You don’t need access to the particulars of an organization’s salary cap to know which Major League Baseball teams are in sell-off mode.
Just keep your ears open. When you hear the Colorado Rockies are thinking about trading Nolan Arenado or the Boston Red Sox are shopping Mookie Betts, you know instinctively those organizations are trying to slim down.
It seems the same goes for the Cleveland Indians now. Why would they even consider dealing Francisco Lindor, arguably one of the top five position players in the game, unless their accountants were already telling them they can’t possibly afford him.
During the MLB winter meetings, the chance of Lindor getting traded, particularly to the Los Angeles Dodgers, got as much airtime as any news item on the rumor mill. And there’s a very good reason for it. The Indians have likely decided they can’t possibly satisfy the long-term salary demands of their four-time All-Star shortstop.
Simply put, the Dodgers have it and the Indians do not.
The Indians held their annual fan fest over the weekend in Cleveland and Lindor was one of the players who attended. We really haven’t heard much from him since push came to shove regarding his status. And Indians fans were likely looking to be reassured he wasn’t planning to leave.
Unfortunately, Lindor did not tell them what they wanted to hear. He said all the requisite things – you know, he’d love to be an Indian for life, blah-blah-blah. But he also made it clear he didn’t believe the team would be able to give him what he needs to stay.
“I’m not money-driven. I’m championship-driven,” Lindor told the Associated Press. “That’s what I want. I want to win. Wherever I go, I want to win. I want to bring a championship to the city of Cleveland. This is what I want to do. That’s my mission. I’m here today and I want to win for the Indians. It has nothing to do with the money. It has nothing to do with the years. It has nothing to do with who I like or who I don’t like.
“It has to do with championships. The front office tries to put a team together to win, not to save money. They’re supposed to try to put a team together to win. I’m here to try to win.”
In other words, Lindor is saying if the Indians want to win, they need to find a way to pay for it. And right now, it appears his price tag is going to be far higher than the organization can afford.
What would a player like Lindor command? Seems like seven years and at least $250 million would be a good starting point. That’s the kind of money the Los Angeles Angels gave third baseman Anthony Rendon. But other estimates are bringing Lindor closer to Bryce Harper’s 13-year, $330 million deal.
The Indians and Lindor are OK for now. They avoided salary arbitration in January by agreeing to a $17.5 million deal – with incentives – for upcoming season. After that, he’s under control for just one more year before he becomes a free agent.
“But I do want to be in Cleveland, I love the Indians, I love their fans,” Lindor said. “The city has grown on me a lot. When it is the right time to sign an extension? I don’t know when it’s the right time. God has a plan for me and my family and I truly believe in it. What’s going to happen is going to happen.”
Lindor was asked why he didn’t just sign a long-term deal with Indians already if he truly was interested in remaining with the team.
“Because they haven’t offered me the right thing,” he said. The media at the event said he was smiling as he said it. “You tell me. What’s the number? What’s the number where you’d put me?
“A lot of money sounds pretty right now. Everything sounds pretty. A lot of years sound pretty, too. At the end of the day, it’s about what’s best for me, my family, and also the Indians’ organization. If they don’t think I can stay here because of the money situation, then I won’t be here.
Lindor said he’s heard his name mentioned in trade rumors.
“I’m still wearing an Indians jersey, so I guess there hasn’t been much happening,” he said. “I don’t care about free agency. I don’t care about what’s happening next year. I care about what I have today.
“I am not opposed to anything. Make sure you guys write that I’d love to be here in Cleveland. Is there a right number for me right now? I haven’t really thought about it. I’m not there yet. I’m going to worry about what I’ve got in front of my toes. It’s just the right amount hasn’t come up. The ideal money hasn’t come up for either party.”
The Indians have been in the process of reducing their payroll for years. According to The Athletic, they pared it from $135 to $120 million before the 2019 season and then again another 25 percent for the upcoming season.
“If I was an owner, I would try to sign him,” Roberto Pérez said told The Athletic. “He’s a really good player. He’s the face of the Indians. If I was to start a franchise, he’s gonna be the face of my franchise. He’s a hard worker. He prepares himself very well every day. He’s a great teammate. I can go on and on saying really good things about him. He’s one of the best players in baseball. If it was me, I would sign him right now.”
Easy for him to say, right? It’s not his money. But one thing is for certain. If the Indians don’t give it to Lindor, someone else certainly will.