It seems a foregone conclusion that the Tribe will move talented shortstop Francisco Lindor to get value out of the face of the organization and to reduce payroll. Recent pieces by Paul Hoynes and Terry Pluto indicate things could go further. There are more questions than answers at this point. Let’s address some of those below:

How did we get here?

An impasse between the club and Francisco Lindor on the length and value of a potential long-term deal has put the club in its current predicament. Aided by the coronavirus pandemic and the resulting financial losses, the situation has become increasingly complicated. It has resulted in speculation the organization may look to move veteran right-hander Carlos Carrasco in addition to Lindor.

Small market teams such as the Cleveland Indians receive financial benefits from MLB’s revenue sharing program. According to the Athletic’s Evan Drellich, these teams did not receive these benefits in 2020, and they will not receive them in 2021. This benefits the large market clubs that typically pay into the pool dispersed amongst smaller market clubs. Once again, the rich get richer as the larger market clubs are the beneficiaries of smaller market clubs reducing payroll to offset these financial figures.

Which way will they go?

The most straightforward path to deal Lindor is a straight-up trade with the other club. Things aren’t so clear as few teams have the financial means to take Lindor’s projected arbitration contract (numbers vary between $19.5 million and $21.5 million). Few teams may be inclined to take on the salary, and Cleveland is unlikely to buy down the deal with cash. Dealing Carrasco and Perez could alleviate some of the financial concerns the club is facing, but that doesn’t solve the dilemma surrounding Francisco Lindor. At this point, it seems a forgone conclusion that “Frankie” won’t be back next season, with the beloved shortstop likely to be dealt with in the coming weeks.

What are the alternatives?

  • Trade for the best immediate return. 
  • Trade for all prospects.
  • Expand the deal to get more value. (Add players or prospects).
  • Work a three-team deal.

Who makes the most sense?

There are only a handful of teams with the deep pockets to take on Lindor’s contract. The front runners to acquire Lindor are likely the Toronto Blue Jays and the New York Mets. The New York Yankees, Philadelphia Phillies, Los Angeles Dodgers, San Francisco Giants, and the Cincinnati Reds have all been linked to the talented, charismatic infielder. 

The Mets have three things going for them: money, motive, and market. New Mets owner Steve Cohen wants to win, and he wants to win quickly. He’s already dipped into the free-agent market to secure catcher James McCann formerly of the White Sox and Tigers.

Philadelphia’s recent hiring of Dave Dombrowski could change the number of suitors for the Puerto Rican native. Dombrowski has a history of dealing prospects for big names, but that may not be the case as some rumors seemed to indicate the Phillies may be looking to move salary instead of taking it on.

The Toronto Blue Jays have connections (Mark Shapiro and Ross Atkins). More than that, they appear primed to compete for a long time with a talented young core of position players and have the substantial financial resources of Rogers Communications.

What are some comparable deals?

  • Manny Machado was traded mid-season from the Baltimore Orioles to the Los Angeles Dodgers for five prospects: Dean Kremer, Yusneil Diaz, Zach Pop, Rylan Bannon, and Breyvic Valera.
  • In a complicated trade, the Boston Red Sox dealt Mookie Betts and David Price (with reportedly $48 million) for Alex Verdugo, Jeter Downs, and Conner Wong.
  • The New York Yankees acquired Gleyber Torres from the Chicago Cubs for a half-season of All-Star closer Aroldis Chapman.
  • The only position player of significance dealt at the 2020 deadline was outfielder Starling Marte who had just over one season of control remaining. Dealing Marte netted the Diamondbacks three pitchers: Caleb Smith, Julio Arias (no.8 prospect at MLB.com), and Humberto Mejia (no.30 prospect at MLB.com) from the Miami Marlins.

What has the club done historically?

  • With one year of control remaining, the Indians dealt outfielder Shin-Soo Choo to the Cincinnati Reds in a three-team deal involving nine players. Cleveland received Trevor Bauer, Bryan Shaw, and Matt Albers to give up Choo, left-handed reliever Tony Sipp, utilityman Jason Donald, and prospect Lars Anderson.
  • Edwin Encarnacion was traded with one season of control remaining and a ballooning salary. The organization dealt away one-year of control of Encarnacion with a Competitive Balance B pick, Yandy Diaz, and prospect Cole Sulser receiving Carlos Santana, Jake Bauers, and $6 million in return.
  • The organization dealt right-handed starter Trevor Bauer, with one and a half seasons of control. In a seven-player deal involving the Reds and Padres, the club received Yasiel Puig, Franmil Reyes, Logan Allen, Scott Moss, and minor leaguer Victor Nova.

What should fans expect?

Per Fox Sports and MLB Network’s Jon Morosi, rumors have it Cleveland wants three players in return (think a cleaner version of the Mookie Betts deal excluding Price and the cash involved). These three players would preferably be big-league ready or current MLB talents.

Historically, the club has utilized three-way trades as a means to an end. In the Choo deal outlined above, the club added several pieces to get more value back. There’s no doubt based on their history, this could be an avenue, but that could become complicated with the current market. Adding Carlos Carrasco to Lindor could happen, but that seems unlikely because of the acquiring club’s financial commitment to take on unless Cleveland took back some salary. That seems to defeat the purpose of making a deal, so that’s probably not likely to happen. The most apparent path to acquiring the return the club wants maybe to expand the trade.

What happens next?

Cleveland.com’s Paul Hoynes and Terry Pluto have floated the idea that both Carlos Carrasco and Francisco Lindor could be traded this offseason. Speculatively, add Gold Glove backstop Roberto Perez or back up catcher and gifted defender Austin Hedges to the equation. Neither figure to draw a substantial return in a one-for-one trade, but they could be an additional piece in expanded deals. Expect to hear rumors of various constructs (multi-player deals, three-team trades, etc.), but keep in mind the organization is often hard to obtain any information from on with ongoing trade discussions.

Where do they go from here?

The coming 2021 season was always a transition year with the likely departure of the charismatic face of the franchise Francisco Lindor. There is talent here to sustain winning, but that won’t be easy. They will likely have to add players to bridge to the future and to provide stability on the field. Paul Hoynes seemed to allude to this in his recent piece noting the club could pursue some veterans similar to the Hernandez signing this past season if the team deals both Carrasco and Lindor.

With a new young core and talent emerging from Cleveland’s farm system, the future could be bright. Look no further than some of the top prospects already in the organization, for example, Nolan Jones, Triston McKenzie, Tyler Freeman, that should be arriving quickly. Recent additions: Josh Naylor, Cal Quantrill, and Owen Miller could become key contributors. That’s without mentioning the prized prospects acquired in that deal: Gabriel Arias and Joey Cantillo. The farm system is full of talent, as evidenced by Prospects Live’s recent rankings. Consider the prospects already on hand, such as George Valera, Brayan Rocchio, Aaron bracho, Daniel Espino, Ethan Hankins, Bo Naylor, and Tanner Burns. Now, consider the talent the club could acquire in trades, and the overall organizational talent could rival even the best of clubs.

As difficult as it is to see the transition happening, it was coming no matter what. The Coronavirus pandemic onset the process and pushed the fast forward button for the organization. The question is, where does Cleveland go from here?

Photo: USA Today Sports

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