CLEVELAND -- Indians shortstop Francisco Lindor has once again avoided arbitration by signing what's reportedly the second-highest contract for a second-time arbitration-eligible player.
According to MLB Network insider Jon Heyman, the Tribe was able to ink its All-Star shortstop on Friday to a one-year, $17.5 million deal with award incentives. The club has not confirmed the deal's value. Only Red Sox outfielder Mookie Betts has signed a bigger contract in his second year of arbitration at $20 million last offseason.
Sources also confirmed that the Indians have agreed to deals with right-hander Mike Clevinger (one year $4.1 million), outfielder Tyler Naquin (one year, $1.45 million), reliever Nick Wittgren (one year, $1.125 million) and outfielder Delino DeShields ($1.875 million).
Cleveland may not have been able to land that long-term deal with Lindor that it’s been trying to work out, but the club was able to agree upon a reasonable figure in order to avoid a hearing. Prior to Friday’s deadline, Cot’s Contracts had projected Lindor to make $17 million in arbitration.
In his first year of eligibility last offseason, Lindor avoided arbitration by signing a one-year, $10.55 million deal. When he arrived at Spring Training last February, the shortstop was asked why he chose to settle rather than go to an arbitration hearing like his then-teammate Trevor Bauer chose to do.
“Did you see the number?” Lindor said at the time, grinning. “It’s pretty good. I’ll take it. I’m blessed to play this game and get paid for it. It’s a blessing.”
Lindor has been at the forefront of trade rumors all winter. But as the club’s president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti said on Wednesday, the closer the team gets to Opening Day, the more likely it is that Lindor will not be moved.
Despite missing the first 19 games of the 2019 season due to a left-ankle injury, Lindor hit .284 with an .854 OPS, 32 homers, 74 RBIs, 40 doubles and 22 stolen bases in his fourth consecutive All-Star season. His stellar defense earned him his second Gold Glove Award in his five-year career.
So what's next?
The 26-year-old is set to become a free agent after the 2021 season. As long as the Indians continue to keep him in the organization -- since it’s unlikely they’ll be able to sign him to the pricey long-term deal he’ll inevitably receive -- it certainly makes sense to build around him to take advantage of the time he has left in Cleveland.
Between trading Corey Kluber’s $17.5 million contract to Texas, declining to pick up Jason Kipnis’ $16.5 million option and letting go of guys like Danny Salazar, who made $4.5 million in 2019, the Indians have freed up tremendous payroll space. The front office has said multiple times there is no mandate to cut this year’s budget, but it’s been clear they’ve been on a mission to shave off as much extra fat as possible. The answer that everyone is left searching for is what they will do with the financial flexibility.
Now that all the arbitration figures are in, the Indians spent a total of $26.05 million among their five eligible players, which is $1.45 million less than Cot’s Contracts projected heading into Friday. With that $1.45 million taken off Cot’s estimated $91.4 million Indians Opening Day payroll, that brings the total down to approximately $90 million. That should leave plenty of wiggle room to sign another impact outfielder with a solid bat like Yasiel Puig, though Antonetti declined a comment on the club’s interest in the outfielder.
“I need to stay away from commenting on specific players in free agency,” Antonetti said on Wednesday. “It’s just not something I’m permitted to do. But what I can share is that we’ll continue to look at opportunities to improve the team in both the free-agent and trade market.”