2020 for the Cleveland Indians and Francisco Lindor has been an awkward year to say the least.
The Tribe could’ve moved its star shortstop this past winter when his trade value peaked, but chose not to. Contract extension talks appeared to be taking place between the two sides, but were tabled in March. In the time since, a report from Keith Law claimed Lindor isn’t even interested in negotiating with Cleveland, instead intent to hit free agency after the 2021 season.
The situation has left the Indians in a pickle.
With a 2020 season expected to be around 80 games long, there won’t be enough time to diligently weigh out a trade of this magnitude. Likewise, a year without ticket revenue may make the idea of giving Lindor another arbitration-avoiding pay raise less appealing. On top of that, trading him this offseason will result in Cleveland netting significantly less in return.
All in all, the Indians are basically spending the next few months between a rock and a hard place, unless they just decide to open the 2020 season by dealing Lindor.
Is that something Cleveland should consider?
Should the Indians, currently forced to choose between losing Lindor for nothing or losing him for weak returns, just bite the bullet and move him once the season starts?
It’s definitely a huge decision to consider, one which comes with its fair share of drawbacks.
Let’s start with the most obvious one -- trading Lindor right away severely hampers Cleveland’s ability to compete this year. The team would be losing someone who, in the past five seasons, has been worth more total wins above replacement than all but five players in the majors.
It’s a difficult void to fill, even more so when there isn’t a viable backup waiting in the wings.
Unless Cleveland receives another shortstop in exchange for Lindor, the team would theoretically move forward with Yu Chang playing the position in 2020. Though he’s displayed raw power at times in the minors, Chang’s strikeout percentage needs to decrease before he can become a consistent threat at the plate.
It’s worth noting the Indians do have a couple other shortstop options on the farm. This includes Tyler Freeman, who MLB Pipeline ranks as the No. 96 prospect in baseball.
However, neither Freeman nor Venezuelan prospect Brayan Rocchio are ready to contribute in the bigs yet. Should no minor league baseball take place this summer, each also risks seeing their growth paused until next year.
Speaking of which, if the Indians trade Lindor and still expect to compete this summer, the centerpiece of the deal better be MLB-ready. Otherwise, Cleveland is moving a star in exchange for prospects who won’t get an opportunity to develop in 2020.
Sure, the Indians could add whatever players they get back to their expanded roster this summer. That said, how much playing time they’d receive is dependent upon how much development has already taken place. After all, throwing a prospect to the wolves too early only increases the odds of Cleveland coming out on the losing end of the deal.
Let’s not forget one of the bigger downsides from the Indians choosing to immediately trade Lindor -- the PR hit they’d suffer would be enormous.
Just picture it. Cleveland fans, desperate for a much-needed distraction after months of nationwide hardship, finally get baseball back.
And the first thing their favorite team does is trade the face of the franchise.
The Indians can try claiming they still expect to compete, but that sell would be an uphill battle. Fans would instead likely read it as Cleveland taking a knee on the season and admitting Lindor should’ve been moved in the winter.
As you can see, there’s quite a list of issues the Indians would endure if they decided to deal their shortstop as soon as the season kicks off.
There is, however, one benefit for such a move, and it’s a significant one.
Simply put, trading Lindor right away is the last remaining route Cleveland can take to recoup as much value as possible.
The Indians probably wouldn’t get as much as they could’ve last winter. Still, interested teams would be bidding on roughly two seasons of Lindor’s services, depending on when the trigger is pulled.
As a result, the Indians should receive better offers than what they’d get at the trade deadline. They’d definitely see more enticing options than what would be presented to them this winter.
It’s one pro among a sea of cons. Determining which side of the argument holds the most weight, though, depends on just how important it is for Cleveland to secure maximum value for its biggest trade asset.
In other words, is the Indians’ decision to keep Lindor at his highest value seen as a massive regret, or an inconvenience they’ve made peace with?
If it’s the latter, great, move forward with Lindor in the clubhouse this year and kick the can down the road ‘til next offseason.
If it’s the former? Sadly, the Indians would be wise to just pursue a trade as soon as they can.
Should choosing not to move Lindor at his peak value haunt the front office, especially now knowing his 2021 salary will be an even bigger pill to swallow, it doesn’t make sense to drag this out. For all intents and purposes, he’s on borrowed time in Cleveland. Everything we’ve heard about the situation indicates it’s not if Lindor departs the Indians, but how.
Knowing that, it’d make sense to start working the trade market once this season gets under way, regardless of how difficult it makes life for the Tribe moving forward.