NEW YORK — Francisco Lindor is East Coast and first-generation Baseball Swag.
Fernando Tatis Jr. is West Coast and next-generation Face of the Game.
But the two highest-paid shortstops in history meet in the middle — Chicago to be exact — when it comes to the historic shortstop class about to hit the free agent market.
As in Javy Báez, and how the Cubs — or anyone else — should look at the National League’s reigning Gold Glove and All-Star starting shortstop.
“One of the top shortstops in the game. … Hopefully, he can get something as big as us,” said Tatis, 22, who signed a $330 million, 14-year extension with the Padres in February.
“He’s at the top [of the class],” said Lindor, 27, who signed a $341 million, 10-year extension with the Mets at the end of spring training.
“Javy was one of the guys that came up with the swag,” Lindor added during a conversation with NBC Sports Chicago before Monday's Mets-Cubs series opener. “You see those guys coming up doing crazy things; they were probably looking at Javy. So Javy was a style-trender. Javy is special for sure.”
And if Báez is one of the founding members MLB’s post-modern Swag Club, then he should get paid accordingly for making money for the game — and certainly for his team — Lindor said.
“There’s money in the game,” said Lindor, a vocal critic of the luxury-tax, tanking culture in the game that has effectively suppressed salaries during the five-year term of the collective bargaining agreement that expires December 1.
“He made a lot of money for the Cubs. A lot of money,” Lindor added. “So did [Kris] Bryant, and so did [Anthony] Rizzo. They made a lot of money for the Cubs.”
Lindor, who’s perception admittedly might be a little skewed by his longtime relationship with his former high school rival and close pal, might invite debate in some circles when he ranks Báez “at the top” of a loaded free-agent shortstop class that also includes All-Stars Corey Seager of the Dodgers, Trevor Story of the Rockies and Carlos Correa of the Astros.
But the part about how much money is in the game isn’t open for debate — “biblical” pandemic “losses” or not. Especially when it comes to big-market teams such as the Mets and Cubs.
Look no further than the Mets’ record purchase price during the pandemic and the mega-signings of the Dodgers’ Mookie Betts ($365 million) last year and Tatis and Lindor this year.
“As far being able to, I think they can do it,” Tatis told NBC Sports Chicago when asked if he thought the Cubs could get an extension done with Báez after watching the small-market Padres work out his deal — three years after signing Manny Machado as a free agent for $300 million.
“But I think that’s a personal decision,” said Tatis, who paused and smiled when asked if he was surprised the Cubs hadn’t extended Báez.
“It’s a really good call. It’s their call,” he said.
Personal decision. Money in the game.
That’s where the Cubs’ data points seem to meet when it comes to signing Báez or any of the team’s other championship-core players fast-approaching free agency.
Does one eye on the future mean overlooking the core when it comes to spending into next season? Will uncertainty over the CBA be used as a rationale that neither the Dodgers, Padres or new-look Mets are using?
Will the Cubs decide to afford to keep one of the top shortstops in a golden age at the position — the almost mythical El Mago figure who plays the game like the kids he inspires to show up to watch him coast to coast, and to wear his jerseys and shirseys on streets and playgrounds throughout Chicago?
Can they afford not to?
That may be what the Ricketts family and team president Jed Hoyer eventually have to decide in the next four months.
Báez said the club hasn’t reached out since spring training to re-engage in talks. And he still prioritizes staying in Chicago if given the chance at a offer level he considers a fair-market price.
“I don’t want to go anywhere,” he said. “Unless we go to free agency, and then we’ll see what happens. But I want to stay here.”
Báez has plowed through minor thumb, back and leg issues and gradually begun to emerge from a frigid April to start looking like the player who was in the MVP conversations late into each of the last two full MLB seasons.
And whether the Cubs were paying attention to those five weeks during the spring when Tatis and Lindor signed those contracts, Báez — and undoubtedly the rest of that big shortstop class — were.
Especially when it came to Lindor, who was the head of that class until the extension took him off the upcoming market.
“With those two signing it was a big help for the rest of the other shortstops,” Báez said. “Lindor’s signing obviously helped us a lot.”
Just how good is that class?
“I’m in the moment so I can’t really tell you how good we are,” Lindor said. “But I know for a fact that every shortstop that is going to free agency is the face of his franchise. Javy, face. Seager, face. Story, face. Correa, face.
“And at one point they were all faces of the game,” he added. “They’re trending different now. They’re trending a little younger. Tatis, Vladdy [Guerrero Jr.], Ronald [Acuna], [Juan] Soto. They’re the faces of the game right now, the new wave.
“But at some point Javy was the face of MLB. And Seager, me, Story, Correa. … They’re all pretty impressive.”
And established. And still in their 20s. And as valuable as ever, say the richest guys at the position ever.
Lindor said he’s proud to think he might have set the bar for Báez and the rest of the class, as a member of a union that faces one of its more difficult CBA battles in years over the next five months.
“I would love for [Báez] to get paid whatever he deserves. Whatever he wants, I hope he gets that. I want him to get paid,” Lindor said. “I hope Correa gets paid. I hope Trevor Story gets paid. If they think they deserve $400 million, I hope they get $400 million. If they think they deserve $250 [million], then I hope they get the $250 [million].
“I hope I did my job, [that] I set the bar to help players continue to raise that bar, and help teams win,” he said. “You spend money, you win.”