Cleveland is in a tough spot with Francisco Lindor.
A year away from the star shortstop’s free agency, there is no realistic reason to believe the Indians will meet Lindor’s contract-extension aspirations, which means he is an obvious trade candidate. But the ideal time to trade him was a year
Cleveland is in a tough spot with Francisco Lindor.
A year away from the star shortstop’s free agency, there is no realistic reason to believe the Indians will meet Lindor’s contract-extension aspirations, which means he is an obvious trade candidate. But the ideal time to trade him was a year ago (as we said right here a year ago), and the coronavirus pandemic -- combined with Lindor having the worst offensive season of his career -- has only complicated the club’s ability to get a strong return for him this offseason.
With Lindor likely to command a final arbitration figure north of $20 million and free agency coming at the end of the 2021 season, his trade value is compromised. It’s a similar situation to what we saw a year ago with the Red Sox and Mookie Betts. To move Betts for a worthwhile return, the Red Sox had to attach David Price and eat half of Price’s remaining contract.
But that doesn’t mean a proper Lindor deal can’t be found. So with that in mind, these are the seven teams that make the most sense for a swap.
Assuming Steve Cohen gets approved as the Mets’ new owner, he brings an instant infusion of cash and, perhaps, an instant desire to make a splash. This winter’s free-agent market will have opportunities to do so (J.T. Realmuto and Trevor Bauer are the top two free agents), but the market thins out in a hurry. A trade and subsequent signing of Lindor -- a la what the Dodgers did with Betts -- would be a strong signal to fans that the Mets mean business.
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And they certainly have pieces that would interest an Indians team in desperate need of offense. The Mets have several young shortstops -- Amed Rosario, Andrés Giménez and Ronny Mauricio, their No. 1 overall prospect per MLB Pipeline. They also have a glut of corner infield/outfield/DH types -- including Dominic Smith, Brandon Nimmo and J.D. Davis -- who are cost controlled for the next few years.
The Halos need pitching, first and foremost, and this club is not in a great competitive position to be parting with prospects for a rental. The thought of paying Lindor beyond 2021 while also honoring extraordinary commitments to Mike Trout and Anthony Rendon is hard to envision.
That said, an Angels organization that hasn’t exactly been shy in the search for star talent can’t be ruled out in a pursuit such as this, especially with Andrelton Simmons entering free agency. The Angels do have outfield depth, an area where the Tribe is sorely in need. So there could be a match here, especially if Cleveland expands the deal to tap into its pitching development factory.
You’ll hear Zach Plesac’s name a lot this winter, but the Indians could more easily stomach a trade involving a less established arm, such as Triston McKenzie. Just for the sake of discussion, we’ll use McKenzie as an example several times in this piece. If he’s attached to Lindor, that would give the Tribe the foundation to acquire both a Major League-ready outfielder (former top prospect Jo Adell might still be off the trade table even after his rookie struggles, but Brandon Marsh is also highly regarded) and additional prospect help.
St. Louis has the pitching depth to continue to contend, but the offense fell short in 2020, and Lindor would bring a potential infusion of energy. As was the case with Paul Goldschmidt, the Cards could get him in and get him comfortable, and then conceivably lock Lindor up for the long term.
The Cardinals could decline Kolten Wong’s $12.5 million option and shift shortstop Paul DeJong, who is signed through 2023, to second base. Any of the Cards’ Nos. 2-5 prospects -- third baseman Nolan Gorman, left-hander Matthew Liberatore, catcher Ivan Herrera or left-hander Zack Thompson -- would be worthwhile targets for the Tribe.
With Realmuto and shortstop Didi Gregorius both entering free agency, the bullpen will be far from the only area of need for a Phillies team that will be under new front-office leadership. This is far from a perfect fit, because if the Phillies do have intentions of locking up Lindor a year from now, they’d probably be just as well-served to throw that money at Realmuto now. But with the catcher one of the few truly prized commodities of this free-agent class, we can’t rule out the Phillies going in a different direction.
Certainly, Cleveland would ask about third baseman Alec Bohm, but that’s probably too steep a price straight-up for a rental. If the Tribe were to expand the deal to include McKenzie or another arm, then a deal for Bohm and prospects could take shape. Or perhaps a Lindor deal could be centered around shortstop Bryson Stott, Philadelphia’s No. 2 prospect, though it’s worth keeping in mind that three of the Tribe’s top 10 prospects are shortstops.
The Reds inquired about Lindor a year ago, with Cleveland showing continued interest in outfielder Nick Senzel. Ultimately, though, Cincinnati went elsewhere in its bid to improve the lineup … and wound up with a .212 team average and two shutouts at the hands of Braves pitching in the postseason.
Freddy Galvis is a free agent, so the Reds have an opening at shortstop. With Bauer entering free agency, they might have the payroll flexibility to accommodate Lindor. The match gets a lot more complicated from there, because the Reds aren’t necessarily in the best position to extend Lindor beyond 2021. But this is another example where things would get a lot more interesting if the deal is expanded. Imagine Lindor and McKenzie to Cincinnati for Senzel and a top 10 Reds prospect, such as shortstop Jose Garcia, outfielder Michael Siani, infielder Tyler Callihan or third baseman Rece Hinds.
The Dodgers looked like the ideal fit for Lindor (imagine the “Frankie Goes to Hollywood!” headlines) a year ago. But Cleveland had its heart set on Gavin Lux, and the Dodgers had their heart set on … not trading Gavin Lux. L.A. wound up landing a different star named Mookie.
So the ideal fit is a lot less ideal now. But with Justin Turner entering free agency, it’s at least conceivable that a team loaded with both young, Major League-ready talent (catcher Keibert Ruiz would be an especially worthwhile target) and cash could shift Corey Seager (who, like Lindor, is a free agent after 2021) to third base to accommodate Lindor. So we’ll put them on the list, just in case.
Baseball history insists that we toss the Yankees into any conversation about a star talent potentially leaving a smaller market. But more recent history insists it isn’t likely to happen. Given DJ LeMahieu’s pending free agency, the Yanks could conceivably pursue Lindor at shortstop and move Gleyber Torres to second. But LeMahieu is largely expected to re-sign with the club, and the Yankees have shown a reluctance to surrender prospects in blockbuster trades in recent years.
Anthony Castrovince has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2004. Read his columns and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince.