Claiming the Cleveland Indians could regret not trading Francisco Lindor last winter is hardly a hot take. We already have a handful of reasons why the decision to hang on to their star shortstop was questionable.
There’s the common knowledge that Lindor’s trade value is only going to decrease from here.
There’s the new report from Keith Law, which claims Lindor isn’t even interested in discussing a new contract with Cleveland.
Top it off with the fact an extension has always felt lofty to begin with, and you can see why many questioned the Tribe’s choice to stand pat over the offseason.
Yet, the Indians’ wanted a blockbuster deal, didn’t get one they viewed as such and decided to hold on to Lindor. That’s their call to make, and it was one made regardless of all the clear rationale which made it debatable.
Not to pile on, but along with everything mentioned above, this summer could present the Indians with yet another reason to wish they moved Lindor last winter.
Considering the financial hit all teams are set to face this season, not only is a contract extension for Lindor feeling more far-fetched, the idea of Cleveland upping his salary next winter is beginning to feel that way, too.
Just like that, the Indians would see themselves losing even more leverage in trade talks.
Letting Lindor play out the string and depart in free agency was something Cleveland always viewed as a possibility.
Team president Chris Antonetti noted as much this winter, claiming that was one of the alternative routes the Indians would consider if an extension couldn’t be worked out.
“One of those paths is Francisco staying here to the end of his contract or term with us and leaving as a free agent,” Antonetti told Zack Meisel of The Athletic. “That could happen. It’s happened with players in the past.”
For all we know, this option could still be up for consideration. Going through with it, though, will require another round of offseason salary negotiations in order to avoid arbitration.
Last winter, the Indians and Lindor agreed on a $17.5 million salary for 2020. Even if no baseball takes place this year, Lindor has a strong enough resume that he can still demand a raise for next season.
After all, we’re talking about someone who’s already insisted he doesn’t believe in hometown discounts.
Paying around $20 million for one player is something the cost-efficient Tribe typically prefers to avoid.
You have to imagine this will be especially true after a year where, at best, games will be held without fans, thus making ticket revenue a foreign concept.
Knowing that, it’s fair to wonder how much leverage Cleveland will truly have in any trade talks next winter.
We already knew tabling negotiations until after the 2020 campaign would result in the Indians receiving weaker offers.
Opposing teams just aren’t going to pony up as much this offseason if they’re only bidding for one year of service.
Now, after a season where significant financial losses are a certainty, those same teams know the Indians might not even want to pay Lindor’s arbitration salary.
The weaker trade offers we expected may end up even worse than anticipated.
Sure, the Indians could just aim to move Lindor as soon as this year gets under way in order to recoup as much as possible.
At the same time, trading him right out of the gate is essentially taking a knee on the season. It’s been said repeatedly, but a deal which involves the Indians getting better after parting with Lindor simply doesn’t exist.
Likewise, as I mentioned a couple weeks ago, an abbreviated 2020 season gives the Indians less time to make a big decision like this.
Even if they’re remotely in the hunt by the halfway point of the year -- which could be after as little as 40 games -- trading one of their best players would basically be waving the white flag.
Which brings us to next winter, where Cleveland would have in Lindor a player who’s entering his last year of team control. Who’ll require another pay raise. Who reportedly won’t even field conversations about an extension.
It’s all the more reason to trade him before next season, which will result in the Indians netting less than they could've had last winter.
Unfortunately, when you add the impact this summer’s financial hit will have on Cleveland’s willingness to increase Lindor’s salary, interested teams may feel even less compelled to provide solid offers.
Instead, clubs can say, “we know you don’t want to pay him, here’s our deal, take it or leave it.”
Of the two options, the Tribe may now more than ever feel forced to go with the former.
Clearly there was no way the Indians could’ve seen this coming over the winter. It’s incredibly unfortunate to lose further leverage from something which was out of their control.
Sadly, that’s the hand they’ve been dealt. The Indians hung on to Lindor, yet all they’ve received since is more reason to believe that was a suspect call.