Can the Cleveland Indians actually extend Francisco Lindor?

Francisco Lindor says he’s open to an extension with the Cleveland Indians if it “makes sense.” Is there any way for both sides to arrive at that point?

Reports that the Cleveland Indians and Francisco Lindor are actively working on an extension come as a bit of a shock after the way this offseason unfolded.

The Lindor-centric trade rumors that swirled above Progressive Field for much of the winter were built around the thought that the Indians could decidedly not afford to extend him under just about any circumstances. It appears such talks are not entirely down for the count just yet.

A report from Paul Hoynes of Cleveland.com highlighted where the Indians and Lindor stand at the moment. Although it would be foolish to get one’s hopes up on the matter, it seems as though the two sides are putting forth genuine effort to get something done.

Among the most interesting comments on the subject came from Lindor himself:

“If it happens, it happens. If not, then not. We’ll see. Like I said, if it makes sense, it’s gonna happen. If it doesn’t make sense, it’s not going to happen.”

“If it makes sense, it’s gonna happen,” is a surprising thing to hear Lindor say. As a straight-up superstar at a premium position on the baseball field and arguably the sport’s most marketable human being off it, the bright lights of a bigger city might as well be homing beacons for the 26-year-old shortstop.

Nobody could fault Lindor for taking his talent and marketability to a team that plays in New York, or Los Angeles, or Chicago, or Miami when he gets to the point where that’s his decision to make. The insinuation that he’s even open to the idea of something “making sense” in Cleveland long-term is eye-opening.

Unfortunately, making sense of an extension is the most challenging part of all this. For starters, Lindor would have to be willing to leave money on the table by foregoing at least a few years of free agency. Considering what he could be looking at in a long-term deal if he gets there on time, there is no incentive for him to do that.

Which means the Indians have to create that incentive by paying him more now. In order for any extension with the Indians to be worth Lindor’s while, he’d have to make significantly more money in 2020-21 than he is scheduled to receive at the moment.

After making $10.55 million in 2019, his first year of arbitration, Lindor will be paid $17.5 million in 2020. That’s a raise of exactly $6.95 million, but let’s round up to an even $7 million for the sake of simplifying this exercise. Because it isn’t exactly difficult to imagine him sustaining his star-caliber level of play in 2020, another raise of $7 million seems like a fair estimate for his 2021 salary.

If so, Lindor would essentially play his final two years in Cleveland on a $42 million contract ($17.5 million this year, $24.5 million next year). By how much would the Indians have to exceed that number in order to seriously command Lindor’s attention? Could the conversation begin by wiping out his salary for this year and offering him $50 million total in 2020-21?

If the Indians tacked $4 million on to each of Lindor’s final two arbitration years, the start of an extension could look something like this:

  • 2020 – $21.5 million
  • 2021 – $28.5 million

We’ve now passed the easy part of these negotiations, if there is any such thing. Lindor would surely welcome an extra $8 million for the next two years, and that number isn’t going to cripple the team. The next step is infinitely more difficult: finding a figure that not only works for the Indians, but also won’t make Lindor feel like he’s passing up on more in free agency.

How long could the Indians afford to pay one player $30 million (or more) per year and still maintain a competitive roster? How adversely would Lindor’s age affect him if he got to free agency later than 2021?

Labeling anything as “realistic” in this regard is dicey. If Lindor hits the open market on schedule, he’s likely looking at a $300 million deal. The Indians simply can’t compete with that. But perhaps the following layout, which wouldn’t handcuff the team for a decade, gives him something to think about:

  • 2022 – $35 million
  • 2023 – $35 million
  • 2024 – Player Option – $30 million
  • 2025 – Player Option – $30 million

The proposal is essentially a four-year, $120 million deal spanning 2020-23 with the potential to become a six-year, $180 million deal if Lindor exercises both of his options. By front-loading the deal and perhaps overpaying Lindor for what would be his first two free agent years, the Indians gain some leverage in that he’s likely not leaving much (or any) money on the table early in the contract.

In giving him two opportunities to opt out, the Indians leave the door open for Lindor to pursue a more lucrative long-term deal after 2023, at which point he’ll be 30 years old. Admittedly without any way to definitively predict the future, that shouldn’t be too late for Lindor to sign a new contract worth upwards of $200 million with a new team.

He might not get 10 years and $300 million exclusively from the Indians, but this extension, as constructed, doesn’t prevent him from getting 10 years and $300 million in two separate contracts. At the very least, that aspect of the whole process shouldn’t be completely dismissed.

The Indians would keep Lindor for at least two more years, and he’d be guaranteed an AAV of $30 million over the life of the contract regardless of whether he opted out or not.

Imagining for a moment that the Indians and Lindor would both make this deal, it wouldn’t leave the club with much left over in the short term to extend Mike Clevinger or Shane Bieber. Moreover, for a team that already steers clear of pricey free agent signings, paying Lindor in this range even for just a couple of years would inhibit Cleveland’s flexibility to build around him from one offseason to the next.

At the end of the day, there is no way for the two sides to come to an agreement without each assuming its fair share of risk.

Next: Cleveland Indians officially announce Domingo Santana signing

If keeping Lindor in Cleveland is as important as the Indians say it is, then they need to dive headlong into this and accept the possibility of some negative ramifications in the long run. If winning in Cleveland is as important to Lindor as he says it is, then he likely needs to chance missing out on more money down the road–which nobody anywhere has a right to ask of him.

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