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4 key questions facing Tribe ahead of 2021

@MandyBell02
October 29, 2020

CLEVELAND -- Francisco Lindor has heard his name pop up in countless trade rumors over the years, yet nothing has ever come to fruition. But with one just year left until he hits free agency, could this be the offseason when a deal gets done? The Indians have plenty of

CLEVELAND -- Francisco Lindor has heard his name pop up in countless trade rumors over the years, yet nothing has ever come to fruition. But with one just year left until he hits free agency, could this be the offseason when a deal gets done?

The Indians have plenty of things to iron out this winter, including what to do with their All-Star shortstop. Here are five questions facing the Tribe this offseason:

1. What will their payroll look like?
Before the Indians can make a blueprint for the winter, the club will need to determine what its payroll will look like for 2021. The Tribe noted at the beginning of October that it hadn’t yet landed on a specific number to target for next season.

Antonetti on Indians' payroll

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. Because of the financial losses from this year, the Tribe may need to target a payroll even lower than that mark. That will determine how the front office can prepare for options, trades or free agency.

2. Will they trade Lindor?
When Lindor addressed the media after the regular season ended, the shortstop admitted that the idea of possibly having played his final game with Cleveland had crossed his mind. He’ll likely make just over $20 million in 2021, in his last year of arbitration. That hefty one-year deal may not make sense for the Tribe to even entertain the idea.

A trade seems probable, but can Cleveland get what it thinks it deserves in return? The effects of COVID-19 for all teams may make it more challenging to move Lindor with just one year of control remaining. But if the Tribe is set on cutting payroll, Lindor’s estimated $20 million next year would be difficult for Cleveland to pay when a long-term extension seems out of the picture.

3. Will Cesar Hernandez be back at second?
The Indians couldn’t have been more pleased in the production they received from Hernandez, who was signed as a free agent last winter. Hernandez had one of the most consistent bats for the Tribe in 2020, hitting .283 with a .763 OPS and an American-League leading 20 doubles.

Hernandez will enter free agency this offseason, but has already expressed his desire to remain in Cleveland. If the Indians would be able to find the funds to bring him back, the interest in keeping the second baseman is mutual.

“Conceptually, yeah, there would be no reason why we wouldn't,” Indians president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti said. “Again, how we manage our roster construction and what that looks like, it's hard to predict. But he was awesome.”

4. How can they improve the outfield?
The Indians outfielders collectively posted the worst slugging percentage in the Majors (.300) and second-worst average (.194), OPS (.571) and wRC+ (53).

After his stellar rookie season, Oscar Mercado struggled through his sophomore campaign, but Antonetti said the center fielder entered the offseason with a strong plan to come back better in 2021.

The Tribe is also optimistic about Daniel Johnson, who only played in five big league games. Though he struggled in his limited time in the Majors, Johnson has a promising future and could solve some of the team’s outfield problems. However, Cleveland certainly wouldn’t be opposed to bringing in more young outfield talent if someone like Lindor is traded this offseason.

Mandy Bell covers the Indians for MLB.com. Follow her on Twitter at @MandyBell02.