The Mets acquired one of the ten best players in baseball in Francisco Lindor on Thursday. That alone should excite Mets fans, but what may be more exciting is that the Mets did not have to part with any of their top young players in order to get him. Dom Smith, Pete Alonso, Brandon Nimmo, Jeff McNeil, and J.D. Davis—all legitimate potential trade pieces when this offseason began—will likely stay on the roster for the 2021 season.
And while it should be very easy to cement Lindor at his ideal positions in the lineup and on the field, the remainder of the Mets’ infield positioning and lineup construction a little more complicated heading into 2021. Much like the Dom/Pete conundrum currently on their plates, the logjam of talent on the roster is a good problem to have, and a problem nonetheless.
So let’s take a look at how Lindor shakes things up.
Francisco Lindor should be the Mets’ starting shortstop in 2021—and hopefully with a contract extension, for many years after, as well. Since his rookie season in 2015, Lindor’s 54 UZR only trails Andrelton Simmons among all shortstops and is close to 20 points ahead of the next-best fielder: José Iglesias. The Mets parting with their two big league shortstops Andrés Giménez and Amed Rosario makes this decision even easier. There is no reasonable suggestion that starts Lindor anywhere on the field but shortstop.
But losing Giménez and Rosario does present a depth issue, to which the Mets fortunately have an in-house answer. Potentially the happiest person in the Mets organization right now is Luis Guillorme, whose spot on the roster suddenly becomes far more valuable with the departure of the two shortstops and the Robinson Canó suspension for the entire 2021 season. Guillorme has already proven he can play anywhere on the infield—and arguably better than everyone on the roster except for Lindor—but had always been tagged as a light-hitting defensive substitute. If Rosario and Giménez were both on the roster, Guillorme’s best chance of seeing the field in 2021 likely would have come with spot starts at third base and as an injury replacement. But with three starting infielders from 2020 not on the team this year, Guillorme likely becomes the immediate backup everywhere on the infield, affording him vastly more playing time than he got in his first couple of seasons.
The Lindor acquisition also makes a potential trade for a third baseman like Nolan Arenado or Kris Bryant less likely—though Bryant rumors recently surfaced—possibly handing the lion’s share of innings at third base to J.D. Davis with McNeil entrenched at second base. Despite his poor defensive reputation, certainly merited in the outfield, Davis showed much improvement at third base in 2020. Among players with at least 200 innings played at third base last season, Davis’s -0.9 UZR/150 ranked 16th, much higher than other offensive stalwarts like Alex Bregman, Rafael Devers, and Eugenio Suarez. It’s entirely possible that last year provided too small a sample size to validate Davis as a capable third baseman, but we already know what he can do at the plate. Davis’s 129 wRC+ over the last two seasons ranks seventh among major league third basemen, which is the type of production the Mets should want to keep in the lineup even if Davis regresses on the field.
What the team will do with Smith and Alonso at first base remains a mystery, but the acquisition of a top-fielding shortstop and the loss of three starters declutters the infield and hopefully solidifies players to positions. Lindor should start at shortstop, McNeil at second, and Davis at third, with Guillorme ready to back up any of them. It’s not only a simple plan, but also an enviable one, as well.
Much like on the infield, it won’t be difficult to find Lindor’s place in the lineup for the upcoming season. But unlike the infield, Lindor might complicate the Mets’ offensive situation even further than in 2020.
With the roster as presently constructed, Lindor best fits the leadoff position in the lineup. Though he has spent a good amount of time as the second or third hitter in Cleveland’s lineup over his career, his combination of power, speed, and both-handedness makes him an ideal leadoff hitter in the modern age. He showed a potentially worrisome offensive regression in 2020 with a 100 wRC+, but much like how it might be smart to discount good seasons in small samples, Lindor’s history of offensive excellence might make it smart to discount his league-average season as well. The most likely scenario for Lindor dropping down in the lineup would be a George Springer free agent signing, and even then there might still be a discussion about which player fits better. But with the Mets’ lineup loaded with power already, Lindor should be tattooed at the top of the lineup.
The only other regular starter on the roster who fits the profile of a modern leadoff hitter is Brandon Nimmo, and despite his long injury history, he’s been a very good one for the Mets. Nimmo’s career 133 wRC+ is better than Lindor’s career 118 wRC+, as is Nimmo’s career .390 OBP in comparison to Lindor’s .346. But Lindor’s power numbers surpass Nimmo’s, and his baserunning numbers greatly surpass Nimmo’s, giving the Mets a sincere power threat and their first potential stolen base threat at the leadoff position since José Reyes.
Lindor as a switch-hitter also inherently makes him a more valuable leadoff hitter than Nimmo, who historically has crushed right-handed pitching and hits lefties at an above-average rate. Perhaps seeing Nimmo start against a percentage of right-handed starters per season might make for a worthwhile experiment, but Lindor’s ability to do everything a modern leadoff hitter should do makes him the team’s best fit to hit first.
The Mets would be smart to keep Nimmo somewhere in the lineup, but finding an ideal spot presents challenges. Conventional wisdom suggests Nimmo would work well batting sixth, serving as the lineup’s “second leadoff hitter” towards the end of the order. But the Mets currently have seven or eight top-of-the-order hitters that can’t possibly fit at the top of the order. Which one of Alonso, McNeil, Smith, Davis, and Conforto should the Mets drop down to keep Nimmo in an ideal position? If the National League decides not to adopt the designated hitter for 2021, then the likely answer is either Smith or Alonso, but that still means that the Mets have to bat one of their all-star caliber hitters seventh, and possibly eighth. Whoever ends up doing that may not be happy with their role, but to have seven or eight all-star caliber hitters is a very, very good thing for the Mets.
Lindor’s place on the field and in the batting order seems very clear, while everyone else’s might complicate a bit. But the disruption that comes from acquiring one of the best players in the game not only makes conversations about roster construction and lineup optimization worthwhile, but also a whole lot of fun. No matter where Lindor displaces his teammates, he makes the Mets a much better team in 2021.