The consensus is that Francisco Lindor is going to be traded. I talked to eight executives in the last week, and here is the closest one came to saying the Indians would not deal their star shortstop:
“I have too much respect for Chris [Antonetti, Indians president of baseball operations] to think he would make a trade without getting something of significance, so I guess I don’t think [Lindor] is definitely getting traded, but I do nevertheless think he is getting traded.”
Cleveland’s current conundrum was summarized by an AL official: “The Indians are in an impossible spot because trading Lindor is both in the best interest of the organization and devastating for the organization. They know they can’t sign him long term (Lindor will be a free agent after the season), and they know they are probably the third best team in the [AL Central] even with him [in 2021], and so that screams: trade him. But you are admitting it is the end of an era of competitiveness built around him, and in this environment you are going to be challenged to get what you should for him. Still, they have to maximize him now as best as possible.”
So 10 questions on potentially the best player in the trade market:
When do you trade him? Anywhere from now to July 31. It just makes much more sense to do it sooner because: 1. It clears $20 million-ish in salary from the 2021 payroll immediately in a financially challenging time. 2. The pandemic leaves uncertainty about much of next season, such as: When will a trade deadline be set? 3. As tough as it is to pull the bandage now, imagine being in the race in July and having to tell your fans you are trading the face of the team.
How much does the pandemic impact the trade? Tons is an understatement. Lindor is entering his walk season, so that is the only control an acquiring team would receive, and what do you give in return when you have no idea yet if the season will be 162 games or 155 or 145 …? Plus, most teams are looking to drive down payroll for next season after claiming huge 2020 losses. Thus, it is hard to add that $20 million-ish salary and give up low-cost youngsters.
What would a trade look like? I could not find an executive who thinks the Indians would get what the Red Sox did for Mookie Betts last offseason before we heard of COVID-19. But just a reminder that for Betts (due $20 million in his walk year) plus taking on half of the three years at $96 million owed David Price (three years at $16 million per) following his age-33 season, the Dodgers gave up an outfielder with offensive upside in Alex Verdugo (kind of Clint Frazier), a top-100 prospect in infielder Jeter Downs (maybe like Oswald Peraza) and an interesting catching prospect in Connor Wong (perhaps an Austin Wells type). And, lo and beyond, the Indians have a starter coming off his age-33 season with two years at $27 million left in Carlos Carrasco.
So could the Yankees obtain Lindor and perhaps Carrasco for Frazier plus? If, as anticipated, they plan to stay under the $210 million luxury-tax threshold for next season, then “no,” if they are able to retain DJ LeMahieu. That is unless they could remove almost all of a contract belonging to, say, Adam Ottavino, Aaron Hicks or Aroldis Chapman — and maybe not even then.
But if they don’t sign LeMahieu? Maybe. But they probably only would do something like this if they know for certain Hal Steinbrenner is giving his blessing to have Lindor join (or at least approach) Gerrit Cole and Giancarlo Stanton in the $300 million club long term.
Also, there is this: The Indians once took Frazier with the fifth pick in a draft — would they want him back?
If not the Yankees, how about the Mets? Sandy Alderson has indicated that the dearth of upper-level prospects has him wanting to buy, rather than trade for, solutions this offseason. The Mets really do like Andres Gimenez. Of course, so would the Indians, and putting him in a trade could give the Mets a distinct edge, and Steve Cohen may be more willing to go to the $300 million level than Steinbrenner. For now, though, the Mets’ widest eyes are focused on free agents Trevor Bauer and George Springer.
If not the New York teams, then who? Beware the Blue Jays. They have made it clear they want to add stars this offseason, and are in on Bauer, Springer and LeMahieu. Current Toronto team president Mark Shapiro and GM Ross Atkins were Indians executives when the organization drafted Lindor with the eighth pick in 2011 and promoted him to the majors in 2015.
So they are aware of the talent and charisma of the switch-hitting defensive stalwart. Toronto definitely has the pipeline talent to obtain Lindor. But do the Blue Jays have the gumption for that $300 million payday to make giving up that talent more tolerable (with current shortstop Bo Bichette sliding to second or third), and does Lindor want to invest perhaps the rest of his career north of the border and on an artificial surface?
So is there more of a market for Lindor? There was talk last offseason of the Padres obtaining Lindor and moving Fernando Tatis Jr. to center. But after Tatis excelled on defense and finished fourth for NL MVP, that is a tougher sell now — plus San Diego probably lacks the financial wiggle room to do this. The Dodgers are unlikely to make this kind of trade two years in a row or to ask their walk-year star shortstop Corey Seager to move for someone else.
Try to find a contender (why would a non-contender obtain an expensive walk-year player?) willing to add salary and move prospects, that can imagine signing Lindor long term in a place he wants to play moving forward. Good luck with that puzzle.
Anything else complicating matters? Well, Lindor did just have his worst season, hitting .258 with a .750 OPS. But he is just 27. Last year was short and bizarre. And perhaps Lindor is being impacted by concerns of where he is going to play and for how much.
Anything else? Well, other walk-year star shortstops such as the Astros’ Carlos Correa and Rockies’ Trevor Story could be in play in trades — perhaps the Cubs’ Javier Baez, too. Plus, three pretty good shortstops, Didi Gregorius, Marcus Semien and Andrelton Simmons, are free agents. And star Korean shortstop Ha-Seong Kim also wants to come to the majors now, and who recently had dinner with Kim in their native land? Blue Jays ace Hyun-jin Ryu.
Anything else? Lindor, Baez, Correa, Seager and Story will be part of the greatest free-agent shortstop class ever next offseason (assuming none signs before). Thus, a team can wait a year and just buy one of these guys. So, for example, the Yankees could see if a better conditioned Gleyber Torres can handle shortstop or the Mets can test their belief in Gimenez, both with the knowledge that, if need be, elite shortstops can just be bought in 12 months.
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