Inbox: How much will Lindor earn in arbitration?

Beat reporter Jordan Bastian fields Indians fans' questions

November 12th, 2018

CLEVELAND -- Questions regarding hitting arbitration, free agent and more are answered in this week's Inbox.

This will be an interesting story to follow later this offseason, especially given the Indians' need to keep its payroll around the same operating range as last year. Shortstop Lindor is hitting arbitration for the first time, and Cleveland will try to table an offer in an effort to avoid a hearing.
A year ago, Cubs star set the first-year arbitration record with a one-year, $10.85 million contract. He was coming off his age-25 season. Lindor just wrapped up his age-24 campaign and might finish in the top five in American League Most Valuable Player voting for the second year in a row. We'll know if that's the case when the MVP balloting results are revealed in an MLB Network special at 6 p.m. ET on Thursday.
All teams are required to tender contracts to arbitration-eligible players by Nov. 30 and then the two sides exchange proposed salary figures for 2019 on Jan. 11. I'm not going to try to project the precise salary that Lindor might earn next season, but I can show you how he compares to Bryant's record-breaking case.
Bryant headed into last offseason with a .288/.388/.527 career slash line in 457 games with Chicago. He had 94 homers, 104 doubles, 274 RBIs, 319 runs scored and 28 steals. Per Baseball-Reference, Bryant had posted 19.7 WAR to that point (or 0.043 WAR per MLB game). His 141 OPS+ indicated that he had performed 41 percent above league average. Bryant had a National League Rookie of the Year trophy (2015) and NL MVP ('16), plus a World Series triumph in '16, on his career resume.

Entering this offseason, Lindor has posted a .288/.350/.487 slash line in 574 games, with 98 homers, 138 doubles, 310 RBIs, 377 runs and 71 steals. The switch-hitting shortstop has a 119 OPS+ in his career to go along with 23.9 WAR (0.042 per game). Lindor is a three-time All-Star, two-time Silver Slugger recipient and has a Gold Glove Award in his trophy case. While Bryant has the better offensive showing in the samples given, Lindor is one of MLB's elite defensive talents.
Lindor might have a shot at a first-year arbitration record, but that's ultimately a footnote. The larger issue is how the Indians will fit whatever he earns into the payroll picture -- along with other raises through arbitration and guaranteed contracts -- while addressing the team's needs this winter. That is why there are already a surplus of trade rumors involving Cleveland swirling in the bubbling Hot Stove pot.
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During the qualifying offer process, the Indians' front-office evaluators not only needed to determine whether players such as Brantley were worth the one-year proposal (worth $17.9 million for '19), but the likelihood that such an offer would be accepted. If the analysis shows that the player might accept, well, then the team has to know that it can fit that salary into the payroll.
That decision was due five days after the conclusion of the World Series. The Indians know they probably need to shed salary in order to add salary this winter, so committing nearly $18 million -- with a list of other roster issues still unsettled -- was problematic that quick into the offseason. True, Cleveland now loses out on any potential Draft pick compensation, but the team did not feel it could risk locking in that type of salary so early into baseball's offseason.
Is there a realistic chance that the Tribe tries to offload this offseason?
--Sid C., Wesson, Miss.

I think that would be a tall task. Encarnacion is set to earn $21.7 in '19 and he will turn 36 years old in January. There is also a $5 million buyout for his $20 million team option for '20. Encarnacion has a strong track record, but teams do not view aging sluggers the same as in previous eras. He is also limited to first base and designated hitter, limiting the list of potential suitors and hurting his value.
The Indians will certainly explore the market for Encarnacion, along with first baseman , whose deal is not nearly as hefty. Alonso is owed $8 million in '19 and has a $9 million team option (or $1 million buyout) for '20. Cleveland is surely looking into what teams would offer for one of its catchers, or . Again, the Tribe will likely need to free up some cash in order to fill some offseason holes.

I don't think being open-minded to listening to trade offers for has anything to do with viewing someone else as the new "ace" of the rotation. That said, Cleveland has three arms capable of being labeled as a No. 1 starter (Kluber, and ), plus a rising star in Mike Clevinger. There is depth there and, even if there are questions about the back-end depth, the Indians would still head into '19 as the AL Central favorites if they dealt an arm to address some other areas of need.

If the Indians find a way to open up at-bats for at first or DH, then Cleveland could keep at third base. Right now, though, Diaz looks like the likely starter for third, with Ramirez staying put at second base. In that latter scenario, could take over in left field.

Yes, -- or someone similar -- looks like a potential fit on the surface, especially if the outfield remains intact with no trades. Cleveland would be in the market for a right-handed complement to play multiple outfield positions. It can't be emphasized enough, though, that the Indians may not be much of a player in free agency unless something budges with the payroll. As for , he will be an interesting prospect to watch this year, but I doubt he impacts any winter plans. I would think center fielder 's pending return -- possibly midseason -- might factor into the team's thinking, though.

I definitely think Yu Chang is on the '19 radar, but there are a few players in his path at the moment. With Lindor locked in at short, Chang has tried his hand at third base. Well, that's where Ramirez and Diaz fit into the MLB picture right now. Similar to Diaz's situation, if at-bats open at first base, leading to some position shuffling, Chang could have a better route to the big leagues. Expect him to be back at Triple-A next season.