Even after signing Francisco Lindor to an extension to avoid arbitration on Friday, many believe the Cleveland Indians will still end up trading him. Let’s take a look at why going against conventional wisdom and keeping Lindor for all of 2020 could serve Cleveland well.
Francisco Lindor and the Cleveland Indians avoided salary arbitration on Friday when they agreed to a one year deal worth $17.5 million. The common thought around the league is that the Indians won’t be able to afford Lindor once he hits free agency and that in order to get something in return for him they will be forced to trade him.
Lindor is one of the best players in baseball, capable of having a direct impact on wins, losses, and a team’s overall chances of making the postseason. Last season Cleveland finished second in the AL Central to Minnesota, missing the playoffs for the first time in 4 years.
However, the Cleveland Indians still have a talented roster that’s very capable of making noise in 2020. I’ll make the case that, not only did the Indians do the right thing in avoiding arbitration with Lindor, they should buck conventional wisdom and retain his services throughout the 2020 campaign.
On January 8th, Chris Antonetti, the Indians’ president of baseball operations, told the Associated Press “I still have every expectation that Francisco will be our shortstop on opening day.” Two days later they were able to sign Lindor to a contract that helps the team avoid arbitration, but it’s no secret the Indians phone has been ringing with calls from other teams interested in his services.
The fact is Lindor is one of the most talented players in all of baseball, having already made four Allstar appearances and winning two Golden Gloves at the age of 26. To put that in perspective, that’s the same number of Golden Gloves that first-ballot Hall of Famer Ozzie Smith had at the same age.
So why would a team be willing to part ways with a player with such enormous potential? The answer can be summed up in one word: money.
In 2001, another 26-year-old superstar shortstop received a $189 million contract from the Yankees. And while Derek Jeter had the advantage of having already won a World Series and playing in the league’s biggest market on his side, it’s not unthinkable that Lindor could sign an even bigger deal when his day comes.
Having just missed the postseason for the first time in four years, the Cleveland Indians have to weigh whether or not it’s worth it to make that kind of investment in their star or if it’s time to move the franchise in a different direction.
Yes, the Indians missed the postseason in 2019, finishing eight games behind the Minnesota Twins in the American League Central Division, but a closer look at the season reveals they are a team that still has a lot of potential. They actually won 2 more games than they did the previous season when they were crowned the division champs before being swept by the Astros in the playoffs.
Add that to the fact that, in addition to Lindor, the team has three other players who appeared in the Midsummer Classic in first baseman Carlos Santana and pitchers Shane Bieber and Brad Hand, and it’s clear this is not a team who’s no longer capable of being competitive.
Generally speaking, if a team decides to move on from a star player in his prime it’s because they’ve decided to move in a younger direction and start the rebuilding process. Santana and Lindor were both around for the 2016 postseason that saw Cleveland come within one win of being crowned World Series champs. They can provide the leadership and experience every dugout needs in order to take another shot at getting the team back in the playoffs with a chance to chase the ultimate prize.
Last Spring when asked about Lindor, Indians owner Paul Dolan told The Athletic that fans should “Enjoy him, and then we’ll see what happens.” This garnered an ugly reaction from Indians fans, many of whom took to social media to demand that Dolan sell the team.
It’s clear that fans in Cleveland are not ready for a rebuild and do not want to see their team lose one of baseball’s best players over money. Bryce Harper and Mike Trout both signed huge contracts in last year’s offseason, only to see the Phillies and Angels continue their streaks of missing the postseason in 2019.
Dolan could be observing these results from afar with the understanding that signing one superstar to a big contract doesn’t guarantee results. In Harper’s case, the team he left, the Washington Nationals, ended up winning the World Series in its first season without him.
The gaudy numbers involved in major free agent signings combined with the fact that even such a large investment doesn’t guarantee results, serve as the catalysts to the train of thought that losing Lindor is the right thing to do, no matter how painful that would be.