There's No Way the Indians Can Win the PR Battle Against Francisco Lindor
The latest update with the Francisco Lindor contract situation felt inevitable.
Sure, when Cleveland Indians president Chris Antonetti insisted the team was working to keep its star shortstop beyond 2021, a small wave of hope rolled through the fan-base.
However, Lindor set an early March deadline for any extension talks, and we’ve reached early March. He's since hit pause to focus on the season ahead, forcing fans to wonder if said season will be his last in town.
Regardless of how this plays out, this week’s news provided the Indians further confirmation of one thing.
They’re going to lose the PR battle here. Badly.
Throughout the winter, as the end of Lindor’s team control creeps closer, he’s been beating Cleveland at every angle. Try as they might, there’s just no way the Indians can come out of this situation looking like the good guys.
For what it’s worth, Lindor didn’t bring a full stop to any negotiation talk whatsoever. He simply said that, for now, he wants to set it aside. He’s left the door open for this to be resurfaced next offseason, provided he’s still in town.
Yet, the chances of hammering out an extension greatly diminished with this latest step. In shrinking said window, Lindor landed more devastating hooks in the PR bout. While he keeps saying all the right things, team ownership continues to look worse.
Think of every excuse a front office typically uses when explaining why it failed to retain one of its stars, and you’ll find a justification Lindor has deflated.
“He’s asking for too much.”
“He didn’t want to be here in the first place.”
“He refused to negotiate with us.”
“He turned down our best offers.”
These are all statements the Indians could make, directly or indirectly, in attempts to look better in all this. The only problem is, one by one, Lindor has essentially stolen the ammo for each.
As mentioned after news of the Christian Yelich extension, Lindor has every right to deny Cleveland a hometown discount. This is a player who’s generated a combined fWAR of 27.2 in his five seasons with the team, a number only five players have topped in said time-span. He’s very much worth a contract of $300 million or more, his decision to seek it shouldn’t be viewed as “greedy.”
The Indians surely wouldn’t say such a thing out loud. Still, within professional sports, we’ve seen teams subtly give fans the recipe for this take and let them cook from there.
It’s a route Cleveland can’t approach in the Lindor ordeal. The same can be said for “he never wanted to stay here.”
Lindor has spent the entire winter saying the exact opposite. Emphatically. He’s insisted he wants to remain with the Indians, doing so while sharing his love for the city of Cleveland.
Heck, even if you wanted to argue he was only doing this to get in front of any potential smear campaigns, you wouldn’t be able to. Lindor took a unique route in the latest talks, giving the Indians a payroll number they could be at ($120 million) and remain competitive while still being able pay him market value.
For reference, Cleveland could be paying Lindor $32 million this season and payroll would still be below the number he suggested. $120 million is also $10 million below the current league average.
So, the Indians can’t call Lindor out for demanding too much money, nor can they question his desire to remain with the team.
They also can’t claim he never wanted to negotiate with them, as hammered home by the fact talks continued up until Monday. Yes, Lindor may (unsurprisingly) feel compelled to test free agency. Still, he’s never shut the door on the idea of staying with the Tribe.
There's just nothing the Indians can do right now. They can't insist he never wanted to be here. They can't imply he’s greedy. They can't say "well, we gave him fair value, and he said no."
That last bit is crucial, especially when it comes to Cleveland’s attempt to save face.
Lindor said the Indians have made an offer. However, he confirmed said proposal never approached $300 million.
Knowing that, you can’t help but wonder if the Indians gave him a proposition just to say they tried.
If that’s really what they’re doing here – giving him a below-market offer so they could say "well, we tried, he turned us down" – then Lindor has already landed the knockout punch.
Providing a number below his asking price to save face is essentially a full-scale insult. It’s an insult to Lindor, who’s proven he wants to be here, and it’s an insult to fans who'd hear "we made several attempts to get something done” and know said attempts were a farce.
We don’t know what the Indians offered, nor do we know if it’ll be their last attempt to sign him. All we do know is, whatever number was on the table, it wasn’t enough to help Cleveland's cause in this battle.
All in all, Lindor has painted the Indians into a corner. Any attempt to spin this their way has already been thwarted. He’s been multiple steps ahead of them all winter, effectively making it so there’s nothing they can do to put themselves in a better light.
Well, outside of just extending Lindor, that is.