Antonetti discusses Lindor's future with Tribe

October 6th, 2020

CLEVELAND -- Over the last few seasons, the Indians have been transparent in their efforts to trim their overall payroll. And after a year of financial losses across the league due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s easy to deduce that the Tribe will once again be looking for ways to save money. Does that mean Cleveland’s only option will be to trade shortstop Francisco Lindor before Opening Day?

“No, I don't think I ever take that view,” Indians president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti said. “I think again we've come from a place where I think we have a great appreciation for Francisco. As I've shared, he's one of the best players in the game; he's one of the best people in the game; he's one of the best ambassadors in the game. He understandably expects to be compensated as such.”

But can the Indians meet that figure?

The Tribe is still weighing whether to pick up the 2021 club options for closer Brad Hand ($10 million), first baseman Carlos Santana ($17.5 million) and catcher Roberto Pérez ($5.5 million). This past year, Lindor was responsible for just under one-fifth of the team’s total payroll, and he could go over that 20-percent mark in his final year of arbitration. With a large deal on the horizon for the soon-to-be free agent next winter, Cleveland must consider whether it’s feasible to even keep him for ‘21.

“I think we can afford any individual player,” Antonetti said. “It's less about that. It's about how do we build a team that's capable of contending? And how do we allocate resources in a way that gives us the best chance to win as many games as possible?”

Finding an answer to those questions with Lindor’s name still on the roster for years to come has been a challenge for the Tribe. No equation has been able to balance paying the large sum the All-Star shortstop is surely requesting while also preserving enough funds to build a competitive team around him.

“We've talked about it at length [with Lindor] at various junctures, as recently as Spring Training,” Antonetti said. “What's happened financially with the pandemic has added an entirely unexpected layer of complexity in trying to plan for what the future may look like. So we haven't even started to wrap our heads around that and what that could look like.”

Because no Major League club was permitted to open its doors to fans during the regular season in 2020, no team was able to bring in revenue from ticket sales, concessions and the like. Antonetti noted that the Indians, individually, lost tens of millions of dollars this year.

Before the shortened season caused player salaries to be adjusted, the Indians’ payroll would have come out to just over $100 million, after sitting north of $140 million as recently as 2018. But because of the financial losses, will the Indians now have to target an even lower figure?

We haven't gotten into the specifics of that,” Antonetti said. “But you know, as you look logically at what's happened over the course of the season and the uncertainty of what we're facing in 2021 -- our financial reality is, you know, it's daunting.

“I think we've made consistent decisions over the course of the past few seasons to infuse young talent to position us to sustain that competitiveness. … And had we not made some of those decisions, we'd be in a much worse position right now heading into 2021. But we don't have a specific number for a payroll at this point.”

The Indians will take the next couple of weeks to establish their plans for the offseason, but given the uncertainty of the pandemic, the club is still not sure what the 2021 season will bring.

“That's really challenging,” Antonetti said. “I think we know the reality of the financial loss of 2020, and we don't yet know what 2021 will bring. And how we plan for that is something we're in the midst of doing right now.”