owner Steve Cohen spent gobs of money on some of the biggest names available: Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander et al. The goal was to win immediately.

When that didn’t happen, Lindor reframed his outlook.

“Every year, you climb the stairs,” he said. “For some people, it might seem like we’re going backwards, but I bought into the concept of a long-term deal. I wasn’t here for one year, two years, so I keep on seeing that we are moving in the right direction. We have changed people along the way, but I guess that’s part of the process. I’m fully on board. I respect what they’re doing, and I’m here to win.”

A healthy Lindor remains one of baseball’s most prolific shortstops, capable of impacting games on both offense and defense. He has also embraced his role as a team leader -- for example, inviting young infielders Mark Vientos and Brett Baty to his Orlando home this winter to work out alongside him. He likes being in the loop with Cohen, president of baseball operations David Stearns and manager Carlos Mendoza.

In those and other ways, Lindor sees the bigger picture. Zoom out over the course of an 11-year tenure with an organization, and a single bone spur in a single elbow -- painful though it may be -- can suddenly seem quite minor.

Lots of things can, when the goal is long-term success.

“I put my goals in a place where I can achieve them, but they’re really high as well,” Lindor said. “And then once I’m in the thick of it, I see where I’m at. If I’m going to achieve them, I move them again. I want that constant goal to be within reach.”