Although the Corey Kluber trade gave the Indians some budgetary leeway, thus making it easier for the club to keep Francisco Lindor in 2020, the superstar shortstop's contract status hasn't changed. He still has two years of team control remaining before free agency, which means his trade value might never be higher.
That said, Cleveland isn't likely to be in much of a rush to move its franchise face this offseason unless the perfect deal comes along. With Kluber’s contract off the books, and Lindor a highly productive and marketable player, the onus is going to be on another team to give the Indians an offer they can’t refuse. Not only that, but the Indians likely would be seeking a return heavy on Major League talent or at least close-to-the-Majors prospects, who can help keep the Tribe’s window of contention open even without Lindor.
If a team wants to pry Lindor from the Indians prior to the 2020 season, it's going to take an aggressive offer for the 26-year-old, four-time All-Star. These six proposals could do the trick.
Mr. Smile heads to Hollywood
Dodgers get: SS Francisco Lindor
Indians get: OF Alex Verdugo, RHP Dustin May (MLB’s No. 32 prospect), C Keibert Ruiz (MLB’s No. 33 prospect), INF Jeter Downs (MLB’s No. 87 prospect)
Why it could work: The Dodgers are unlikely to part with Gavin Lux -- the No. 2 prospect in all of baseball -- for Lindor, per a recent report by MLB Network insider Ken Rosenthal in an article for The Athletic (subscription required). If that’s their choice, they’ll have to pay up in quality and quantity. Coming off a solid rookie season, the 23-year-old Verdugo steps into a corner outfield spot in Cleveland, filling a huge need. May, 22, is similarly big league-ready and joins the Tribe’s rotation in the wake of Kluber’s trade to the Rangers. Ruiz, a 21-year-old switch-hitter who rarely strikes out and already has made it to Triple-A, would become the Indians’ catcher of the near future, and the 21-year-old Downs -- who reached Double-A during a 20-20 campaign in 2019 -- could cover either shortstop or second base sooner than later.
That’s a lot for the Dodgers to surrender, no doubt, but they have the depth to cover every one of these young assets. Remember, by landing Lindor to play short, Corey Seager shifts to third base and Justin Turner to first, leaving Lux to split second base with Muncy, who also can fill in at first. (Got all that?) Are the Dodgers desperate enough to make it back to the World Series and win one for the first time since 1988?
Who says no? The Dodgers. As much as they seem to be chasing a superstar and pushing to win their first title in more than 30 years, it’s hard to see president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman giving up quite this much long-term talent for two years of Lindor.
New team, same state
Reds get: SS Francisco Lindor, OF Delino DeShields
Why it could work: By signing Mike Moustakas and lefty Wade Miley this offseason, plus acquiring righty Trevor Bauer over the summer, the Reds are pushing toward contention in a pretty wide-open National League Central. Dealing for Lindor to be their shortstop would bring even more legitimacy to that pursuit, putting the finishing touch on an infield that also features Eugenio Suárez and Joey Votto. Giving up Senzel would be tricky for the Reds, because the 2019 rookie is slated to start in center field. So, Cincy also gets a stellar gloveman in DeShields, fresh off being part of the Kluber swap.
Moving to the other Ohio city, Galvis replaces Lindor at short in Cleveland for $5.5 million in 2020. Senzel -- a former top-10 prospect who was the No. 2 pick in 2016 -- could be an enticing long-term answer at second base, where he has experience from his time in the Minors. The 23-year-old India, who was the fifth overall pick in 2018, is blocked by Suárez in Cincy but should be ready to help Cleveland near the end of 2020 after reaching Double-A this year. Same goes for Santillan, 22, who soon could provide rotation or bullpen depth.
Who says no? The Indians. They would find Senzel’s bat and defensive versatility alluring but might want more upside than prospects India and Santillan offer. If the Reds would part with, say, one of righty Hunter Greene or southpaw Nick Lodolo instead, could that get it done?
Big Apple addition
Mets get: SS Francisco Lindor
Why it could work: New York loves stars, and Lindor is one -- without question. He would help the Mets in both the battle for the back pages, and in a hyper-competitive NL East. Meanwhile, the club trades from its wealth of corner players, cashing in Davis, who was an excellent buy-low find for general manager Brodie Van Wagenen one year ago.
