Digging Slightly Deeper on What’s the “Right Thing” for Francisco Lindor: Part 1

Its been the biggest story of the Cleveland Indians off-season and really one of the biggest in the entirety of Major League Baseball. Indians All-Star shortstop Francisco Lindor will come into his fifth full Major League season this year and will do so without a long-term contract.

This past January, Lindor agreed to a $17.5 million dollar contract for his second year within the arbitration system. That leaves just one more season in 2021 before he will become a free agent on the open market.

The consensus is that Lindor, arguably the best player on the roster and the face of this generation of Indians teams, and the Indians front office have tried to work out an extension for his contract in the past, but simply haven’t come to terms. The Indians have a pattern of taking risks on young talent, buying out their arbitration years and even sometimes a free agent year or two, but Lindor has resisted. As he gets closer and closer to the open market it will likely just become that much harder to find an agreement. To his credit, Lindor has bet on himself, and more power to him for it. He stands to potentially make a huge payday in the 2021-2022 off-season.

While there isn’t absolutely no hope at all that a new extension could still happen, for some it seems a foregone conclusion that Lindor will not be on the roster beyond 2021. Even Indians owner Paul Dolan made a remark last winter that Indians fans should “enjoy” Lindor while they can. Meanwhile, just this weekend Lindor himself stated that he wants to bring a championship to Cleveland and that the most important thing to him is winning. He also specifically mentioned that the Indians just need to provide “the right thing”, but they haven’t offered it.

Very cryptic, but a lot of people assume the obvious. He is saying that he wants the Dolan family to show him the money, Cuba Gooding Jr. style. Now, this is merely just speculation, but I think everyone is just slightly off with this assumption. Sure, Lindor wants more cash, but there is one more detail here that isn’t quite as obvious that I really think Lindor is referencing.

Years. Years and years of commitment. Allow me to explain how I got here.

In 2019, the now 26 year-old Lindor had the 6th highest Wins Above Replacement of any shortstop in baseball. Among the five shortstops that performed better were four that are right around his age. The Cubs’ Javier Baez and Colorado’s Trevor Story are 27. Much like Lindor, Boston’s Xander Bogaerts and Minnesota’s Jorge Polanco are 26. All of them except Baez have signed some sort of contract extension with their current team. Bogaerts received the best deal at at $132 million (over 7 years).

Now, I do believe that Lindor is set slightly apart from this pack. He is the most prolific of this bunch of players, accumulating the most WAR over his career to this point. Further, this accumulation isn’t due to playing more games. He actually averages about .04 WAR per game, the rest of the bunch. Beyond this, he is a four-time All-Star, two-time Gold Glove Award winner, two-time Silver Slugger, led baseball in runs scored in 2018 and has finished as high as fifth in MVP voting (2017). Bogaerts (3 Silver Sluggers, 2 All-Stars) and Baez (2 All-Stars, 1 Silver Slugger, 2nd in MVP voting in 2018, led league in RBI that year) are almost as well decorated, but not quite.

What is my point here? I’m trying to establish a barometer for what a Francisco Lindor extension might look like. Lindor is the best player of this group and will want to be paid as such. Further, he will also want a slight bump in salary just because more time has passed since all these other shortstops’ deals have come to fruition.

However, I have heard a lot of talk thrown around in regards to $300 million or more… and I’m not sure Lindor’s market value is quite there yet. Once again, allow me to explain.

If you were to take the very best of the other shortstops’ deals you would end up with a 7 year contract at $19 million per year, equating to $133 million. That’s not anywhere near the type of numbers that Bryce Harper, Mike Trout or Gerrit Cole are getting, but this is what precedent suggests. It could also be proof positive that there is absolutely no chance of Lindor signing an extension. Players like Harper and Trout that hit the open market stand to make even more than when signing an extension. You can make the argument that the likes of Bogaerts and Polanco settled when they signed long-term without testing the waters.

Moving on with the precedent that we have though, Lindor is the best player of this group, and he will want more money for both inflation and in order to make the Players’ Union happy. For that reason, let’s change his terms to 8 years and $24 million per year for a total of $192 million.

I want to focus first on that $24 million figure though, because for the Indians, that really may not be an insurmountable number. Current 1st baseman Carlos Santana will make $20.8 million this year and that money stands to come off the Indians’ books following the season, barring the approval of his team option. Further, although it was the largest contract in team history, the Indians committed $20 million per year when they signed Edwin Encarnacion in 2017. If the Indians front office is able to account for that extra $3 million or so, I do think that there is an Annual Average Value out there that is manageable for both Lindor and the Tribe, particularly when you are talking about a star of Lindor’s magnitude.

However.

A long-term commitment is also essential to this deal. Of the other five shortstops that I mentioned before, only Trevor Story signed an extension that was less than five years (also excluding Baez, of course), and once again Lindor is the best of the best. He is going to want the best of the best, and herein lies the problem.

In March of 2017 the Indians signed IF Jose Ramirez to a 5-year contract extension worth $26 million. And that is the longest contract that the Cleveland Indians front office has ever agreed to. Beyond that, the Indians have only committed to one 4-year deal in team history, given to Travis Hafner in 2007. To top it off, notice that the AAV on that Ramirez deal is still only $5.2 million, making it relatively low-risk.

There is absolutely no way, no how that Francisco Lindor is going to receive anything near an eight year commitment from the Cleveland Indians, particularly at over $20 million per year. It just wouldn’t be in the nature of this front office or ownership group to extend themselves to those reaches. So to say its the amount of money that the Indians won’t pay to Lindor that is the problem is only half of the truth. I actually believe the Indians could meet Lindor’s monetary wants in the short-term. They nearly do right now. Lindor will make $17.5 million this coming season. They just don’t have the stomach to commit to him for the extended length of time that will be required. I think this is the “right thing” that Lindor is requiring.

We can and will discuss whether that is a good thing or a bad thing on another day soon.

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