Lindor gets his lucre

341 million more seasons to smile than Lindor already had making himself a Met.

The night before Opening Day, Francisco Lindor went from prospective off-season free agent to a Met for life. The morning after Lindor became a $341 million Met, the anticipated enough Opening Day duel between Jacob deGrom and the Nationals’ Max Scherzer got postponed thanks to five Nats players and one team staffer testing positive for COVID-19.

Lindor was already the catch of the offseason when the Mets reeled him in from the Indians with pitcher Carlos Carrasco in exchange for Amed Rosario, Andres Gimenez, and two prospects. That one showed things stood a fine chance of being far different under the Steve Cohen regime than they were under the former Wilpon government.

But would the gigarich Cohen be willing to open the vaults deep to keep Lindor beyond his walk season? Turns out that he would, after a little tussling and a few hiccups. Especially after Lindor turned spring training into his personal coming-out party as a Met.

All Lindor wanted, it turns out, was for someone—preferably his new bosses—to acknowledge that, sure, Fernando Tatis, Jr.’s hot stuff and liable to stay that way, and sure, the Padres weren’t stupid to lock him down and make him a Padre for life, but there was someone else playing shortstop on the baseball street who’d shown and proven a little bit more (well, a lot more) than Tatis had just yet.

When the Mets first offered Lindor $325 million, Lindor—whose smiling style can provide alternative power in the event of a major blackout—said nice, but not so fast. He’d have had to be willfully blind not to notice the Padres invested $340 million in a shortstop who’s played just shy of a full season’s worth of games in two years. He wanted just a little bit more—$1 million more as things turned out.

A little nudge here, a little tug there, a little bump yonder, and Lindor got what he wanted. Just $1 million more worth of evidence that he’d done already what the Padres hope Tatis continues doing. Even if the tradeoff for getting just that much more acknowledgement meant Lindor also looks at $50 million deferred money.

“When it came to negotiating his contract, Lindor was comparable to Tatis only in the sense they play the same position,” writes Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic. “Lindor, 27, was one year away from free agency. Tatis, 22, was four years away. And in terms of career accomplishment, Lindor had produced five seasons of at least 4.0 Wins Above Replacement, according to FanGraphs, and Tatis had yet to produce one.”

The thing they have in common otherwise is how much plain fun both Lindor and Tatis are to watch. They’re studies in controlled incendiaries at the plate; they’re studies in acrobatics at shortstop. So far. Barring catastrophic injury or other unforeseen unforced troubles, they’re likely to be that for a long enough time to come.

Lindor’s played six Show seasons; Tatis has played 143 Show games so far. This is how they compare in terms of my Real Batting Average metric: total bases (TB) x walks (BB) x intentional walks (IBB) x sacrifice flies (SF) x hit by pitches (HBP), divided by total plate appearances (PA):

Player PA TB BB IBB SF HBP RBA
Francisco Lindor (6 yrs, per 162) 732 319 59 27 8 5 .571
Fernando Tatis, Jr. (143 games) 629 325 57 2 4 10 .633

Tatis is equivalent to the hot first-season wonder. Lindor’s a six-year veteran. If Tatis after six years shows an RBA of .571 or better, he belongs at Lindor’s level. But Tatis isn’t just going to have to keep it up at the plate. He’s going to have to step it up major bigtime in the field. For that equivalence of one season, Tatis has saved 18 runs below his league average. For six seasons, Lindor has saved 56 runs above his league average.

Tatis is the prodigy, the work in progress. Lindor’s the established positional model. If he’s aware that he’s proven himself a top-of-the-line all-around shortstop, you can’t blame him for believing the Mets—or his next employer, should he have chosen to play 2021 out and hit what might be a crowded offseason market throttled by dependence on the next CBA negotiations and outcome—should pay him just so.

