Francisco Lindor is at a loss. The New York Mets acquired the All-Star shortstop from Cleveland last winter, along with starting pitcher Carlos Carrasco, and then signed Lindor to a 10-year, $341 million contract to preempt his free agency.
In the short term, the deal has been a bust. Carrasco has yet to pitch for the Mets because of a torn right hamstring, and Lindor isn’t hitting his weight. His slash line is .195/.309/.289, which takes into account batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage.
Lindor’s batting average was 90 points lower than his .285 average over six years with the Indians after Tuesday night’s action, in which he had a rare two hits in a 4-3 Mets victory at Atlanta.
It’s as much a shock to Lindor, who went 1-for-12 last weekend at Tampa Bay as the Mets were swept in a three-game series, as it is to everyone else.
“Did they change the balls in Tampa? Did they make them any smaller over there?” Lindor deadpanned. “Because I didn’t see them over there.”
But seriously, folks.
“I want to have success. I’m not having much right now,” he said. “I just haven’t got the hits that I want, that everyone wants. All I know is that it’s not fun to look up at the scoreboard and see .140, .170, .185, whatever I’m hitting right now. It’s not fun.”
That lack of success is hardly limited to Lindor. Other high-priced stars have underperformed, are injured or both. Call it the Lindor Effect.
Here’s a partial list:
The case of Tatis is much like Lindor’s. Both showed a pulse a few weeks ago before falling back into bad habits. Tatis had three games for the ages at Dodger Stadium April 23-25 when he launched five home runs in 11 at bats, but since then he has had two homers and five RBIs through the last game he played May 9. He’s batting .140 at Petco Park.
Since signing the huge contract this spring, Tatis has already been on the IL twice, the first time for 10 days when his left shoulder popped out of the socket.
He’s been playing with a torn labrum and a dislocated shoulder, which might explain his erratic offensive production, but not his play at shortstop, where he has 11 errors in 24 games, compared to only three when he worked 57 of the 60 games during last year’s COVID-abbreviated season.
Perhaps being able to rest the shoulder while sitting out on the COVID list might have been a blessing in disguise.
“I don’t think so,” Padres manager Jayce Tingler said the other day. “We’d obviously prefer to have him here. He would obviously prefer to be here. I can’t say it’s a good thing. I understand your point. But all parties want him on the field playing. The entire organization wants him on the field playing.”
To be sure, Lindor and Tatis might be feeling added pressure trying to immediately live up to big contracts.
Lindor, 27, and the Indians parted ways because Cleveland wasn’t going to pay him, and Lindor intended to test free agency.
Tatis, 22, has yet to accomplish anything, although the Padres opted to buy out his free agency this spring in an unprecedented move.
“Lindor, I’m a big fan of his. Tatis, that’s a lot of money for a young guy,” Angels manager Joe Maddon said. ”Who knows what you start thinking? I don’t know. Heck, I was just working in third-rate luncheonettes and doing floors and delivering orders at that age….
“I can’t even imagine what that feels like,” he said. “Hey, 99.9% of us will never know what it feels like and how hard it might be to mentally compartmentalize things so you can be yourself. It’s just a tough thought.”
The Mets cut off Lindor’s route to free agency by signing him to the huge contract, much like the Dodgers did with Betts last year. Betts is a veteran player and won his second World Series ring this past fall when the Dodgers defeated the Rays in six games for their first title since 1988.
Betts had a track record, having won with Boston in the five-game 2018 World Series over the Dodgers.
Lindor hasn’t won yet, although he was a four-time All-Star and a two-time Gold Glove winner with the Indians.
Maddon has seen the good and bad of big contracts with Jason Heyward in Chicago, and Rendon, Pujols and Trout in Los Angeles.
Heyward signed an eight-year, $184 million contract in 2016 with the Cubs, where he’s underperformed for six years, batting .249 with 54 homers. With Heyward circulating from the bench to the outfield, the Cubs did win their first World Series title in 108 years under Maddon in 2016. Heyward hit .230, his worst season, after inking the big deal.
“There’s a human element to all this, and living up to the contract is just part of it sometimes,” Maddon said. “You think that these guys are so good that they’ll get over it and get back into normal patterns. Sometimes it just takes time.”
As far as Trout is concerned, he’s impervious: He’s played well with no money on the table and through the big money. When he was hurt Monday night during the first inning pulling into third base, he was slashing along at .333/.426/.624 with a 1.090 OPS, a 200 OPS-plus and eight home runs.
Trout is 29 and was possibly on his way to a fourth American League MVP Award, although his team is struggling once again to win.
“He’s one of the most humble human beings I’ve ever met,” Maddon said of Trout. “I don’t think his motivation has ever been money. Michael’s motivation has always been to be a great athlete and a great baseball player. Whatever your motivation is, that all plays into it.”
For Lindor, his numbers on the scoreboard speak volumes.