Francisco Lindor’s days in Cleveland are numbered as the Indians will look to trade their star shortstop before opening day. Everyone knew this day was coming, but with the Covid-shortened season and the financial losses, the whole league took, it looks more imperative than ever that the Tribe trades him now. Lindor looks to be due somewhere a little north of $20 million for next season, which is too rich for the Indians at this current juncture.
The big question: What does the market look like for the Lindor?
Two years ago, when the rumors of a Lindor trade started to reach a fever pitch most Indians fans were expecting a bidding war against multiple teams and the potential for a very large prospect haul. Now two years and a pandemic-shortened season later, the market and potential look very different.
There are a couple of things to keep in mind about the current trade market for Lindor. Firstly, he has only one season left before free agency. Trade value isn’t just in the player himself but also in the number of controllable years a team can purchase in the deal. A one-year rental is something that can bring down a player’s value and would most likely knock out most of the small to mid-market teams from the list of interested parties. Secondly, the Indians aren’t the only team looking to cut payroll. Because of the fan-less shortened season, a lot of teams around the league will most likely be reticent to add $20 million dollars to their payrolls after losing tens of millions of dollars this past season. There is also no guarantee that this upcoming season will start on time or have fans in the stands. Thirdly, the number of teams in need of a shortstop is limited. With a player of Lindor’s caliber comes on the trade docket teams are willing to move players around to accommodate them on their roster. This is not a usual year and again as teams are looking to save money, Lindor might seem like a luxury they can’t afford. Throw in a solid free-agent market with the likes of Didi Gregorius, Andrelton Simmons and the South Korean shortstop Ha-Seong Kim and the market looks tough. None of these three can be mistaken for the talent of Lindor, but they will be much cheaper to sign long term.
For the Indians, one thing that will be difficult for them is to evaluate other organization’s prospects. There was no minor league baseball played last year and the expectation is that is going to hinder the development of many prospects around baseball. Without a full season of games, teams are going to have to rely on data from previous seasons which isn’t always a good indicator when talking about young players. The Indians will have to consider that most of these players who would probably be ready or near ready for the big leagues are now a year or more behind. Also, how do teams evaluate players over the course of only a sixty game season? That is a difficult question that also affects Lindor who had a rough 2020 season hitting only .258/.335/.415 with eight HR and 27 RBI. Luckily for Lindor, based on his age and the fact that he has a track record, this could be easily dismissed as an aberration. For the Tribe, this can make evaluating potential trade targets even more complicated and difficult than in a normal year.
So where does this leave the Lindor trade market?
Well, that is tough to say. Based on early offseason rumors the most likely teams are the New York Yankees and Mets along with both Los Angeles teams. These are the four teams who will probably have the money to sign Lindor to a large contract after next season. Between these four teams, only the Mets and Angels have a real need at shortstop and the Angels have the outfield prospects the Indians desperately need. The Yankees and Dodgers also have the requisite outfield prospects as well but both already have starting shortstops, so the need isn’t as high for these two teams. Make no mistake though, both teams would be very willing to move players around the diamond to take on Lindor. There will most likely be some other teams involved that decide they are ready to make a run and willing to take a one-year flier for the right price.
Ultimately, Indians fans should not fall into the trap of expecting a haul similar to what the Indians got from the Expos for SP Bartolo Colon. That deal brought over CF Grady Sizemore, SP Cliff Lee, 2B Brandon Phillips and 1B Lee Stevens. They should expect something more like the SP C.C. Sabathia trade to the Brewers during the 2008 season. In that deal, the Indians got a top prospect in 1B Matt LaPorta, who never panned out, a couple of throw in players and a little known “player to be named later” in OF Michael Brantley. It might not be what fans want to hear, but a deal that works out with a Brantley-type outfielder would make the deal a great success.