Q&A: Antonetti discusses Lindor conversations

March 11th, 2020

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- The Indians and have agreed to end all contract extension conversations now that the regular season is quickly approaching, but that doesn’t mean the questions about his future with the Indians have disappeared.

Indians president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti sat down with a handful of reporters Wednesday morning to discuss the conversations that were held between the two parties, the decisions that need to be made and the likelihood of ever being able to ink Lindor long-term. Here’s what he had to say:

What do you want to say about the Frankie situation?

Chris Antonetti: First and foremost, I’m really appreciative of the effort Francisco and his representatives and our ownership put into the process of trying to find alignment. We spent quite a bit of time together over the course of the last few months to try to find a way to see if we could make something work. That was a sincere and earnest effort by both Francisco and his representative, David Meter, as well as our ownership. I think we had a series of great exchanges, and tried different creative concepts to make things work, but ultimately weren’t able to align at this point. We talked with Francisco and David about just focusing on the season at this point, and then revisiting things down the road.

Do you feel like the talks give you a base to come back to at some point?

Antonetti: I think the dialogue was really helpful. I think we shared from the beginning that we had a sincere interest in trying to find a way to extend Francisco’s time in Cleveland. He was really consistent in his interest in trying to make that happen as well. Ultimately, we couldn’t get to the finish line. We couldn’t overlap on value, but it wasn’t because of a lack of effort. And we are greatly appreciative of the time and energy they spent trying to find that common ground. I know I’m sincerely appreciative of the effort and time and resources that our ownership was willing to extend to make that happen as well.

Are you concerned at all that this will impact how he’ll play this year?

Antonetti: I have no concerns at all. … He talked about throughout this process that it was most important for him to try to help lead the team in a way that would help us win a World Series. He didn’t want this to be a distraction from that. That’s one of the reasons why we talked about an early March timetable and thought that might make sense to allow that to happen.

Frankie threw out the idea of maintaining a $120 million payroll to be able to keep him. It’s very complicated, but can you explain in layman’s terms why it’s not feasible in this market to have a payroll in that range?

Antonetti: I’m not sure exactly where Francisco got that number. It certainly wasn’t something we shared. Obviously, he’s entitled to think about things the way he chooses to think about them. Fundamentally it’s the economic system in baseball that has a big impact on what we’re able to do. Some of it is a function of our market and our market size, and how Cleveland compares to other cities. Some of it is a function of just the way revenues are shared and other underlying economic considerations within the Major League Baseball system. Those are the two driving factors.

In the NFL, for instance, it’s easy. The Green Bay Packers and New York Giants have comparable resources because they share all of their revenues. Their revenues are shared, there’s not a huge disparity between the top revenue team and the bottom revenue team. There’s a salary cap, so the spending on players is compressed. So all teams have comparable access to talent. In baseball, that’s not how it exists. There’s a huge gap in revenues among teams. That revenue isn’t shared in a similar way, so that leads to a big gap in payrolls. Cleveland is one of the smallest markets and that has an impact on our ability to generate revenue.

Is where the payroll is at now, $90-92 million, the new normal for going forward?

Antonetti: I’m not quite sure. I think we have invested, our ownership has invested an incredible amount in our team over the course of the last few seasons. We’ve done that, both in players that we traded away to try to win a World Series and in dollars. When you look at where our payroll was, our payroll was much higher than our market size and our attendance. At some point, you have to bring those closer together, because it’s not financially feasible to maintain big differences between where your revenues are and where your expenses are. Just like any other business.

Is it impossible for a team in your market size to hold on to a player of Francisco’s quality throughout his career?

Antonetti: It’s really hard. I think that’s the fundamental challenge we have. As I shared earlier, any team can afford one player individually. The question is, can you afford an individual and still build a championship team around him? That’s ultimately the problem we’re trying to solve. It’s really difficult in baseball’s economic system for teams in smaller markets to be able to do that and be able to retain players of Francisco’s caliber. Doesn’t mean we’re going to give up trying. Francisco’s not going to give up trying and we’re not going to give up trying, but it’s really hard to make that math work.

There’s been other moves made to clear some space off the books. Was it made with this potential extension in mind and does any money that might have gone into this extension go somewhere else, now that you couldn’t figure that out?

Antonetti: Not as much. When you’re looking at a contract of the magnitude we would be contemplating with Francisco, that’s a really long time and a lot of dollars. … So any individual transactions today that are plus or minus a few dollars wouldn’t impact those considerations.

What ultimately weighs into ‘We’re going to keep him and go for it’ vs. ‘We have to get what we can for him now?’

Antonetti: A lot of things go into those decisions. I think we’ve talked about this before, there have been times we’ve kept players until the end of their contract, and they’ve left as free agents, and we’ve either gotten Draft pick compensation back for them, or not. There have been times we’ve traded those players and there have been times we’ve extended those players. I think all of those options will be on the table.

As I’ve said from the beginning, our clear preference would be to have Francisco here for a far longer term and he [remain] an Indian for a really long time. If that’s not possible, we have to then look at what those other alternatives are, and one of the primary things that will matter is what is the competitive position of our team? The years in which we’ve been competitive, we’ve tried to do what we could to get to the postseason and advance in the postseason. That will continue to guide our decision-making going forward.