It’s February first and in any ordinary year, the enthusiasm for the arrival of pitchers and catchers followed by positional players to Port St. Lucie would be palpable. It is hard to imagine team workouts and Spring Training games under a month away as it still feels like we are in the main part of the off season. With new ownership and an overhauled front office overall excitement couldn’t be much higher, which has only been amplified by the steal-of-the-year trade that has brought Francisco Lindor, an apparent generational-level player, to the Orange and Blue. Guys like Sandy Alderson and Steve Cohen clearly don’t make trades like that for a season; the expectation is to extend Lindor for the long haul. Playing this out, it’s easy to see a contract in the 10-year 300-million-dollar range, which would be a Mets record by a vast amount.
If the Mets make such a move, one thing worth envisioning is Lindor’s career arc as a Met, with the hope of being one of the greatest Mets of all time and serious consideration for entry into the Hall of Fame (HoF). This analysis compares the present career achievements of Lindor with three HoF shortstops that span the range of bWAR, from the lower end (Luis Aparicio, bWAR = 55.9), near average (Ernie Banks, bWAR = 68.2), and at the top end (Robin Yount, bWAR = 77.3); the analysis also looks at a recent inductee (Derek Jeter, bWAR = 70.3). For reference, the average bWAR for HoF shortstops is 67.5 (let’s use 70 bWAR for reference). Lindor presently has a career bWAR of 28.7, or about half-way to Aparicio only 5 full seasons (and whatever we call last season) into his career. It’s not hard to imagine Lindor in Cooperstown wearing a Mets hat, much Like Mike Piazza.
What would Lindor need to accomplish in terms of WAR annually to get to the HoF level over a 10-year duration? The math here is easy. He’s about 40 bWAR from the average HoF shortstop, so over 10 years, from ages 27 to 37, he needs to generate 4 bWAR per year. Aparicio did not achieve this, but Banks and Jeter did, and Yount almost did. Excluding last season and a partial rookie season, Lindor has had better that 5 bWAR. The HoF players studied here did not see drop offs in bWAR until about age 37 or so. Only Banks achieved their maximum bWAR in the 10-year window inclusive of ages 27 through 36. Nonetheless, it seems quite within reach to hit the bWAR level for Cooperstown.
All of the players examined here played in the Show a long time, with an average of a little more than 19 years (Banks played the latter part of his career at 1B, as did Yount who moved to the OF). On top of that, each of these players enjoyed many full seasons of at bats, suggesting that talent merged with good health is critical. Looking at a potential contract for Lindor, it is easy to imagine that a 10-year deal is not out of the order, which would put him at age 37 at the end of the contract. Lindor has a record of being on the field for about 650-750 ABs per season. One thing that places this exercise in some reasonable perspective (despite comparing players across a wide time span where the style of the game has changed) is the average age of entry into the big leagues for this cohort is 20.75 years old; Lindor entered at age 21, suggesting the potential for longevity with other HOFers, and WAR accumulation is in place.
One thing that gets discussed about players in consideration for the Hall is hardware. Presently, Lindor has a pair of Gold Glove (GG) and Silver Slugger (SS) Awards. He’s a four-time All Star, placed a close second to Carlos Correa for Rookie of the Year (RoY), and has placed top 10 for the AL MVP three times. The comparative players all have long track records of awards, and hardware. Aparicio was RoY and accumulated 9 GGs; Banks earned two MVPs and a GG; Yount has two MVPs, three SSs, and a GG; Jeter’s list of hardware is staggering with RoY, 5 GGs, and 5 SSs. At 27 years old, and the prime of his career coming, it is easy to see Lindor needing a more than one case to hold all the trophies. I’ll put hardware in the “can do” column.
The last component I looked at for this comparison was offense. In terms of conventional metrics, Lindor is a career .285 hitter, while getting on base 35% of the time. If he can keep these numbers in place through the prime of his career, they are well within the range for the HoF. Right now, Lindor has an average OPS of .833 for his first 6 seasons, which adjusts to an average OPS+ of 117. Except for the glove-first Aparicio, the HoFers in this study maintained strong OPS+ values into their mid-30s. Banks, Yount, and Jeter all had average OPS+ values of 117 to 122 during the age 27-36 window. Whether Lindor can keep his OPS+ up looks like it will hinge on slugging because his OPB looks to be stabilizing at a bit under .330. Lindor certainly seems capable of delivering on these numbers.
No one knows what the next 10 years holds for Lindor. The Mets are almost certainly evaluating a major deal with him that would be a blockbuster for the team. The math says he is on track to meet HoF-type numbers if he can stay on the field. Would committing 300 million dollars spread over 10 years be a smart move to make? One would hope that such a move would lead to a franchise-altering outcome on par with making the Hall of Fame. Looking over where Lindor is now, the kind of potential he has, “make up” off-the-charts, and what it would take to be in the pantheon of Mets greats, it would be hard to argue against making Lindor a Met for life, and for booking a room at the Otesaga in July of 2035 or 2036.