The Cleveland Indians aren’t expected to extend the contract of star shortstop Francisco Lindor, partially based on their recent track record, and partially due to comments made by the club’s owner and CEO Paul Dolan back in March.
Without an extension, Lindor will hit free agency after the 2021 season and has two more goes at arbitration. He made $10.55 million via the process in 2019 and could earn more than $40 million over the next two seasons.
Furthermore, an extension for Lindor, if he and agent David Meter are even open to it, likely prices out Cleveland. On the open market, Lindor is a $300 million talent. Or more.
But the soon-to-be 26-year-old is worth every penny. He’s played in all but 30 games in his four full-season opportunities and enters 2020 with a career triple-slash of .288/.347/.493. He’s working on three straight 30-plus homer seasons, has stacked a 27.2 fWAR in 717 career games and with plus defense at shortstop and impact speed, the switch hitter is among the elite players and best values in all of baseball.
Rather than allow his value to dwindle, the Indians should trade Lindor and use the windfall to extend their window of contention and replenish their farm system.
Numerous clubs would certainly have interest if Lindor hit the trade market this winter. The question is, should the Seattle Mariners?
The easy answer is yes. It’s not often a player of Lindor’s caliber is available for two years and $40-45 million in his prime.
Potential Mariners Lineup With Lindor
But the trade cost, at least the initial ask, anyway, is certain to border on exorbitant for any club, and particularly one that isn’t likely to contend even after adding the superstar to the roster.
That lineup looks pretty nice, albeit far from elite and not without holes, but acquiring Lindor does nothing to improve the Mariners’ greatest weaknesses: the starting rotation and bullpen.
What if the Mariners sign/trade for some pitching, too?
Sure, Seattle could acquire Lindor and sign free agent pitching and get better where they need to get better. But the trade cost for Lindor is likely to be so high — think: Julio Rodriguez OR Jarred Kelenic, plus Logan Gilbert OR Justin Dunn, plus a few lower-level talents or even the current Mariners shortstop J.P. Crawford — acquiring impact starting pitching via trade will then becomes very difficult, especially considering the club needs more than one to flip the script.
The free agent market, which is playable for Seattle if they so choose, bears but one high-impact arm, Gerrit Cole, and barring a gross overpay, the Mariners have no shot to land the ace right-hander.
After Cole, there’s little impact and a lot of risk.
Simply put, free agency can’t fix the weak and incomplete Mariners rotation to the point of legitimate cotention, and we haven’t even started discussing the bullpen needs.
For such a trade to make sense for the Mariners, they’d have to have an extension in place for Lindor and have a really good idea they could fix the multitude of pitching woes in short order.
None of the above is plausible, and as a package is as much fanciful hope as signing Cole to merely a fair market deal.
In the end, trading a lucrative package of young talent for Lindor, extension or not, then gobbling up veteran pitching via free agency, undermines the work GM Jerry Dipoto has put in over the last year. Work that, from Day 1, was designed to build strong footing for a chance at sustainable success.
All this scenario does is better the efforts of Jack Zduriencik entering Year 2 of his so-called rebuild when the club signed Chone Figgins to a four-year, $36 million deal and traded for Cliff Lee, despite his pending free agency. But ‘better’ still comes up short in the organization’s attempt to break through after what is now an 18-year playoff drought, and most likely looks similar to a repeat of the 2018 campaign … good but not good enough.
Remember, in 2020 and probably 2021, too, the Houston Astros and Oakland Athletics likely remain better than Seattle, even presuming Lindor and some realistic pitching acquisitions. There’s a great chance this path leads the club right back where they were — in purgatory, where they spent much of the Zduriencik era and the first three seasons under the current regime.
While Lindor would represent a young star to build around, the rest of the organization would once again consist of aging players with high salaries, including Kyle Seager and the starting pitching (Hyun-Jin Ryu? Madison Bumgarner? Jake Odorizzi?) Dipoto would need to add to justify the Lindor trade in the first place, and the whole idea would carve the guts out of the just-renovated farm system that’s supposed to serve as the building blocks.
Now, if the question is altered to ‘Should the Mariners sign Lindor when he hits free agency at age 28 after the 2021 season?’ the only proper analysis will produce an emphatic ‘yes,’ not that I’d expect them to do so.
Until then, trading for Lindor is likely to be reserved for clubs in a position to push their roster over the top and/or extend their championship window.