A Shortened Season May Force the Indians to Fast Track Their Plans for Francisco Lindor

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Back when MLB postponed opening day by just a couple weeks, I noted how such a move would impact the Cleveland Indians’ plans for Francisco Lindor.

With only a small delay on the books, the thinking was this would make it all the more important for the Indians to start 2020 strong. Otherwise discussions about moving their star shortstop -- who’s entering his second-to-last year of team control -- would have to occur earlier than planned.

A lot has happened since then, enough to make that line of thinking feel like it occurred years ago.

MLB has been hard at work developing a way for baseball to be played this summer. Reports have the league considering everything from hosting all teams in Arizona to realigning the divisions based on where clubs’ respective spring training facilities are located.

Either way, if baseball is going to be played in 2020, the schedule will likely be abbreviated.

Which means the Indians will have even less time to decide whether they’ll pursue a midseason trade of Lindor. In fact, you could argue a shortened season may force them to determine their plan for him before the year even starts.

Obviously, there’s still a lot to be ironed out before we can talk about a 2020 campaign. We don’t know what the schedule would look like, how many games it would feature or where the trade deadline would be placed.

It feels safe to assume a 162-game campaign is out of the question. For the sake of the argument, let’s say the season ends up being somewhere between 100-110 games long.

With that in mind, how much time would the Indians have to determine if playoffs are realistic or if moving Lindor is the better option? 50 games? 60?

For reference, at the 60-game mark of last season, Cleveland was 30-30 and 10.5 games out of first. From there, the Indians had a 47-game window between then and when they moved pitcher Trevor Bauer.

Obviously, there’s no guarantee Cleveland would start off as poorly this season. Still, where last year the 60-game mark was followed by two more months to contemplate a significant trade, the team won’t be so lucky this time around.

On the surface, this appears to simplify things for the Indians -- just hang on to Lindor and consider moving him in the winter.

They certainly wouldn’t want to rush a trade like this, nor would they want to jump to calling the season a loss if they struggle early on a condensed schedule. Based on that logic, keeping Lindor for the full 2020 campaign makes the most sense.

Of course, this depends on the Tribe prioritizing contending over getting max value for its biggest asset.

There’s no denying the fact Cleveland would get more in a trade for Lindor this season than it would next winter. This was enough to convince execs around the league that he'd be moved no later than this year’s trade deadline, as Jeff Passan of ESPN reported in December.

"Lindor, multiple executives said, 'is going to get traded,'” Passan reported. “They're not sure if it's this winter or next summer, but considering how disciplined the Indians are, they want to maximize Lindor's value, and doing so means trading him before the July 31 deadline.”

Sure, this came out well before the season was paused. Still, the concept of getting the most for your most coveted asset remains valid even under a shortened campaign.

If the Indians’ goal is still to recoup as much as possible for Lindor, would the shortened season force them to open trade talks soon after the campaign kicks off? Regardless of how they’re performing?

As you can see, a condensed campaign adds even more wrinkles to an already tricky situation. The Indians won’t have enough time to let things play out if they’re shaky out of the gate, but they also risk getting less in return for Lindor if trade talks are tabled ‘til December.

Despite those implications, the latter scenario still feels more realistic if forced to guess how Cleveland handles this situation.

Abbreviated schedule or not, there isn’t a single deal out there that makes the Indians better after trading Lindor. Likewise, moving him midseason is the kind of decision they can’t afford to rush.

With less time to work with, the wiggle room needed to safely determine when to pull the trigger will be minimal, if it exists at all. Barring an absolute collapse from the start, it’s difficult to believe the Tribe will have enough time to call the season a complete loss well before the trade deadline.

Even though holding off until the winter means the Indians would get less for Lindor, a truncated season severely hinders their ability to properly evaluate moving him this summer.

We still have no idea how this situation will play out. Or how the 2020 season will look. Or if there’s even going to be a 2020 season at all.

However, if we do have baseball this summer, the Indians would be wise to figure out their plan for Lindor before opening day. Otherwise, they’ll have limited time to make what could be a franchise-altering decision.