The Cleveland Indians are faced with one of the most difficult dilemmas a team can face.
Their face of the franchise, shortstop Francisco Lindor, wants out once he reaches free agency, which will be in 2022.
The shortstop has reportedly told the Indians that he no longer wants to entertain offers from the franchise that drafted him and raised him to be the star that he is today.
Many have speculated that Lindor is going to command between $300 and $400 million dollars on the open free agent market, and that there will be many suitors for his services despite the high amount he will demand.
Once he reaches free agency, Lindor will be just 28 years old, and will still have the prime of his career ahead of him. He also can represent a team as the face of their franchise, something he is now for the Tribe.
Today we take a look at what we think will be the eventual deal for Lindor, asking our staff and some national writers at SI the following - “When will the Indians Trade Francisco Lindor, and to Who?”
Conventional wisdom says the Indians front office is too smart to let an asset walk away for nothing but the prospect of draft pick compensation.
But there’s nothing conventional about Francisco Lindor.
Unlike the Trevor Bauer deal last year, trading Lindor would almost certainly deliver a serious blow to the potential of short-term contention, and as we witnessed this past winter, getting teams to pay the significant asking price for the Tribe’s star shortstop was as difficult as sneaking a ground ball past Lindor’s glove.
That’s not to say Cleveland won’t be willing. The amount of discussion surrounding Lindor this past offseason proves they’ll consider almost anything - as they should, given the near certainty that Lindor will be wearing a different uniform beyond 2021.
But if the Indians are to trade the face of their franchise and one of the most valuable players in the sport, that deal has to feel more than just an equal swap, and I’m not sure they’ll be able to create the sort of surplus value they’d prefer while also maintaining some degree of competitiveness and not completely alienate the fanbase.
To make matters worse, the Indians will need to make determinations about their 2020 roster in a much smaller sample size than we’d typically see. That doesn’t exactly lend itself to making smart decisions that will impact the franchise for the next 5-10 years.
Maybe the picture changes if and when baseball resumes and Cleveland proves itself to be a less-than-legitimate title contender. Or, perhaps another team shifts their own focus and opts to blow the Indians away with a jaw-dropping offer.
For now, Cleveland is still one of a handful of teams with a serious chance to advance deep into the postseason (provided it still exists in 2020) - particularly given that talent they maintain at the top of their rotation. For that reason, I think they let it ride through the next two years.
But I also wouldn’t rule out the landscape changing as quickly as one Lindor swing can impact a ballgame.
The potential of Francisco Lindor being traded is more than likely ticking down with each day.
It is a shame to think that the Indians are slowly missing a year of play from Lindor with every passing day, but safety is obviously first when it comes to the COVID-19 Pandemic.
However, not only has the COVID-19 Pandemic kept the 2020 Major League Baseball Season from starting, but it is also has caused the Indians to miss out on a year of trade value for Lindor. With a season growing smaller by the minute, the Indians receiving maximum value on return is also shrinking.
The less team control Lindor is under, the less of a return the Indians are probably going to receive from another team.
If a season does happen in 2020, do the Indians play it safe and look to trade in 2021 or do they have an itchy trigger finger and ship Lindor off now?
Knowing the Indians, not only will they play this move close to the vest, but also if they do make a trade it will be something that maximizes value to the fullest.
The Tampa Bay Rays have been floated around in rumors a bit as trade partners, but they tend to operate a lot like the Indians in a sense of trying to maximize the most on returns.
The number of prospects the Indians would command might be too steep for Tampa Bay, as they’re a small-market club that also has to operate not only for the present but for the future.
As of right now, the only clubs that may make sense, is either the Los Angeles Dodgers or the New York Yankees.
The Dodgers have the prospects and maybe willing to give up the right amount for Lindor, but the Indians may have to sweeten the pot. Maybe that means throwing in a Mike Clevinger or Shane Beiber, which I do not necessarily see happening considering the amount of control those two are under.
As for the Yankees, they’re notorious for selling the farm in order to improve their club for the present. They have young guys in outfielder, Clint Frazier, and third baseman, Miguel Andujar, who have seen a decreased amount of time on the Big League roster due to the talent that is in front of them.
Maybe it makes sense for the Yankees to send Frazier and Andujar to Cleveland? The Yankees get their guy in Lindor, improving defensively and making an already potent lineup strong, while the Indians maximize their return while revisiting a guy in Frazier who they once drafted and adding a budding slugger in Andujar.
If I were a betting man, the Indians do not make this move until 2021 given the circumstances going on right now with the COVID-19 Pandemic.
San Diego. Yes, there’d need to be a move to accommodate Fernando Tatis, Jr.—centerfield seems like the most reasonable—but it could work.
It would make sense for a Padres team that’s trying to get over the edge to contend (particularly if A.J. Preller thinks he can work out an extension with Lindor), and, besides, San Diego has the farm system to pull off just about anything.
The Indians should not trade Francisco Lindor before the start of the 2021 season, if they should trade him at all. Why? Because if the owners really stand to lose as much as they say with no gate revenue in an abbreviated 2020 season, the Dolan family cannot justifiably trade the face of their franchise as soon as fans are allowed to return.
Doing so would be like a major concert venue closing down for a year to do major renovations, implying that the experience would be better upon reopening, and then having Nickelback headline the first show back.
Sure, there are some Nickelback fans out there, but those wannabe rock stars wouldn't be worth the cost of parking for anyone hoping to see the Stones. Good luck to the Indians in getting fans to show up if they replace Mick Jagger with Chad Kroeger at shortstop.
