Lindor excited for Mets; no contract talks yet

February 22nd, 2021

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- The Mets are asking to do two things at once. One is to acclimate himself to the club: There was Lindor, first thing Monday morning, camped at a picnic table outside the Mets’ clubhouse to participate in a team-wide Zoom call. There was Lindor on one back field, hanging around the cage with Michael Conforto. There was Lindor on another, turning double plays with Jeff McNeil.

In addition to that process, the Mets want Lindor to decide if this brand-new, still mostly unknown place is somewhere he wants to be for the rest of his career. Lindor hasn’t opened extension talks with the Mets quite yet, but both sides expect to do so in the coming weeks. If and when that happens, Lindor must make a quick decision about a team and a city that he barely knows.

“I can’t wait to continue to get to know the guys more on a daily basis and grind,” Lindor said. “Grind together.”

Negotiations should be noteworthy given that both sides have much to gain from a deal, but neither party feels desperate for one. If Lindor spurns the Mets in favor of free agency -- “I’ve never been scared of free agency,” he said -- he could shop his services in a league that has recently seen Fernando Tatis Jr., Mookie Betts, Manny Machado, Mike Trout and Bryce Harper all sign $300 million-plus contracts. If the Mets decide there’s no deal to be had, they could pivot to Corey Seager, Carlos Correa, Trevor Story or Javier Báez, four other premium shortstops due to be free agents next winter.

Or, both sides could lean into this new partnership and sign a deal now, just as Tatis did with the Padres and Betts did with the Dodgers.

“That can be a challenge if you don’t know the player,” Mets general manager Zack Scott said. “The one thing I’ll say in particular about Francisco is I know a lot of people in the game that know him well. There’s nothing but great things said about him as a person and as a worker and as a player. So there’s no reservations there.”

On so many levels, it is indeed a fine match. Superficially, Lindor is one of the best players in baseball, a strong defensive shortstop who hit 32 homers and stole 22 bases over his last full season in 2019. Just 27, Lindor could conceivably maintain his current levels of production for many years to come, giving the Mets the type of superstar shortstop they have lacked since José Reyes in his prime.

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Beyond that, Lindor is an ambassador for the game. His peers recently elected him to the Major League Baseball Players Association’s executive subcommittee, and Lindor spoke Monday at length about the importance of player rights. He also offered nuanced commentary on the state of the game, including teams’ growing reliance on analytics. Lindor is a player unafraid to speak his mind, in a market that offers an outsized platform for him to do so.

“It’s about being able to impact the game not just on the field, but also off the field,” Lindor said. “People played the game the right way and made decisions along the way that helped me get to here. They set the path for me already. Now, it’s time for me to continue that path to help the younger players make the game better.”

When Tatis signed a 14-year, $340 million extension recently, that became a potential comp for Lindor, despite significant differences in age and track record. Lindor said he texted Tatis to congratulate him on the contract, but he stopped short of comparing it to his own situation. The truth is, there is no exact comp for Lindor’s situation. It’s a bit of Tatis, plus a bit of Betts, plus a bit of Nolan Arenado and others.

Those are details for the agents and lawyers and club officials to discuss. In the interim, Lindor is focused simply on meshing with a new team and a new system -- things as simple as mastering the names of teammates and staffers, or what time to show up to the ballpark, or where to find Field 7.

“We’re learning each other,” Mets manager Luis Rojas said. “That started today.”

If the rest falls into place, the Mets will be glad for it. Monday, Lindor bounced around the Mets’ complex with a significant tuft of blue-dyed hair peeking out from beneath his baseball cap. He said he dyed it that color because he likes the way it fades to gray.

Of course, the shade is not without significance.

“You can see I’m all blued out,” Lindor said. “Everything is blue in my life right now. Blue and orange.”