Through highs and lows, Lind stays on even keel
After impressive 2013, Toronto's veteran DH feels he's 'maturing as a hitter'
TORONTO -- There are few players across Major League Baseball who have been through more ups and downs than Blue Jays veteran designated hitter Adam Lind.
The highs have come in the form of a Silver Slugger Award and four seasons since 2009 with at least 20 home runs. But the lows have been just as apparent for Lind, and two years ago, he was outrighted to the Minor Leagues.
That's one reason at least a little bit of irony can be found in the way the Blue Jays' 2013 season played out. In a year when almost everything went poorly for the organization, almost everything went right for one of its longest-tenured players.
"I'm just maturing as a hitter, getting older, realizing there's no reason to try and hit a home run every at-bat," Lind said of his season, which included 23 homers and an impressive .854 OPS. "Sometimes just making contact is the way to go about things. Ultimately, just maturing, getting older and using my head a little bit."
Lind's career trajectory has been nothing if not unorthodox when compared to most of his peers. He came up through the Blue Jays' system as one of their most-hyped prospects, and the possibilities seemed endless after establishing himself as one of the better hitters in baseball with a 2009 season that included a .305 average, 35 homers, 114 RBIs and a .932 OPS.
Toronto general manager Alex Anthopoulos thought so highly of Lind that despite embarking on an ambitious rebuild later that offseason, one of his top priorities was locking him up to a lucrative long-term extension. Lind's role as a cornerstone for the franchise appeared secure and there was no telling just how high he would soar.
In baseball, though, things often aren't as they seem, and it didn't take long for the shine to wear off. By 2010, Lind was hitting just .237 with a .712 OPS, and the following year went just as bad. The organization's search for answers seemed to be even more confusing than the subpar production. One year, Lind was told he was being too aggressive, while the next he was told he wasn't being aggressive enough.
The rock-bottom moment came in 2012, when he was outrighted to the Minor Leagues midway through the year. Lind could have been claimed off waivers, but instead, the other 29 teams took a pass on the $12 million he was guaranteed over the next two years. By his previous standards, that sum of money would have been considered a bargain, but the way Lind had been playing, it proved cost prohibitive even for organizations with needs at first base.
That's why it came as such a surprise in 2013 when Lind reestablished himself as part of Toronto's core. Instead of being cast aside, Lind guaranteed his club option for 2014 by hitting .288 and appearing in all but 19 games. What initially looked like his swan song turned into just another chapter in his career with Toronto.
"It was nice to have a good season and contribute, especially through the May and June when we climbed back into the race," Lind said this weekend while taking part in the club's Winter Tour. "But it was still disappointing playing September games that weren't too important, especially at home. I've had enough games going on the road that are important -- Fenway, Yankee Stadium, Tampa, so hopefully this year we'll finally have some important games at home."
Meaningful games in September were what just about everybody expected out of Toronto in 2013 after the club took the baseball world by storm with a dramatic offseason overhaul that saw the likes of R.A. Dickey, Josh Johnson, Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle and Melky Cabrera join the Blue Jays. Despite the lofty predictions, the success never came, and at times, the pressure appeared to be too much as a series of players either went down to injury or simply couldn't figure things out on the field.
The fact that Lind wasn't one of those negatively affected was taken as a surprise, but perhaps it shouldn't have been. Lind, after all, is rather ambivalent to pressure and has been that way since he was selected in the third round of the 2004 First-Year Player Draft by former general manager J.P. Ricciardi.
At the time, Lind was one of the few legitimate prospects in the club's system and was tabbed as a future cornerstone for the organization. A lot of players wilt under those expectations, but by 2008, he was a regular in the big leagues, and the following season he was picking up accolades as one of the best hitters in baseball.
The next few years didn't go as planned, but throughout it all, Lind kept an even keel. During a hot streak, Lind would often joke about not wanting to talk because of potentially jinxing his success. During a cold stretch, he'd use the same self-deprecating humor to zero in on some of his weaknesses.
Through the good times and the bad, Lind has always the same person. It's no wonder the native of Indiana didn't get caught up in the hype, because most of that came from sources he doesn't care much for anyways.
"Hype's an interesting word," Lind said. "I didn't feel it. I know we had a lot of expectations, and maybe we played a little too excited and that contributed to some mental lapses. But the hype is brought onto you from outside forces, and personally, that really doesn't concern me too much. But I'm as excited for this season as I was last season.
"We all know each other. There was a lot of turnover from 2012 into 2013's team, and this year will probably be one of the first times in three or four years that we have a majority of the same guys will be back from the previous season. Hopefully that allows us to get to Spring Training, get our physicals and start focusing on winning games."