Jul 13, 2014; Minneapolis, MN, USA; World shortstop Francisco Lindor throws the ball during the All Star Futures Game at Target Field. Mandatory Credit: Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports
We all know “That Guy”. He’s the typical uneducated Indians fan clamoring for that Right Handed Power Bat, petitioning to get rid of solid players after a down season, yelling at the front office for not calling up top prospects as soon as possible, and vowing that he won’t come to the stadium until the Indians start spending money on the top tier free agents. “That Guy” can be a pain in the butt, but Wahoo’s on First is here to help keep him quiet and, better yet, educate him.
This week, That Guy is upset that the Indians haven’t promoted Francisco Lindor yet.
That Guy: Francisco Lindor is totally dope! If the Indians had called him up in September they might have made the playoffs; his numbers in Columbus were baller. They said he won’t be with the club on opening day this year, either. What a joke! Those idiots definitely don’t know what they’re doing. Unleash the Kraken!
Wahoo’s on First: Actually, That Guy, calling Lindor up in September wouldn’t have made any sense. Success at the AAA level certainly doesn’t guarantee production in the major leagues (just think back to Matt LaPorta and David Huff). What’s more, Jose Ramirez hit .264/.298/.368 while playing above-average defense at shortstop. It’s impossible to say this for sure, but it’s unlikely that a player with no major league experience would have done much better, and far more unlikely that he’d have added three wins worth of production to the team. As a reference point, no player in the MLB was worth even 2 wins above replacement during the month of September. Miguel Cabrera and Michael Brantley were the closest with 1.8 and 1.7 fWAR, respectively.
That Guy: I guess saying he would have helped them make the playoffs was an exaggeration, my bad. But he’s still a ridiculous shortstop, right? People keep saying he’s the best defensive player in the minor leagues, plus he’s a great hitter and has speed. Putting him at shortstop to start the year seems like a no-brainer.
Wahoo’s on First: Lindor is definitely a promising player, nobody’s denying that. However, bringing him up would displace either Jason Kipnis or Jose Ramirez. Kipnis didn’t have a stellar 2014, but he’s due for a bounceback year, and based on his 2013 numbers it’s well worth it to give him that chance. Ramirez has proven himself to be a viable major leaguer, while Lindor simply hasn’t yet. There’s simply no good reason to demote Ramirez to a lesser role while he’s playing like an above-average shortstop. He was worth 1.8 WAR last year in less than half a season’s worth of playing time, and even that mark ranked fifth on the team among position players.
Sep 23, 2014; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Indians shortstop Jose Ramirez (11) catches a relay throw before tagging out Kansas City Royals center fielderLorenzo Cain
(6) on an attempted steal of second base in the sixth inning at Progressive Field. Mandatory Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports
That Guy: But that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for Lindor on the roster. Why not call him up and give him some experience in blowout games, or use him to give Kipnis or Ramirez a day off once in a while? Teams do stuff like that with minor-league players all the time, yo.
Wahoo’s on First: There are two problems with that. The first is that the Indians already have Mike Aviles for that purpose, and he’s done a great job in that role for the past two seasons. He’s also owed a little over $3 million on a guaranteed contract this season. The second issue is a controversial subject known as service time.
That Guy: I know about service time. Isn’t that what tells us when an Indians player will become a free agent and sign with the Yankees?
Wahoo’s on First: That’s a slightly misguided way of looking at it, but you’ve got the right idea. If the Indians wait a couple of weeks before promoting Lindor, they’re guaranteed to have an extra year of team control over him, meaning he’d be in a Cleveland uniform through at least 2021.
That Guy: That sounds wicked awesome! So we’d basically get another year of Lindor for really cheap as long as he stays in Triple-A for a few more weeks?
Wahoo’s on First: It’s actually a bit more complicated than that. See, if the Indians call him up that early in the season, he’d be eligible to become something called a Super Two. A Super Two player is, in essence, a player who won’t have enough service time to qualify for free agency after parts of six seasons in the major leagues, but has enough service time that it wouldn’t be fair to pay him league minimum for another year. So instead, that player goes through the arbitration process four times instead of the usual three.
That Guy: That’s seems ridiculously complicated and kind of annoying.
Wahoo’s on First: It is. But it’s necessary to make sure that players are compensated fairly. The point is that if the Indians were to wait until early in July to call Lindor up to the big leagues, he’d likely miss out on enough service time to qualify for Super Two eligibility. In that case, he’d play the rest of 2015 at league minimum as well as 2016-2018, and go through arbitration during each of the 2019-2021 seasons. Depending on his level of success as a major-league ballplayer, that could save the team anywhere between $5 and $15 million.
That Guy: So we’re gonna have to wait until July to see Lindor just because the cheap owners want to save some cash? They’re the worst, yo!
Wahoo’s on First: That’s not necessarily the case. What I’m saying is that money is a factor in the decision, just like other areas of baseball operations such as draft bonuses and free agent signings. That $5-$15 million is an important consideration (especially for a small-market team like the Indians), but if the front office thinks having Lindor up earlier will help them contend for a championship, that could be a price they’re willing to pay. Injuries, slumps and positional changes for Ramirez, Kipnis or Lonnie Chisenhall are examples of factors that could open up an opportunity for Lindor before July. Simply put, that need would have to outweigh the financial flexibility they would otherwise have with an extra few million dollars in the budget during the 2018-2021 seasons.
Sep 21, 2014; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Cleveland Indians designated hitter Jason Kipnis (22) at bat against the Minnesota Twins at Target Field. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports
That Guy: I gotcha. So it’s another choice the Indians will have to make carefully as a small-market team.
Wahoo’s on First: Now you’re getting it, That Guy. We see this kind of stuff happen fairly often in baseball. Just last year, George Springer of the Astros didn’t break camp with the club even though he was clearly their best option. Houston waited three weeks to call him up so they could have an extra year of team control. Similar politics were present regarding Noah Syndergaard of the Mets and Gregory Polanco of the Pirates. The Indians need to carefully evaluate every decision they make in order to gain a competitive advantage. They’re certainly being as careful as ever with this one.
Have you heard a stereotypical “That Guy” complaint lately? We hear a lot of them, but there are plenty of unique ones we may not have caught wind of. If you want us to write about yours, e-mail it to us at email@example.com.