Recent history suggests Cleveland Indians would lose Lindor trade

DETROIT, MI - AUGUST 29: Francisco Lindor #12 of the Cleveland Indians warms up to bat against the Detroit Tigers during the third inning at Comerica Park on August 29, 2019 in Detroit, Michigan. Lindor hit a solo home run during the third inning and the Indians defeated the Tigers 2-0. (Photo by Duane Burleson/Getty Images)
DETROIT, MI - AUGUST 29: Francisco Lindor #12 of the Cleveland Indians warms up to bat against the Detroit Tigers during the third inning at Comerica Park on August 29, 2019 in Detroit, Michigan. Lindor hit a solo home run during the third inning and the Indians defeated the Tigers 2-0. (Photo by Duane Burleson/Getty Images) /

An interesting ESPN article indirectly sheds light on whether the Cleveland Indians would truly be making the best decision if they traded Francisco Lindor.

David Schoenfield of wrote an insightful article on where the potential trades of Francisco Lindor, Mookie Betts, and Nolan Arenado would rank all-time among offseason deals.

The article focuses on the best players to ever be traded during the winter, with an emphasis on cumulative WAR in the two most recent seasons leading up to the trade. The criteria skews the results somewhat; Chuck Knoblauch ranks third overall since 1950 behind Alex Rodriguez and Roger Clemens on account of having racked up 15.5 WAR in the two years prior to being traded from the Twins to the Yankees in 1998.

Hardly anyone would rank Knoblauch as one of the top 10 second basemen of the last 30 years, let alone as one of the greatest players ever to be traded in the last 70. But I digress, because conveniently timed WAR totals weren’t the most interesting thing I noticed in Schoenfield’s analysis.

The prevailing sentiment among small-market or non-contending teams with star players nearing the ends of their contracts is that the best course of action is to trade them for future value. But how has that worked out over the last 20-plus years when the biggest names were involved? The most eye-catching takeaway from Schoenfield’s story was that the team giving up the great (or good) player came out on the losing end of the trade almost all the way across the board.

The best player to be traded during the offseason since 1950 was Clemens, who the Blue Jays sent to the Yankees prior to the 1999 season. The return headed to Toronto was David Wells, Graeme Lloyd, and Homer Bush. The Yankees won back-to-back championships in 1999-2000, and Clemens won the 2001 Cy Young award. Who came out on top in that trade?

Rodriguez ranks second on the list for his 2004 trade from the Rangers to the Yankees. Texas received Alfonso Soriano in return. The strongest six-year stretch of Soriano’s career spanned 2002-07, and his two years with the Rangers (2004-05) represent by far the two lowest WAR totals in this time frame. In fact, Soriano’s 3.7 WAR in two seasons with Texas is lower than any other one-year total he posted in 2002-03 or 2006-07.

Rodriguez won two MVP awards in a Yankees uniform and ultimately a World Series in 2009.

In November 2014, the A’s traded Josh Donaldson to the Blue Jays for Brett Lawrie, Franklin Barreto, Kendall Graveman, and Sean Nolin. Lawrie hasn’t played in the majors since 2016. The jury is still out on Barreto as a prospect, but he has been anything but impressive in his limited time at the MLB level. Neither Nolin nor Graveman are still with Oakland.

Donaldson won an MVP award immediately after the trade in 2015, and the Blue Jays twice reached the ALCS with the third baseman on the roster. Noticing a theme yet?

No. 7 on the list is Curt Schilling, who was traded from Arizona to Boston after the 2003 season. Anyone remember what happened in Boston in 2004? Something about coming back from a 3-0 ALCS deficit and winning the franchise’s first World Series in 86 years? For good measure, Schilling helped the Red Sox to another title in 2007.

In exchange for Schilling, who currently sits at the precipice of being inducted into the Hall of Fame, the Diamondbacks received Jorge De La Rosa, Casey Fossum, Mike Goss, and Brandon Lyon. Refresh my memory: are any of those guys regarded as one of the most clutch postseason performers ever? Are any of them bound for Cooperstown?

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One trade that didn’t crack the top 10 was the 1997 deal that sent Pedro Martinez from the Expos to the Red Sox for Carl Pavano and Tony Armas Jr. Much like with Schilling, we don’t need to rack our brains to remember how that worked out for the team receiving the best player in the trade.

One exception to this trend was when Zack Greinke was traded to the Brewers after the 2010 season for a package that included Lorenzo Cain. The Brewers would go as far as the NLCS the following year in 2011, but Greinke didn’t pitch well in the playoffs and was traded again in the middle of the 2012 season. Cain obviously played a crucial role in the Royals’ 2015 world championship.

The Greinke example aside, it’s difficult to ignore what happened to some of those other teams in the immediate aftermath of parting with a star player.

For the Cleveland Indians, this cannot be overstated in regard to Francisco Lindor. There is a great divide between those who believe Lindor should be traded and those who believe he should be kept, and it centralizes on the following question: Is the long-term value of a farsighted prospect package more advantageous to the Indians than the short-term value of having Lindor on the team right now?

Without any way to truly know what the future holds, the question is unanswerable. While there is merit to arguments on both sides, even the most intelligent baseball minds are doing little other than making informed predictions. But sometimes history helps to shed light on what might happen next, and there is certainly an abundance of instances in which a Lindor-type trade has backfired on the team giving that player up.

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Even if the incoming haul were to include the elusive Gavin Lux, there is clear evidence suggesting the Indians would be in danger of regretting such a decision. If the Indians can’t win a World Series with Lindor on the roster by the time he leaves after the 2021 season, so be it. A far worse fate would be trading him before his expiration date in return for a package that never provides anything of consequence down the road.