We don't know when the first domino will fall in the 2020 offseason, but we know one marquee name could be on the move. The Indians are reportedly likely to trade All-Star shortstop Francisco Lindor before Opening Day, placing one of the game’s top talents on the market one year before free agency. Despite many teams seeking to cut costs (read: keep cheap players, shed expensive ones), Cleveland should have a crop of suitors for their star shortstop.
So where exactly will Lindor land this offseason? Let’s take a look at five of the most likely destinations.
New York Yankees
It’s hard to parse which direction the Yankees will go after another disappointing October exit. Ownership continues to note the economic losses from a pandemic-shortened season. No matter what New York does, it's going to be competitive in 2021, but it’s fair to wonder just how aggressive the club will be a year after giving Gerrit Cole a monster-sized deal.
A Lindor trade would theoretically be for one year, but given the magnitude of the deal it's likely Lindor's new team will want to sign him to an extension just as Mookie Betts and the Dodgers did this year.
What could New York have to offer Cleveland in a deal? Their free-agency path may dictate the answer. If D.J. LeMahieu finds a new home, it’s hard to imagine the Yankees also punting on Gleyber Torres’s future, thus scuttling a potential deal with Cleveland. But if LeMahieu re-signs, Torres could be superfluous. He doesn’t appear to be a long-term shortstop defensively, and using him as a core piece of the Lindor trade could be prudent for both parties. What a blockbuster that would be.
San Francisco Giants
San Francisco isn’t on a similar timeline to the Yankees in terms of title contention, though it still stands as a logical fit for the 26-year-old shortstop. The Giants have climbed out of the NL West cellar to play some fairly respectable baseball over the last two seasons, and their farm system is on the rise (ranked No. 13 by MLB.com). Using Lindor as the anchor of a team hoping to see its young talent crest in 2022 makes a lot of sense, as long as an extension can be worked out.
It’s unlikely the Giants view Lindor as a rental, and they should be in a strong position to settle on a long-term deal over the next 12 months. Contracts for Buster Posey, Brandon Belt, Brandon Crawford and Johnny Cueto expire after next season, clearing the way for a significant offseason splash. Farhan Zaidi could add another premier bat or an ace alongside Lindor, rely on an improving farm system and compete for the NL West crown sooner than expected.
Bryce Harper continues to call for J.T. Realmuto’s return to Philadelphia, though there’s little guarantee the Phillies win a bidding war if the Yankees and Steve Cohen–owned Mets are interested in an upgrade at catcher. Losing Realmuto would require the Phillies to pivot, perhaps with Stupid Money to spend, so they could certainly be a play for Lindor. If Didi Gregorius leaves in free agency along with Realmuto, don’t be surprised if Philadelphia splurges on a shortstop–not that it will significantly help end the club's nine-year playoff drought.
Los Angeles Angels
Will Mike Trout ever make it back to the playoffs? Well, we don't know. If he doesn't it won't be for lack of spending by his team. Owner Arte Moreno shelled out $240 million for Albert Pujols in 2012, and he made a similar commitment to Anthony Rendon last offseason. Sandwiched in there is a large, regrettable deal with Josh Hamilton. This isn’t a payroll problem. It's a winning problem. Lindor may be able to help.
Adding another potent bat would certainly be useful, especially if the Angels move on from Andrelton Simmons in free agency. Though is that really the most sensible path for the organization? This is a rotation that lacks depth. The same can be said for the farm system. Perhaps it’s not the most sensible move, but the organization seems to love hunting for stars. Even if Lindor is a rental, perhaps Moreno & Co. view him as worthy of a high price.
St. Louis Cardinals
The Cardinals join the Giants as previous losers of the Giancarlo Stanton sweepstakes, and both teams could be active in the Lindor market. St. Louis could offer perhaps the most enticing package in a potential deal. Just to swish around an idea: Cleveland could receive 2019 All-Star Paul DeJong for just $19 million over the next three years, potentially pairing the replacement shortstop with outfielder Dylan Carlson. Both pieces at the moment appear integral to the Redbirds’ future, but players like Lindor aren’t available often. St. Louis should jump at the chance to pair Paul Goldschmidt with a left-handed star.