CLEVELAND -- Much of the focus has been on Francisco Lindor for the Indians this offseason. Will he stay, or will he go? Despite the trade rumors that Lindor has been involved in, Indians president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti has remained firm in his stance that the four-time All-Star
CLEVELAND -- Much of the focus has been on Francisco Lindor for the Indians this offseason. Will he stay, or will he go? Despite the trade rumors that Lindor has been involved in, Indians president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti has remained firm in his stance that the four-time All-Star will be with Cleveland at the start of the 2020 season.
“I still have every expectation that Francisco will be our shortstop Opening Day,” Antonetti said on a conference call on Wednesday. “I’m more confident today in saying that, as more of the offseason has passed. But that’s still our expectation.”
The rumors began immediately after the World Series ended with MLB.com’s Jon Paul Morosi reporting that Lindor had been linked to the Dodgers. Lindor's name has also reportedly popped up in talks with the Reds and Padres, but the Indians don’t want to confirm which discussions have or haven't happened.
“I don’t think that’s fair to the player,” Antonetti said, “and I’m also not sure it’s most constructive for our dialogue with other teams.”
The constant whispers have been the nature of the Tribe’s offseason. After the team dealt two-time American League Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber to Texas, even more speculation began on which other Cleveland stars could be moved and what those deals would mean for the immediate future of the club. That’s when Mike Clevinger's name began getting thrown into the rumor mill, joining Lindor. But this doesn’t mean fans should start panicking that these speculative trades will manifest.
“I think when other teams maybe start to hear rumors that we’re trying to balance payroll … they’re naturally gonna come see if they can get a steal or get one of the best players in the game,” Indians manager Terry Francona said about Lindor on MLB Network Radio. “I don’t blame them. That doesn’t mean we’re gonna say yes.
“We can’t control the rumors. I would say from this winter, 99.9 [percent] were false. Just because a team called and kind of did their due diligence doesn’t mean there’s a 50/50 chance this guy’s gonna be traded. Chris and [general manager Mike Chernoff] have been really up front about us wanting to keep Frankie as long as we can. We know we can have him for two years for sure. Can we make it go longer and still sustain the rest of our team? I don’t know. That’s a challenge.”
A Lindor trade isn’t completely off the table, though like Antonetti said, it is less likely the closer we get to Opening Day. If the Indians get the perfect deal -- one perhaps from the Dodgers that includes their No. 1 prospect (No. 2 overall by MLB Pipeline), Gavin Lux -- then it certainly could happen. But at this point, it seems unlikely. However, a Clevinger trade seems far-fetched.
The Indians’ rotation is what has kept them in contention the last few years. The young pitchers like Aaron Civale, Zach Plesac and Minor Leaguers Logan Allen and Scott Moss gave the organization some comfort in making those moves to better other areas of the roster. However, a Clevinger trade would be much more difficult to recover from. He’s put together a strong case to be the Indians’ Opening Day starter this season and, now that he’s reached his first year of arbitration, the Indians have noted that he could be a potential candidate for an extension. In that case, it seems hard to believe that they’d be willing to trade a pitcher of his caliber with -- at worst -- three more seasons of club control.
The Tribe’s front office has been clear since the beginning of the offseason that it will listen to any call on any player, but that doesn’t mean that there is any interest in making a deal. This seems to be the category Clevinger has recently fallen into.
“I can’t control the conduct of other teams as far as them calling us with interest and wanting to explore things,” Antonetti said. “And as I’ve shared with you that we have a responsibility to be responsive to those teams when they engage with us. I can say that we’ve had conversations on the majority of our Major League roster and a bunch of players in our Minor League system over the course of the offseason. The majority of those guys, other than just a couple, are still with us.”
It’d be shocking to see Clevinger begin the season with any team other than the Indians, and the expectation for Lindor is moving even more toward him remaining with the Tribe. The club lost regular players in Kluber, second baseman Jason Kipnis, backup catcher Kevin Plawecki and Nick Goody this offseason, but it feels confident in the pickups of backstop Sandy León, reliever Emmanuel Clase, outfielder Delino DeShields and second baseman César Hernández.
“I think, overall, we feel good about where we are with our roster at this point with the additions we’ve made,” Antonetti said. “… A couple of those additions with the guys that we have returning, both our veteran, established players, as well as some young players, and we feel good about the spot we’re in heading into Spring Training. Now, we’ll always continue to examine opportunities to improve the team and see what those might be moving forward, but we do feel pretty good about where we are.”
So, what could be next for the Indians? The club freed up payroll space after moving Kluber’s $17.5 million contract for 2020. Even after signing Hernández, the Tribe’s estimated Opening Day payroll -- with MLB Trade Rumors’ arbitration projections factored in -- will still sit just south of $100 million. That should mean the focus has now turned to signing or trading for an outfielder who can bring some pop to the Tribe’s lineup. Yasiel Puig seems to be a perfect, affordable match for Cleveland, but Antonetti declined to comment on his club’s interest in their former outfielder.
Even if the Indians fail to sign Puig or any other impact outfielder, the team's mindset is far from a rebuild. With Lindor, a strong starting rotation and a few new faces, Antonetti believes the club has enough to take back the American League Central title in 2020.
“We did win 93 games last year and a lot of that was with young players and young players that transitioned effectively to the Major League level,” Antonetti said. “We played better as we got younger. That group, with the exception of [Kipnis], Yasiel Puig and [Tyler] Clippard, we entered the offseason with that group returning and now we feel like we’ve added to that group and feel like we’re in a position to contend with the Twins and the White Sox.”
Mandy Bell covers the Indians for MLB.com. Follow her on Twitter at @MandyBell02.