Mets’ Francisco Lindor is more edgy and interesting than 'Mr. Smile'

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Andy Martino
·3 min read
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Francisco Lindor smiles at first base after getting a hit spring training close crop
Francisco Lindor smiles at first base after getting a hit spring training close crop

When Francisco Lindor played in Cleveland, his national reputation was simple: He was “Mr. Smile.” He was nice. He was happy. He was fun.

A New Yorker who was aware of this and saw him play occasionally could be forgiven for assuming he was a clone of early, happy-go-lucky Jose Reyes. Not that there would be anything wrong with that; young Reyes was a delight. Both he and Lindor could light an entire ballpark.

But as Lindor has settled into his first few months as a Met and begun negotiations for a contract that could keep him here for a decade or more, we are seeing a more nuanced picture of a young man-in-full.

Even through the distance of Zoom news conferences, Lindor is showing himself to be more nuanced -- and with an interesting edge -- than the reductive reputation that precedes him.

“He’s sophisticated,” said one MLB executive who knows Lindor. An agent who does not represent Lindor said that the Indians considered him “strong-willed.”

We have seen both of those qualities in Lindor’s public statements in recent weeks. After Lindor reported to camp and logged on for his first news conference since the trade, I asked an innocent question about the state of the game.

He responded with an extended critique of analytics and defensive positioning that grabbed the attention of players and executives and writers around the league.

By the next day, the Yankees’ cerebral ace Gerrit Cole was weighing in on the conversation that Lindor started (both Cole and Lindor are also part of the leadership of the Players Association that is planning to take on owners this year in a generational collective bargaining battle). GMs were debating privately with reporters if Lindor’s comments were helpful or problematic.

Earlier this week, his edge was even easier to see. First, Lindor pointedly said that he will test free agency if the Mets do not extend him before Opening Day. His words and tone left no room for misinterpretation or compromise.

A few minutes later, Tyler Kepner of the New York Times asked Lindor what type of baseball he prefers -- a speedy version that emphasizes action on the basepaths or the current power pitching/home run/strikeout game.

Listen closely to Lindor’s answer and you’ll hear a sharp understanding that the game is a business before it is anything else.

“The game is going to evolve,” he said. “We're professional baseball players. We can adjust. We can make the adjustments that are needed to help the team win. It's just a matter of how we're going to help the team, what the team needs.”

So far, he is in familiar territory. Helping the team, et cetera, et cetera. But look where he veers from there:

“And when we do go to situations that'll help us get paid or help us win certain awards, yeah.. we're going to do what the game is telling us to do. When you reward players for hitting home runs, everyone is going to do that. When you reward players for hitting 200 hits, you're going to have 10 guys getting 200 hits a year. But when that's not how the game is evolving, you're going to see guys hitting more home runs.”

That’s pretty interesting. If teams pay for home runs, he’ll hit home runs. If they pay for hits or stolen bases, he’ll do that. What brand of baseball is the best? The one that ensures fair compensation for labor and an appropriate slice of owners’ fortunes.

Anyone around the game knows that players think like that -- and that few are willing to actually say it.

Mr. Smile? Sure, he smiles. But we’ve learned this spring that Francisco Lindor is a lot more interesting than his nickname.