Cleveland Indians aren’t the only team facing tough Lindor decision

The Indians are believed by many to be in an incredibly tough spot regarding Francisco Lindor‘s future. But what about the teams looking to acquire him?

When a small-market team nears zero barrier in terms of a franchise player who is one day going to become too expensive to keep long-term, along comes the inevitability of rampant trade speculation.

Such is the case for the Cleveland Indians and Francisco Lindor, a reality of which Tribe fans are already uncomfortably aware. For the better part of the next two calendar years, all the way up until the 2021 trade deadline, Cleveland’s front office will face the most unenviable of decisions: Keep the club’s best position player since Jim Thome and try to win a World Series before he leaves for nothing via free agency, or sell him for what is sure to be a haul containing both prospects and established MLB talent.

If the Indians choose the first option, then it’s imperative that they take some chances in free agency this winter and attempt to build Lindor the most complete supporting cast possible.

On the other hand, if Cleveland merges onto the exit ramp regarding its star shortstop, it’s equally crucial that the team gets maximum value in return. That’s the tricky part, as there are varying opinions on when Lindor’s trade value will be at its highest.

In a vacuum, that time is now. Lindor remains under team control for two years (albeit with high arbitration numbers set to come his way). There are at least a dozen franchises out there–even other small-market teams–who would conceivably be willing to sell the farm for two seasons from arguably the best shortstop in the league, regardless of whether they could realistically re-sign him after 2021.

Conversely, there isn’t quite as much desperation among contenders in December as there is in July. Teams often opt to use the first half of the regular season to gauge how many moves they are away from becoming a true World Series threat, and can be more willing to pull the trigger on blockbuster deals at the summer trade deadline.

The Catch-22 for the Indians in that regard is that they figure to be one of those teams in 2020, so moving their best player in the middle of a season with World Series hopes isn’t likely. Thus, any team who wishes to acquire him for two full years will likely have to send their best offer this winter.

What this creates is a conundrum for all teams involved in any potential Lindor trade talks, not just the Indians. Consider the Dodgers and Yankees, who are likely to be tied to this conversation all winter long.

What both the Dodgers and Yankees possess is the financial wherewithal to take a serious run at Lindor when he becomes a free agent in two years. They’re also both equipped well enough for the foreseeable future that trading for Lindor right this second is not an absolute necessity.

The Dodgers have built a powerhouse that has presided over the NL West for more than half a decade, and one of the primary reasons for their sustained success is that they’ve done a pretty bang-up job holding onto their top prospects. They probably don’t need Lindor for 162 games to have a shot at yet another NL West title. Instead, the Dodgers have to believe Lindor puts them over the top as a World Series favorite, and that parting with Corey Seager and Gavin Lux, at minimum, is worth that chance.

The Yankees haven’t enjoyed quite the run that the Dodgers have in recent years, but they are poised to be in the World Series conversation with or without Lindor for the next two seasons. If anything, a patchwork starting rotation is a more glaring need for the Yankees than another star position player.

But on the other hand, as was alluded to earlier: unless the Indians torpedo early in 2020, neither of these teams have a shot at Lindor at the deadline, meaning they’ll need to tempt the Tribe now.

Teams like the Dodgers and Yankees have to weigh the following when considering whether to trade for Lindor this winter.

  • Is it worth trading for a guy we can sign in two years anyway, when we’re not all that far away from a legitimate World Series run without him?
  • Is the fact that we can extend him worth trading for two extra years of his services, because he undoubtedly puts us over the top right away?

At surface level, the idea of acquiring a player like Lindor should be an easy decision for any team that wants to win. When all the other elements of the process are factored in, it gets quite complicated.

The Indians are going to see various levels of desperation at different junctures from every team they engage with on the Lindor front. Unfortunately for Cleveland, it’s unlikely that every team’s best offer comes in all at once.

Next: Who will be the Indians' Opening Day starter in 2020?

While the Indians are deciding on the best course of action regarding whether and when to trade their shortstop, the rest of the league is weighing its options on when to trade for him.

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