MLB’s Economic Outlook May Help the Cleveland Indians Keep Francisco Lindor
For Cleveland Indians fans, the subject of Francisco Lindor is hardly a cheery one.
Ever since contract extension talks between the Tribe and its star shortstop were tabled in March, any Lindor-related content involves talking trades.
Will the Indians trade him? When will the Indians trade him? Who will the Indians trade him to?
For all intents and purposes, projections of Lindor being dealt in the near future have wildly outnumbered any hints of optimism about his staying in Cleveland long-term.
All cards on the table, I still believe the Indians trade him, and that it’s a move they begin considering as soon as the 2020 season opens up. The pandemic-shortened campaign MLB is aiming to kick off just seems to put more pressure on Cleveland to deal Lindor ASAP.
However, what if the aforementioned season structure improves the Indians’ chances to re-sign him?
Make no mistake, Lindor appears ready and willing to hit free agency after next season. That said, what if the economic fallout from this year actually gives Cleveland a better chance to give him a worthy offer once he gets there?
It sounds insane, especially after all the doom and gloom surrounding the Tribe’s ability to keep Lindor (or lack thereof). Still, recent comments from one baseball insider certainly make this seem more realistic than you’d think.
Last week, Peter Gammons joined 670 The Score in Chicago to discuss how the current situation will impact free agency in the years to come, and he was less than subtle.
“Free agency is going to be a whisper for the next three years,” Gammons said. Specifically, he brought up Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder and impending free agent Mookie Betts.
“I thought he was going to make between $350 (million) to $400 million," Gammons said. "He'd be lucky to get up to $250 (million) in free agency this coming winter, if they play.
“It's just the reality of economics. It's true in almost every business."
So, if Gammons is correct, and the fallout from this year impacts the market so significantly that Betts will be “lucky” if his next contract reaches $250 million, what will that mean for Lindor?
Let’s start with the obvious fact -- Betts is a better player than Lindor. There aren’t many who can claim such a thing, but Betts -- who’s been worth 8.2 more wins above replacement than Lindor over the past five seasons and whose combined numbers across that time-frame top his in every offensive category -- is one of them.
Knowing that, if Betts won’t be able to even command a $300 million contract in free agency, Lindor certainly shouldn’t expect it either.
We know Cleveland’s most recent extension offer fell south of $300 million. Lindor confirmed as much to Jason Lloyd of The Athletic in March. While we don’t know exactly what the Indians offered, whatever it was may not be an amount Lindor can scoff at anymore.
Is this enough to convince Cleveland that, under this new economic outlook, it can keep its hat in the ring once Lindor hits free agency?
Does Lindor, under the realization the mega-deal he’s seeking may no longer be achievable, soften his stance with the Indians?
Before we go too far down this optimistic path, it’s important to address the snags in this situation, as there are a few.
Remember, per a recent report from Keith Law, Lindor isn’t entertaining any extension offers right now, and is determined to test the waters as a free agent. So, if the Indians feel they may be able to make a competitive offer, doing so requires waiting until his team control has completely expired after next season.
Basically, attempting to take advantage of a reshaped economic outlook also involves Cleveland making peace with potentially losing Lindor for nothing.
This is especially important to note when you consider that, even under a cooler free agency market, it’s difficult to believe the Indians can make the most compelling offer. After all, the team is still owned by Paul Dolan, who infamously provided the below quote when asked by The Athletic’s Zack Meisel about the idea of Cleveland offering $300 million contracts.
“Probably the day when we do a deal like that is when somebody else is doing $1 billion deals with somebody else.”
If the Indians currently operate as a small market team financially, this persona isn’t going to change after a year without ticket revenue. What will qualify as a market-value offer in 2021 may still be viewed as beyond Cleveland’s reach.
However, the playing field might be a little more evened than initially anticipated. If the Indians concur, and do so confidently enough to think they can make a compelling offer, why not give it one last try?
Obviously, it’s not that simple.
This would be a high-wire act requiring Cleveland to decline any and all value it can net in a trade in order to present an offer to Lindor which hopefully isn’t severely topped by competing bids. Said offer has to be a number he views as fair, and one the Indians view as enough to allow them to still field a consistently competitive team.
Even with a league-wide decrease in spending, it’d be understandable if Cleveland was hesitant to pursue this route.
At the same time, it’d certainly be admirable to see the Indians try to take advantage of a situation which may favor them and put forth a concerted effort to keep the face of their franchise.
Maybe this is just an exercise in wheel spinning. Maybe, even under MLB's new economic future, dealing Lindor is still the preferred route for the Tribe.
That said, with the market cooling and his trade value decreasing by the day, Cleveland may have come across the motivation it needs to give it one last shot.