Here's How the Indians' Payroll Helps the Chances for a Francisco Lindor Extension

Casey Drottar

Like many Cleveland Indians fans, I’ve spent the offseason attempting to find an answer to the biggest question surrounding this team.

Why are they shedding salary during the second-to-last year of Francisco Lindor’s team control?

It’s quite a conundrum. Trying to explain why the Tribe would cut payroll below $100 million while an elite talent approaches his final year of arbitration just creates nothing but more questions.

Wouldn’t you want to spend what you could to boost your chances to win before Lindor departs?

Or, why not put all that saved money towards the contract extension almost everyone assumes the Indians won’t be offering?

For what it’s worth, the Indians claimed earlier this week that they still want to keep Lindor in Cleveland long-term. However, many fans don't buy it, especially considering the handwringing we’ve seen from the team when it comes to figuring out how to build a competitive club despite a significant portion of salary being tied to one player.

Or, if you take a deeper look at their current payroll, exactly what the Indians appear to be attempting this season.

Stick with me here. Consider this my attempt to answer the opening question by thinking outside the box.

What if the Indians view this upcoming season as an effort to convince themselves they can still win while Lindor makes notably more money than almost everyone on the roster? What if they’re experimenting with payroll in attempt to find a scenario where they can compete and afford an extension for their franchise star?

I get it. You think I’m grasping at straws. However, when you consider the team's main gripe with extension talks, then take a deeper look at 2020 payroll, it's not hard to connect some dots.

Lindor is set to make $17.5 million in the upcoming season, more than anyone in the clubhouse outside of Carlos Santana ($20.8 million). Carlos Carrasco is the only other player on the roster making eight figures this year ($10.2 million). Excluding Brad Hand ($7 million), Jose Ramirez ($6.6 million) and Cesar Hernandez ($6.2 million), nobody else on the team will earn more than $4.2 million in 2020.

Beyond Mike Clevinger ($4.1 million), the bulk of the rotation will be paid league minimum this season. Among Cleveland’s excess of outfielders, Delino DeShields is hauling in the most money ($1.87 million). Hand, Oliver Perez ($3 million) and Nick Wittgren ($1.1 million) are the only relievers who’ve even surpassed their first year of arbitration eligibility.

Intentionally or not, while determining the feasibility of building an affordable payroll while Lindor receives a large chunk of salary, the Indians did just that.

On top of this, Cleveland can still very much compete for a division crown (despite what you hear anytime you mention the team on Twitter).

The Indians' infield is made up entirely of switch-hitters, three of which are All-Stars. Their catcher is coming off the best season of his career. Their rotation features two aces and a handful of up-and-comers waiting in the wings. Their bullpen is receiving some young firepower one year after exceeding expectations. The outfield, while not great, certainly shouldn't derail the team's chances.

Make no mistake -- this is a team which can both contend for a division crown and afford to give Lindor a worthy raise without skyrocketing overall payroll.

As far as numbers go, if the Indians were currently giving Lindor an annual average salary comparable to that of Rockies star Nolan Arenado ($32.5 million), their 2020 payroll still lands below $120 million. For comparison's sake, that puts them over $10 million behind Twins and Reds, two fellow small market clubs.

Obviously, this isn’t as simple as it’s being made to sound. The financial situation evolves on an annual basis.

Carrasco could make eight figures through the 2023 season, provided the club doesn’t opt for the $3 million buyout available that year. Ramirez will make almost double his current salary in 2022 if Cleveland decides to pick up his club option for that season. The team will also need to consider extensions for Clevinger and Shane Bieber, as each is currently being paid well below market value.

There are also other factors to consider. Luck will be a requirement, as pitchers ascending overnight while making league minimum (à la Bieber) is hardly the norm. Other fan favorites may find themselves discarded, as well. Carrying a club option in 2021, Santana sure looks like a candidate to meet that fate.

Then there’s the key requirement – winning. The second things look shaky this season, the conversation surrounding Lindor suddenly shifts back to trade.

Basically, finding a way to stay consistently competitive while Lindor gets the money he deserves will be a hire wire act. There’s no denying that.

At the same time, the Indians’ current payroll structure sure seems to indicate it’s possible.

I know, I’m spit-balling here. Call it a side effect of a quiet winter.

However, when attempting to explain Cleveland casually shedding payroll while a franchise-altering talent is still in town, this is what I'm coming up with. A win-win scenario where the Indians' on-field success not only makes for a fun summer, but also convinces ownership Lindor can be retained without damaging payroll or the team’s chances to compete.

Let me dream, folks.

Comments (8)

On the hot stove season this year, I think the guys we did not sign, pretty much all make sense in the five year outlook, especially if you believe in Reyes and Mercado. The tribe has a great front office and I trust them. Many positions have talent queued up at least one layer deep and the pitching staff is the best in the Central. Trading Bauer and Kluber also make sense because of the pipeline of pitching. Paying Lindor $32MM for ten years seems possible, if there is some downside protection. Payrolls will grow and they can work around while providing the city a marquee star to follow. But what if he falters? I don't think they want to get into a Miggy Cabrera situation where the big contract sinks the whole franchise for a decade. Look, the Tribe is one of the premier franchises in all of sports. Give them a little credit. I would take half fan dollars spent on the Browns and Cavs and give it to the Indians in a heartbeat just to reward them for staying in town.

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It seems to me that the main problem is fielding a competitive team if you pay Lindor. What if you increased payroll to 135-140 and paid him the 35M or so he is going to get as a FA? The goodwill you would get from the fans, should lead to an increase in attendance. Our front office would still have around 100 million for the rest of the roster. That is about 10 million more than they are spending now with Lindor on his second year of Arbitration. If Dolan won't raise the payroll to that, then there is no hope. You might as well trade him now. Don't cry small market, we can't afford 140/year. As Frankie said, there is plenty of money out there......


I share your dream. I have thought of the possibility that the relatively massive shedding of payroll is an attempt to see if they can get something done long-term with Lindor. You make some good points, in particular about winning and that "the second things look shaky," the landscape changes. I would love to see this team sign Lindor to a long-term deal that pays him what he's worth - not a penny more or less. But not at the expense of neutering our ability to field a competitive team. While there are some holes in the 2020 Indians' lineup, we are a competitive team. What about in 2022? As you point out, Bieber and Clevinger are going to be in line for some hefty raises in the coming years. We'll need to think hard about signing one of them to an extension (I lean towards Bieber as he's younger and doesn't have quite the violent delivery). Santana, of the Carlos variety, will probably have to find another team as he will be too expensive and already takes up a sizable chunk of the payroll. Ramirez signed a very team-friendly deal the first time around, but I don't know if that'll be the case next time. In any case, all this young talent, which we have in spades, will get more and more expensive. Should we sign Lindor to, say, a ten year deal, we are going to have to keep getting lucky with youngsters who can compete at a high level because we've never been able to afford high priced free agents. And I don't see the current ownership routinely having a payroll too far above $120 million (the number you cite above). While I remain hopeful something gets done in terms of Lindor sticking with Cleveland, I don't want to get too hopeful. Thome's "you'll have to rip this jersey off my back" statement still echos in my mind...

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Casey Drottar
Casey Drottar

All good call outs. I will say that, even in 2022, the team wouldn't be in bad shape. Santana will be gone, and that's assuming they don't pass on his option next season. Ramirez could likely still be here, and my guess is he'd be slotted over to second base under the assumption Nolan Jones has been called up for good. I'll be curious to see how they handle Ramirez's deal. He has options through the 2023 season, and after that he'll be 31. Agreed that, of the two starting pitchers, Bieber would make the most sense to prioritize when it comes to extensions. He's significantly younger, and even if you can't extend Clevinger, he'll be under team control until he's 32. All in all, this front office is showing right now that it's able to field a competitive team despite payroll constraints, so I at the very least would be comfortable trusting them with the challenge of assembling a contending roster despite Lindor taking up a good chunk of salary.