Still, Clevelanders should have known by now that the team would likely trade away Lindor, its most popular player since Grady Sizemore and best since Jim Thome. So where will they send Mick Jagger?
Prospect rich organizations like the Padres and Dodgers already have elite shortstops. The Dodgers reportedly have been interested in acquiring Lindor in the past, though I think it'd be ridiculous for them to get rid of Corey Seager.
Marcus Semien is a free agent this upcoming offseason, and if the Athletics don't re-sign him and are in need of a shortstop come the 2021 season, they could be willing to trade for Lindor before their window for contention closes, knowing there's no expensive, long-term contract to pay him.
My money is on Oakland swooping in with a competitive offer and acquiring Lindor midway through the 2021 season. I'd much rather spend my money on that bet than on tickets to a Cleveland game without Lindor on the roster.
It’s the biggest story that has surrounded the Indians over the past few seasons, and no matter when the deal to trade Francisco Lindor happens, it’s going to be tough to swallow.
I am now convinced that the sooner a deal happens, the better it will be, as the team cannot afford to let the Lindor drama become a distraction if there is a 2020 season.
So when? I think it’ll happen this upcoming offseason, and as far as to what team, it’ll be the one that gives the Indians the best overall package.
Who will that be? I am throwing in a vote for the “other” Ohio team, the Cincinnati Reds, as they and the Indians have done many deals over the years, including last season’s deal in July for pitcher Trevor Bauer, part of a three-way deal with the San Diego Padres.
The Indians without question have to get this deal right - which means they need to pull off the type of deal that they maneuvered when they dealt Bartolo Colon to the Montreal Expos back in 2002.
That deal netted the Tribe Major Leaguer Lee Stevens, and three big name minor league prospects - Grady Sizemore, Brandon Phillips, and Cliff Lee.
It’s going to hurt Tribe fans, but it’s best for the team to get past this and start to look towards the future.
I think the pandemic really throws a wrench into all of this, as it does with everything else. What will the playoff format be? How much will teams want to chase a title under those circumstances, especially if it costs money this season? Will there even be a season? If not, how will service time be handled?
At this point, I do not believe there will be a season in 2020. If baseball does not return until 2021, it stands to reason that the Indians could begin their rebuild post-Lindor, and reinvest his salary in Mike Clevinger and Shane Bieber.
With Carlos Santana and Brad Hand each with club options for 2021, it also makes sense that they are involved in a last-push with Lindor as well. If the Indians trail Minnesota or Chicago in the standings, they sell. If they are competitive, they should try to win what they can. All bets are off in the playoffs, as we know.
I will say this first: I do not think the Indians will trade Francisco Lindor at all, as things stand. I think he will walk in free agency.
If they do trade him, I think the New York Yankees will overpay for one guaranteed year of Lindor in an attempt to convince him to sign long-term. That package could involve Miguel Andujar and some bullpen help. I do not think that the post-pandemic offers for Lindor will be worth accepting at any point, especially if Cleveland loses all of its leverage by All-Star Break 2021.
When? -- Personally, I can’t shake the idea Cleveland may look to move Lindor once the season gets under way.
Sure, it’s extremely questionable to open a pandemic-shortened campaign -- one which gives fans a desperately needed distraction -- by trading the face of the franchise.
Still, the Indians passed on the opportunity to move Lindor at peak value, and now enter a season which will take place without ticket revenue. It’s an unfortunate one-two punch, to say the least.
Moving Lindor ASAP isn’t going to win much fan support. At the same time, waiting until next offseason -- where Cleveland is forced to decide between giving him another pay raise to avoid arbitration or trade him for weaker returns -- is your basic lose-lose scenario.
Knowing that, it wouldn’t shock me at all if the Indians decided to open the market come opening day.
To who? -- If I can dream up the perfect outcome, it’d be that Buster Olney’s instincts are correct and the Tampa Bay Rays come calling for Lindor.
Cleveland somehow convinces them to pony up the top prospect in baseball, shortstop Wander Franco, then treads water for a season or two before he’s ready for a call-up.
If I’m being honest, though, I just don’t know if I can see that happening.
Going after a player like Lindor seems to buck with Tampa’s typical approach. Only two players on the Rays’ roster are set to make more than $7.6 million this season. Tampa is also entering 2020 spending $23 million less than Cleveland on overall player salary.
Maybe a shortened season puts Tampa in go-for-broke mode, but I’m hesitant to put too many eggs in that basket. Instead, Lindor will probably just end up with the Yankees. Because of course he would.
Now, please excuse me while I go listen to ‘Sounds of Silence’ in a dark room.
I think by this time people know I go against the grain and think the Indians should do everything they can to sign Lindor long term, but if they have to trade him the best time is following the 2020 season.
Trading him now seems like punting on this year, assuming there will be a season, and the Indians would get more for a full season than trading him at the deadline in 2021.
You have to look at the teams with the best farm systems, and with Tyler Freeman at least one year away, maybe two with no minor leagues this year, you have to get a shortstop in return.
That would mean Tampa Bay (Willy Adames, 903 OPS on the road), Los Angeles (Gavin Lux or Corey Seager) would be the best options. San Diego has C.J. Abrams, but he is just 19 years old, and Miami has Jazz Chisholm, but he has big time contact issues.
Detroit and Minnesota also have great systems, and I know the Indians need to make the best deal they can, but how can you trade a player like Lindor within the division?
So, my guess is if there is a season, Lindor plays in Cleveland for the 2020 season.
On the other hand, why not wait to see the results this season has on the economics of the game and the results it has on the labor agreement.