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SportsColumnistsAnthony Rieber

Francisco Lindor's first season as Met a learning experience

Francisco Lindor of the New York Mets reacts

Francisco Lindor of the New York Mets reacts after his eighth inning grand slam against the Miami Marlins at Citi Field on Thursday, Sept. 30, 2021. Credit: Jim McIsaac

The Mets’ season of disappointment ended in Atlanta on Sunday with Francisco Lindor grounding to third for the final out of a 5-0 defeat.

How fitting.

Lindor is the face of the franchise now, for better or worse. The 10-year, $341-million contract extension Lindor and his agent sweet-talked out of rookie owner Steve Cohen last spring kicks in when the calendar turns to 2022.

Lindor arrived with great fanfare when the Mets pulled off the shocking January trade to get him from Cleveland. As a Mets fan, you had to feel this was a sign the club under Cohen was going to become everything it wasn’t under the Wilpons.

 

Except this season the Mets were pretty much everything they were under the Wilpons. Dysfunctional. Frustrating. Underachieving. And, finally, with a 77-85 record, out of the postseason for the fifth straight season.

As much as any player, Lindor underachieved in 2021. He finished with a .230 average, 20 home runs and a .734 OPS after going 0-for-4 on Sunday.

Most of his offensive totals were his worst for a full season. It took a big September (nine home runs) to even get Lindor to where his numbers look somewhat presentable.

When making the trade, the Mets shrugged off Lindor’s .740 OPS in the 60-game 2020 season and instead looked at his four All-Star appearances from 2016-20119.

When negotiating the extension, Cohen ignored the fact that Lindor had zero leverage going into the season and handed him a deal that, in length and dollars, Lindor would find hard to get on the open market this offseason as he turns 28 in November.

Throw in how thin-skinned Lindor was about Mets’ fans booing him early in the season — which led to the "thumbs-down" incident with his pal Javier Baez — and there are still questions if Lindor can succeed in the caldron of New York.

But Cohen and Lindor decided to buy, not rent, and Citi Field will be the shortstop's home until 2031. It’s clear he has Cohen’s ear, and Lindor has made it no secret he would love the owner to throw another large check filled with zeros at Baez, who is a free agent.

The other day, Lindor said his conversations with Cohen are "between me and Steve."

On Sunday, with Baez sitting next to him double-teaming a postgame Zoom, Lindor said, "I would love to have him back."

But he also played the role of someone who has no say in the matter.

"My job is to go out there and play the game as hard as I can, not to be a front office member," Lindor said. "So I don't decide who's coming back or any of those things."

There are two things Lindor did well this season: field his position and be accountable. He admitted on several occasions that he wasn’t playing well, and he apologized for using the "thumbs-down" gesture along with Baez to boo Mets fans who had been booing them.

On Sunday, he summed up his first Mets season by saying, "I’ve just got to play better. That's the No. 1 thing. Definitely. But we dealt with a lot of adversity this year. Lots of up and downs."

Manager Luis Rojas, who will likely be told as soon as Monday that he will not be returning next season, said he thinks Lindor learned a lot in his first tumultuous year in New York, and will be better going forward.

"I think that's where the learning curve comes in his case," Rojas said. "Some of the things that we've seen along the way that are off the field, I think that he's learned as well, because he is proactive. He's a guy that takes action and after he takes action, he will learn a lot. He's a proactive human being. It was a huge year for him as far as learning the city, learning the division. I think this is going to connect to 2022 and we expect to see the Francisco that we all know."

But will he be the Francisco that Mets fans will grow to love? That remains to be seen.

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