Rosario is no Lindor, but he is a talented 24-year-old who was a top-10 prospect and has shown significant improvement on both sides of the ball since arriving in the Majors in 2017. He steps in as Lindor’s immediate replacement, helping keep Cleveland competitive while giving the Tribe two additional years of club control. The hard-hitting Davis (.895 OPS in 2019) could be a short-term fix at third base -- with José Ramirez shifting to second -- and also play at first and in left field, while taking at-bats at DH (which could be his ultimate destination). Peterson, after a solid season in Double-A, likely would factor into Cleveland’s post-Corey Kluber rotation at some point in 2020. And Baty, this summer’s No. 12 overall Draft pick, is a longer-term project, but one who could hit in the middle of the Indians’ lineup someday.
Who says no? The Mets. As tempting as the Lindor upgrade is, New York still believes in Rosario as a long-term piece. That factor, plus the rest of the package, is a bit too much for Van Wagenen’s taste.
Yankees get: SS Francisco Lindor
Why it could work: Andújar and Frazier are superfluous parts for the Yanks, and Garcia is less important after the club added Gerrit Cole on a nine-year, $324 million contract. As a result, the Yankees could strongly consider parting with those three plus Abreu to bring Lindor to the Bronx -- fittingly, as another legendary Yankees shortstop, Derek Jeter, is likely to be inducted into the Hall of Fame. The addition of Lindor would allow Gleyber Torres to remain at second base and DJ LeMahieu in an everyday utility role, and the Yankees are one of the clubs with the budget to afford an extension for Lindor.
On the Indians' end, this deal would help the team to avoid a rebuild, as Andújar (controllable through 2023), Frazier (controllable through '24) and Garcia could all be significant big league contributors for Cleveland this coming season and beyond. Garcia could eventually replace Kluber in the Indians' rotation, and the Tribe could address its hole at second base by moving Ramirez to the keystone and playing Andújar at third. Meanwhile, Frazier could take over in left or right field for the team that originally selected him fifth overall in the 2013 MLB Draft, freeing up Franmil Reyes to see most of his reps as the designated hitter.
Who says no? The Indians. Andújar and Frazier have notable offensive potential, but the defensive questions surrounding both players are great enough to sink this deal, especially considering Cleveland's defense is already taking a hit with the loss of Lindor.
Another superstar in San Diego
Padres get: SS Francisco Lindor
Indians get: RHP Luis Patino (MLB's No. 30 prospect), SS CJ Abrams (MLB's No. 45 prospect), OF Manuel Margot, RHP Cal Quantrill
Why it could work: The Padres wouldn't have to part with either of their top two prospects -- left-hander MacKenzie Gore and outfielder Taylor Trammell -- in this proposal, which would give San Diego another All-Star infielder and keep him away from the National League West-rival Dodgers. Despite the presence of Fernando Tatis Jr. at shortstop and Manny Machado at third base, the Padres have discussed Lindor with the Indians, MLB Network insider Ken Rosenthal reported Monday in an article for The Athletic (subscription required). With Lindor in the fold, San Diego could play Tatis in center field.
The trade brings the Indians a potential top-of-the-rotation starter in Patino and a possible Lindor replacement in Abrams, though there are some questions about the 19-year-old's long-term position. Margot and Quantrill can help Cleveland's big league roster in 2020.
Who says no? The Indians. The trade doesn't help Cleveland enough in the short term, and it's uncertain if Abrams can be the team's shortstop of the future.
A bold, Brave move
Braves get: SS Francisco Lindor, LHP Brad Hand
Why it could work: The Braves, facing a tough division once again, still have work to do after back-to-back NLDS exits. Lindor teams with Ronald Acuña Jr. and Freddie Freeman to form an explosive heart of the lineup, even if Atlanta can’t bring back Josh Donaldson. Dansby Swanson shifts over to take Albies’ place at second, and Hand joins Will Smith, Mark Melancon, Shane Greene and Chris Martin as the Braves keep building up their bullpen firepower.
The extraordinarily team-friendly extension Albies signed earlier this year is a huge draw for budget-conscious Cleveland, giving the club an exciting middle infielder to replace Lindor -- but one who could be signed for just $44 million over the next eight seasons (including two inexpensive club options). Wright, part of a wealth of pitching prospects in Atlanta, becomes an immediate rotation option in Cleveland after making brief MLB appearances in 2018 and ‘19. Jackson’s lost a lot of luster since being the sixth overall pick in 2014, but he gives the Indians some catching depth behind Roberto Pérez.
Who says no? The Braves. Albies isn’t quite the force Lindor is, but Atlanta can’t bring itself to give up that much long-term control for a short-term upgrade. Perhaps an alternate version that instead features Swanson -- along with another big-time prospect (outfielder Drew Waters?) -- would work better.