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Francisco Lindor and baseball’s divided fandom

We should spend less time worrying about how others enjoy the game and simply try to enjoy the game our own way.

MLB: Philadelphia Phillies at New York Mets Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Francisco Lindor is going to be a Met for the rest of his career. That statement shouldn’t do anything other than bring joy to the hearts of any Met fan who reads it. Yet for many, Lindor’s 10-year, $341 million contract is a point of contention, an event surrounded by bitter arguments on Twitter or in comment sections. Issues that should have been mere quibbles—is Lindor a top-5 player, or merely top-10? Is $16 million extra in a nine-figure contract a bridge too far?—became fandom-defining conflicts for a 96-hour period as the Mets-Lindor union seemed ready to die on the vine.

The deal did get done, of course, but the core philosophies that drove these arguments remain. On one side, a group of fans who enjoys playing at team management and tout ideas of efficiency and value. On the other, those fans who simply want the team to spend whatever it takes. This is not a new divide, but it’s one that’s grown across baseball in recent years, to the point where fans of the same team who should be able to enjoy an historic moment for the franchise are more interested in continuing an increasingly vitriolic online discourse. So what are these two groups thinking?

First, the team-management types. They’ve probably read Moneyball, or at least seen the movie and think they have a good idea of what constitutes “good spending.” Some do have a good grasp of modern statistics and management practices, but too often their ideas amount to a thin coat of veneer over a sign reading “spending money bad.” On the lowest end, you find fans who call into WFAN and say players are selfish while glossing over the major labor issues facing the sport.

The central idea of the second group is a simple one: it’s the owner’s money, what do I care if they overpay for good players? Fans with this ideology are still interested in the new-age analytics, but only insofar as they’re used to find which players are actually good. The idea of value—particularly in the context of $/WAR—is anathema to them, and somewhat reasonably so. Baseball owners are typically billionaires with more money than fans or most players will ever even be able to comprehend. At the same time, this group of fans sometimes misdirects their zeal for fixing the economic issues facing the sport - for instance, championing the cause of mid-tier free agents.

In the context of Lindor, it’s fairly easy to see how these two groups self-sort. The first brings up the rich shortstop market in next year’s free agency, points to the few other players that have signed contracts as lucrative as Lindor’s, and somewhat fairly argue that he’s not in their echelon. The second group argues that Lindor is far-and-away the best shortstop the Mets have ever had, a top-5 player with an effervescent personality, and that Steve Cohen, a multi-billionaire, should spend whatever it takes to get him to sign. Clashes naturally follow when these two ideologies co-exist in the same thread.

My argument here is that both sides should strive to be more accepting of the other. If you just want to see the Mets win and aren’t particularly concerned with the finances of people with so much money they buy $95 million inflatable rabbits, that’s great. And if you enjoy playing armchair GM and wrestling with the optimization of your favorite team’s roster, that’s great too.

For the sake of full disclosure, I’ll say that I’m firmly in the armchair-GM fan group. I find boiling roster decisions down to “rich owner should spend money” boring. At the same time, I respect and understand the opinions of those who enjoy the game that way. I also want to note that viewing the game through the eyes of management or ownership makes one more prone to supporting many of the exploitative practices that have reduced player compensation (as a percentage of revenue) and have damaged the on-field product in recent decades.

The bottom line is this. We’re all here to enjoy Mets baseball, and really the game as a whole. We should spend less time trying to convince someone who enjoys the game in a totally different way that our way is actually better and instead celebrate the fact that Francisco Lindor, a very good player, will be a Met for a long time. That holds true even if you think the cost to acquire or sign him was too high, or if you think the Mets looked miserly by not giving him the extra $40 million he asked for.