The Cleveland Indians finally did what everyone expected them to do this winter – trade away a face of the franchise. It just wasn’t the one everyone thought it’d be.
Despite constant rumors about the potentially impending departure of star shortstop Francisco Lindor, the Tribe instead first parted ways with Corey Kluber.
The team dealt one of the best starting pitchers to ever step foot in Cleveland, receiving reliever Emmanuel Clase, outfielder Delino DeShields Jr. and, most importantly, salary relief.
That last bit, not having to pay the $17.5 million owed to Kluber this season, apparently has the front office changing its tune on Lindor.
Now that the Indians aren’t on the hook for that chunk of change, the chances of trading away the superstar infielder have now reportedly diminished.
Cleveland can push this narrative all it wants, but for now, I’m not buying it. This is primarily because there are still a few key issues which make it easy to call the Indians’ bluff here.
The one thing we know for sure about Lindor is that Cleveland has convinced itself a contract extension is out of the question.
Knowing that, a major reason why everyone, myself included, felt now is the time to move him is the fact his trade value will never be higher.
While the team can retain him for 2020, it’s difficult to believe the demands they can make for his services at the trade deadline or next offseason will be higher than what they could request now.
Nothing about the trade of Kluber changes this. If anything, said deal hammers this fact home further.
Look at every breakdown of what the Indians received in return for the two-time Cy Young winning pitcher, and you’ll see one consistent theme – they could’ve done better if they moved him last year.
Before Kluber fractured his forearm. Before he displayed hints of regression.
Back then, Cleveland could’ve landed a sizable haul for Kluber, who was coming off his third straight All-Star season.
Instead, the Indians waited ‘til this winter, getting only an intriguing reliever and a replacement-level outfielder back in return.
With that in mind, and knowing Lindor’s value will only decrease from here, you have to wonder if the Indians want to risk the same scenario playing out again.
If they’re willing to hang on to him this season, knowing it will lower what they can ask for in trade discussions next winter when the pressure to get top value will be even higher.
As the Indians keep insisting, though, they don’t need to move Lindor. With the money moved from the Kluber trade, financial restraint isn’t as much of an issue, allowing the team to proceed with its goal of contending in 2020.
This, however, brings up another reason why I’m hesitant to buy the idea that Cleveland is content with retaining Lindor.
The team claims it wants to keep him in an effort to win a World Series, but also isn’t doing much when it comes to improving those currently unlikely chances.
Outside of the Kluber trade, the Indians have been sitting on their hands all winter.
The $17.5 million freed up by his departure creates an opportunity to start spending, but only after most of the big-name free agents have found new homes.
Sure, there are some notable players still available. At the same time, it’s difficult to believe ownership has given the green light to spend all the money saved from trading Kluber, especially when the team is looking to decrease payroll for the second consecutive season.
Bottom line – I can’t buy the idea the Indians are now content with keeping Lindor, almost entirely because they’re doing so little to take advantage of him while he’s still here.
They claim he helps them win a World Series, but have only now created funds to help plug serious holes on a roster which already fell eight games short of the Minnesota Twins last summer.
To me, Cleveland claiming there’s less pressure to move Lindor feels like an attempt to scare an eager team (looking at you, Dodgers).
It wreaks of the Indians pretending he’s off the table in order to force someone to overpay for his services. They’ve made their demands, and this latest update is all part of the staring contest that ensues.
They can pretend otherwise, but the Indians are still acting like a team which hopes to move Lindor, and right after receiving proof waiting another year to move him could just end up backfiring.