Time Running Out For Lind To Prove Himself
BY CHRIS TOMAN
DUNEDIN, Fla. -- Adam Lind doesn't need to be reminded that his time in Toronto is at a crossroads.
Lind is entering the final year of a four-year, $18 million contract he signed with the Blue Jays in 2010 -- coming on the heels of a 35-homer season -- which includes three more club options totalling $22.5 million. The Blue Jays owe the designated hitter/first baseman a guaranteed $2 million after the 2013 year, which Lind, who is set to earn $5 million this season, would receive if the club elected to buy him out.
With the way he has performed since his Silver-Slugger winning 2009 season, there exists a very real possibility the Blue Jays decide to part ways with Lind, who has been a member of the organization since signing out of the University of South Alabama in 2004.
"Not really. Maybe at the end of the year," Lind said, when asked if he is thinking about his contract status. "I know if I do my job and we win a bunch of ball games, things will take care of themselves.
"Hopefully [my numbers] will be good enough that they bring me back next year."
Lind's numbers haven't been up to par since his well-referenced 2009 season in which he hit .305/.370/.562 with 114 RBI. He has been injured, unable to hit left-handers and optioned to the Minor Leagues since that 3.7 WAR (Fangraphs) season. It has been a far fall from grace for Lind, who was once viewed as a core piece and is now fighting to avoid becoming a spare part.
He insists, however, that he won't use the back issues that have plagued him in the past as an excuse.
"I've done my job in the offseason to stay healthy, especially right now," Lind said. "I did things that were suggested by the training staff and my back doctor."
His back is not the only thing that could become an impediment to his playing time this year.
If his struggles vs. left-handers persist, he could find himself in a platoon role, although manager John Gibbons has repeatedly said he will give Lind a shot at playing every day.
Among qualified players since 2010, Lind has a Major-League worst .226 wOBA and 0.15 walk-to-strikeout ratio against lefties.
"The sinkers in," Lind said, when asked what he struggles with most against left-handers. "You don't really ever get exposed to that until you are in the big leagues. You have to learn on the fly."
Overall, Lind has hit .246/.296/.428 since he put himself on the map in 2009. But instead of looking at it as having three bad seasons in a row, Lind likes to view it a little differently.
"I have had two good halves and two bad halves, that's how the last two seasons have been. Hopefully, this year, I'll be able to put at least five months together that are pretty good," Lind said with a laugh, making light of what has been a difficult situation for him.
Lind hit .300/.349/.515 in the first half of 2011 before going .197/.233/.356 post All-Star break. Last season, it was .206/.287/.388/ over the first part of the season before hitting .304/.343/.441 in his final 46 games.
He hit better once he returned from his optional assignment in Vegas and said he didn't let the demotion get the best of him.
"It was a little tough but that's baseball. Things could have been worse in the grand scheme of life," Lind said. "I still had a job, still got to play baseball and do what I love. Those guys who are in Triple-A that I played with were in a little worse situation than I could have been in."
In Vegas, Lind was able to work with the man tasked to correct him: Blue Jays hitting coach Chad Mottola, who was on the 51s staff last season.
Mottola, like a dwindling minority of fans, still cites Lind's 2009 season as a reason for hope. The 41-year-old Mottola also believes his connection to Lind dating back to his own playing days will help.
"I got to see him when he was really good coming up in the Minor Leagues and we played together a little bit," said Mottola, who was teammates with Lind in 2006 at Triple-A Syracuse. "I got to see him when he was performing well, so I kind of have a memory of those days, as well. I know how to approach him with different changes and keep his rhythm."
When Lind is on, he'll stay back on the ball and go the other way, like he has been doing plenty during an impressive spring. Through Wednesday, Lind is hitting .464/.500/.679.
"That's what he was when he came up and that one year he was Silver Slugger -- he was using all fields," Mottola said. "He got fast. This game can do it to you when you struggle a little bit. You kind of press, press, press and you develop some bad habits.
"Luckily I got to see him when he was good so we just brought those points back up."
Mottola isn't paying attention to Lind's strong numbers this spring but that doesn't mean there isn't some positives to take from the hot start.
"Stats don't matter," Mottola said about Spring Training. "It's nice that he's getting hits, that way we believe in what we're doing. But we are just kind of continuing what we did last year in Vegas and then in September. It was nice to have that base coming into spring.
"The fact that he's getting results proves to him he is going down the right path."
Lind isn't paying attention to the numbers, either. Not this spring's, not last year's and not the unfavorable ones against his most dreaded enemy -- southpaws.
"I used to," Lind said. "Something that we worked on this year in Spring Training is to have the same approach, don't change things in your swing because a lefty is up."
Seems simple enough. But Lind has proven it is anything but.
"When he is right, he has nothing to worry about and that's what we talk about," Mottola said. "We know he has performed, he has had success. He's not like a young kid coming up; he has performed at this level.
"That's all we talk about -- you've already done it. Don't worry about all those other things and that's where he is keeping a clear head. He can't control that and that's where maturity steps in."
The only organization Lind knows is the Blue Jays and he would like to keep it that way. Lind will be given a shot to steer himself in the right direction and prove his skeptics wrong this season.
At this point, that's all he can ask for.