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Is Lindor following in Betts' steps?

@MikeLupica
November 19, 2020

If the Indians decide to move Francisco Lindor in this offseason to a contender, he could turn out to be next season’s Mookie Betts. Lindor could be the kind of young star to put his new team over the top. And if he does change teams over the next few

If the Indians decide to move Francisco Lindor in this offseason to a contender, he could turn out to be next season’s Mookie Betts. Lindor could be the kind of young star to put his new team over the top. And if he does change teams over the next few months, he would be doing it at the same age (27) that Betts did when he left the Red Sox for the Dodgers.

This isn’t to say that Lindor is Betts. But it certainly isn’t crazy to put them in the same conversation, even if one of them is a shortstop and the other is the best right fielder in the sport.

Betts has played in two World Series now, and his teams have won both, mostly because both squads were as talented as any World Series winner we’ve seen lately. Lindor’s Indians have played in one Series, in 2016, when they couldn’t hold a three games to one lead and eventually lost to the Cubs in the 10th inning of Game 7. Betts has an AL MVP Award to his credit and finished in the top three in 2020 voting in a new league. Lindor? He’s played six years in the big leagues -- one fewer than Mookie -- and has been in the top six in AL MVP Award voting twice and in the top 10 another time.

If you were choosing sides, you’d take Betts ahead of Lindor, and maybe ahead of everybody except Mike Trout. Still, they are the same kind of dynamic player, and they are both known for the joy they bring to playing the game. Lindor has averaged 23 home runs since he joined the Indians in ’15. Betts has averaged 22 or so. Betts’ lifetime batting average is .301; Lindor's is .285. Betts has averaged 94 runs per season; Lindor has averaged 84, with less help in his batting order than Betts has had.

Betts’ lifetime OPS is .895, and Lindor’s is .833. By now -- and certainly after this World Series -- we know how many ways Mookie Betts can change a game, all the way to the last game of the postseason, and how he plays the game with a smile. Lindor? He’s known as “Mr. Smile.” He and the Indians made their run in 2016 before losing to the Cubs. The next year they looked loaded again, before blowing a 2-0 lead to the Yankees in the AL Division Series.

Again, there is no guarantee that the Indians are going to move Lindor, whether they are about to regroup or not. More and more, though, it sounds as if they will, a year before he is eligible to become a free agent, which means the same situation in which Betts found himself a year ago. He was the face of the Red Sox once David Ortiz retired. Lindor has been the smiling face of the Indians' franchise, with a career in which he's been a four-time All-Star, a two-time Silver Slugger Award winner and a two-time Gold Glove Award winner.

The Red Sox decided they weren’t going to pay Betts over the next 10 years of his career (it turned out to be more in L.A.), so they traded him. The Indians seem to have arrived at the same conclusion about paying Lindor when the time comes.

So perhaps Lindor has arrived at the exact same place that Betts was in before he left Boston: He is a supremely gifted young player in his prime who may be about to find a new team, one he might very well put over the top. Mandy Bell, who covers the Indians for MLB.com, listed four possible landing spots for Lindor: the Yankees, the Mets, the Blue Jays and the Phillies.

“He has ability plus personality,” former Mets GM Omar Minaya says. “First, the ability: versatile, quick, great instincts, able to use that small body (5-foot-11, 190 lbs) and hit the ball with authority. But above that, he’s like Mookie in that he is able to lead with his personality and make those around him better.”

The Yankees are the most intriguing player in this game, if they are indeed players. They have a shortstop who is still very much under their control in Gleyber Torres. He hit 37 home runs a season ago before coming back to earth in the shortened 2020 season, playing only 42 of the team's 60 games and hitting three home runs. That’s not as much a problem for the Yankees as this: Torres still looks like a second baseman playing short, next to second baseman DJ LeMahieu, who’s been the Yankees’ best player for the past two years.

Now LeMahieu, at age 32, is a free agent. There is a question as to how much money the Yankees might be willing to pay him and how many years they might be willing to give him at this stage of his career, even though he is riding high. Of course, they are always balancing their payroll given what they have to pay Giancarlo Stanton, who will make $218 million through -- wait for it -- the 2027 season.

Can the Yankees sign LeMahieu and swing a huge deal for Lindor the way the Dodgers did for Betts? Only they know if they’re willing to do that. Would they be willing to put Torres, who doesn’t turn 24 for another few weeks, into a deal for Lindor? I sure would, for the same reason the Dodgers went for Betts: Because he was that good, that young and available to help them finally win another championship.

Does this mean Lindor is Betts? It doesn’t. But can he be the 2021 version of Betts? You bet.

Mike Lupica is a columnist for MLB.com.