Without Lindor’s presence the coming shortstop division of the next free agent class is going to be formidable enough. Unless one of these players lands himself an extension to his liking before the 2021 season finishes playing out, here they are, according to RBA so far:

Player PA TB BB IBB SF HBP RBA
Javier Baez 2708 1201 128 30 12 22 .504
Carlos Correa 2583 1089 272 17 27 15 .550
Corey Seager 2301 1034 207 15 12 16 .558
Trevor Story 2541 1228 213 10 9 21 .583
Francisco Lindor 3510 1531 284 27 36 25 .542

Story, of course, benefits from the Coors factor; neutralised and his RBA might be somewhere more between Lindor and Correa. Now, put them all in the field, see who’s saving runs how far above his league average, and it’s no contest:

Player TZR
Javier Baez +11
Carlos Correa +30
Corey Seager +23
Trevor Story +41
Francisco Lindor +56

With Lindor off the market, Story is the best all-around shortstop in the coming free agents’ class by the raw numbers, but that Coors factor may or may not factor likewise into whether his payday might come that close to Lindor and Tatis.

Tatis landing his Padres lifetime meant that Lindor’s market would take a big leap flying high. Now Lindor’s jumped the coming shortstop market up, of course. But—assuming the CBA negotiations don’t put any kind of crimps into the real market values of players—Baez, Correa, Seager, and Story may see better dollars than they thought they’d see without getting close to Lindor’s bank account to come.

Assume a fair market and intelligence to match coming for argument’s sake. Story and Correa should see larger lucre than Seager and Baez. But that’s only on assumption. We don’t know yet what the coming CBA will deliver.

The bad news is that I’m pretty sure of one thing the coming CBA won’t deliver. The Major League Baseball Players Association isn’t likely to even think about revisiting the player pension plan and giving a reasonable shake to the class that was frozen out of the plan’s 1980 re-alignment capriciously and unfairly: short-career major league players from 1949-80.

Those players include a small handful of one-time Mets. Players such as Bill Denehy, the pitcher traded to the Washington Senators after a single injury-disrupted season as a Met, so the Mets could bring Gil Hodges from Washington to manage them.

Players such as Bill Wakefield, whose lone major league season was as a Met reliever in 1964 when he set a team record for appearances. Players such as outfielder Rod Gaspar and infielder Bobby Pfeil of the 1969 Miracle Mets. Players such as 1970s outfielders George (The Stork) Theodore and Leon Brown. And more.

The 1980 re-alignment changed pension vesting to 43 days major league service and health care vesting to a single day’s major league time. But it excluded players with short careers who played between 1949 and 1980. Some who follow the issue believe one reason was that they were seen as little more than September call-ups, though most of the players frozen out made teams right out of spring training.

The sole redress those players have received since comes from a 2011 deal between then-commissioner Bud Selig and then-players union director Michael Weiner: they have the pre-1980 short-career players $625 per quarter for every 43 days major league service, up to four years worth. The bad news: it doesn’t allow the players to pass those dollars to their families upon their deaths. The worse news: Weiner’s own death, taking further chances for better redress off the table so far.

Cohen has shown he wasn’t kidding when he said he was willing to spend and invest reasonably in reviving the Mets and securing them as a competitive Show team. Perhaps if the players union continues refusing to do better by the short-career players frozen out of the full pension realignment, Cohen—like me, a Met fan since the day they were born—might think about doing something better just for his own former Mets.

I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again: It’s worth considering, and doing. Think about the props Cohen would earn if he, an owner, starts with his own team what the union still won’t think about with all 614 remaining un-pensioned short-career major leaguers. Maybe he’d inspire other owners with comparable dollars and love of the game to do likewise for theirs.

Denehy, Wakefield, Gaspar, Pfeil, Theodore, Brown, and other such short-term former Mets were among the players who supported the union during their major league lives, walking pickets, surrendering small incomes otherwise, the better to see the days when a Francisco Lindor could count before taxes on $341 million going into the bank thanks to a far more fair and open market than that in which they played.

Someone needs to make a serious move. If the union can’t or won’t, why not an owner? Especially one who’s been as unapologetic in his love for his team and the game as Cohen has been?

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