Lindor's on-field artistry shining through in '22

September 24th, 2022

It was a few weeks before Francisco Lindor was traded from Cleveland to New York -- the kind of deal for a superstar player in his prime the Mets had once made for Mike Piazza -- when Lindor’s manager in Cleveland, Terry Francona, said this:

“Nobody likes having him in [our] uniform more than I do, but we have challenges.”

Everybody knew what the challenges were. They knew they weren’t going to be able to keep him in Cleveland because of the financial realities there. He was young and approaching free agency -- and by January of 2021, Lindor was on his way to the Mets. He switched uniforms. His first season in New York wasn’t great. This one is. Lindor is showing New York -- and everybody -- that he is as gifted an all-around player as the Mets have ever had in all facets of the game: providing offense from both sides of the plate, defense and running the bases.

He shows up to play every day, same as Pete Alonso does across the diamond from him and behind him in the batting order. No one in baseball has played more games than Lindor and Alonso have played so far in 2022. Only a handful of players have more plate appearances than Lindor does. He is a shortstop who will get to 100 RBIs, probably this weekend in Oakland, the next time he knocks in a run.

In a season which might end up with the Mets holding off the Braves and finishing first in the National League East, they have more than one indispensable player, for sure. They have Max Scherzer and Jacob deGrom. They have their rock-star closer in Edwin Díaz. They also have Alonso, who before the week is out could break the team’s single-season RBI record.

On the other side of New York, everybody is watching Aaron Judge right now as he tries to get to 61 homers and beyond. But it is the Mets who have more players people want to see. Out of all of them, the most fun one to watch is the shortstop.

This is the way Buck Showalter, Francisco Lindor’s current manager, described him:

“He is an artist.”

Then, Buck qualified that statement this way:

“But he’s an artist who knows this game well enough and understands it well enough to be a manager someday, if he wants to.”

The Mets weren’t good enough last season -- and Lindor had signed a long-term, $341 million contract after he got there. He came with the nickname, “Mr. Smile” -- and clearly tried too hard to play that part, to be that guy and, in the process, fell far short of the standards he had set for himself. He ended up hitting just .230. He did hit 20 home runs in the end and got to the plate over 500 times. He had not come close to showing Mets fans his best game. And no one knew it better than he did, after hitting more than 40 points lower than he ever did in Cleveland.

When I asked Lindor in Spring Training about the opportunity to hit the reset button, he shook his head.

“I don’t look at it that way at all,” he said. “Because hitting the reset button would mean forgetting all the things I learned last season. And I learned a lot.”

It was Showalter in Spring Training who famously told Lindor to just go play shortstop and he would worry about everything else. Only, there has been little to worry about -- as Lindor has played baseball the way only a handful of other shortstops in the game can. He has played his position like the star that he is, looking like a streak of light on the bases while hitting in the Nos. 2 and 3 spots in Showalter’s batting order. And sometimes, he's acted like an on-the-field coach for the ’22 Mets.

“Whatever I ask him about the game we’re playing,” Showalter said, “he will always tell me the truth.”

So Lindor and Alonso are tied for the most games played this season at 151, along with Dansby Swanson and Matt Olson of the Braves. It means the two stars of the Mets everyday lineup have each missed one game. One. Showalter talks about his players “posting up.” He isn’t talking about the low post in basketball. He is talking about them showing up and wanting to play every single day. Alonso never wants to take a day off and neither does Lindor. It is something that would make any manager smile, especially because of the position he plays.

Lindor doesn’t turn 29 until November, not long after the 2022 World Series could end with the Mets in it. His batting average was .270 after the Mets beat the A’s on Friday night. He still has a chance to score 100 runs to go with 100 RBIs. This week, he will go flying past 600 plate appearances. This is the player the Mets thought they were getting when they acquired him from Cleveland.

The Mets have been around since 1962. Say it again: They’ve never had a player who does more things to help them win games than their shortstop does. That’s the art of his deal.