Bob Nightengale of USA Today reported on Thursday that Cleveland is looking to trade star shortstop Francisco Lindor, and there are a couple of issues with the reporting that are apparent even though it was only a single tweet.
“Cleveland, strapped for money, intend to trade All-Star shortstop Francisco Lindor by opening day, several rival teams have been informed,” Nightengale wrote. “Lindor earned $17.5 million last season and is projected to earn about $21 million in salary arbitration in his final year before free agency.”
The first issue: Cleveland being “strapped for money.” No, it’s not that the phrase is “strapped for cash,” but that it’s not demonstrably true on any level.
Cleveland currently has three players under contract for 2021: Carlos Carrasco at $12 million, Jose Ramirez at $9.4 million, and Roberto Perez at $5.5 million. Lindor is one of seven arbitration-eligible players on the roster, and the only one who should be expected to make more than $4 million next year.
When the owner has a net worth of $4.6 billion, it’s also kind of hard to stomach the idea of crying poor. Sure, that’s not all liquid, but at the same time, c’mon. Major League Baseball just signed a new TV deal with Turner that’s worth $3.7 billion for seven years… or about $17.8 million a year per team. The idea that a team with an ultra-rich owner and limited payroll commitments would trade Lindor because he’s too expensive is the kind of thing that should be immediately laughed at, not parroted to a national audience.
But then, we’ve also got “Lindor earned $17.5 million last season.” No, he didn’t! His pay was supposed to be $17.5 million, but when the season was shortened to 60 games — remember that? There was a pandemic, which is still happening, and baseball didn’t have a full season… — salaries were prorated and Lindor wound up coming in at $6.48 million. That’s an important distinction to make in a situation where ownership is (wrongly) being described as scrounging for cash between the couch cushions and looking in the pockets of rarely-worn suits to try to make payroll.
Whether they’re really strapped for cash or just acting like it again (it’s the latter), Cleveland ownership (the Dolan family) very clearly will not be paying Lindor beyond 2021, which is preposterous. He’s a four-time All-Star and three-time finisher in the top 10 in MVP voting who doesn’t turn 27 until next week. He’s already 21st on Cleveland’s all-time position player WAR list, and even a subpar 2021 by his standards would put him in the Top 15. He’s a franchise player, and if he wants to stay in Cleveland, the team should give him dump trucks full of money, his own luxury yacht on the Cuyahoga River, and the naming rights to a sandwich at the downtown deli where they serve the “Boobie Gibson Cheeseburger,” which is just a cheeseburger with lettuce, tomato, and onion.
In reality, though, that’s not how this team operates. Just ask Kenny Lofton, Jim Thome, Manny Ramirez, Albert Belle, Victor Martinez, Bartolo Colon, Corey Kluber, Cliff Lee, or CC Sabathia. So, the question is, do they keep Lindor for one more season, give him a qualifying offer to reject, and get back only draft pick compensation, or do they trade him this winter?
If you’re making the first bad choice to not do whatever it takes to keep Lindor in Cleveland for the rest of his career, it’s best to trade him, get prospects, and keep the contending pipeline going. Cleveland isn’t so dependent on Lindor that it’ll need a full rebuild, but having already let Brad Hand go, they’re clearly a step behind the Twins and White Sox for 2021.
This is still going to be a team with Carlos Carrasco, Shane Bieber, Zach Plesac and Triston McKenzie in the rotation. Its top prospects — Nolan Jones, Tyler Freeman, Bo Naylor, George Valera, and Gabriel Arias — are position players. Nobody knows what the 2021 season is going to look like anyway, so go ahead, add to the prospect pipeline, trade accordingly next offseason, and get ready to contend in 2022.
Just don’t expect anyone who’s on that team to stick around Cleveland for too long, because that’s how this organization operates, and then wonders why even though they’re regularly contenders, people don’t show up at the ballpark. They could change that by working out a deal with Lindor as the face of their franchise for the next decade, but since they won’t, trading him now is the best way to go.