Cleveland Indians should extend Jose Ramirez right now

All the talk this winter has been about extending Francisco Lindor, but the Cleveland Indians should also turn their attention to a Jose Ramirez extension.

For over a year now one topic has been at or near the top of fans’ minds: will the Cleveland Indians extend Francisco Lindor? It’s a question that’s dear to fans as Lindor is the biggest personality and a fan favorite. He’s able to leave after the 2021 season (or sooner via trade). However, one player that the Indians should be focusing on an extension with is Jose Ramirez.

That may sound like a weird name to throw out there considering Ramirez is currently under team control for another four years counting 2020. His deal pays him a guaranteed amount in 2020 and 2021 with two team options in 2022 and 2023. So why worry about an extension in March of 2020? Glad you asked…

One reason the Indians haven’t been able to get a deal done with Lindor is that he got great while not under contract. He is into arbitration and smells free agency. He knows he can get a good chunk of change in arbitration ($17 million this year and likely $23-25 million next year). He doesn’t need to sign an extension now and can hit free agency at 28 years old if he wants.

Ramirez, on the other hand, has signed a deal and an extremely team-friendly one at that.

Ramirez is set to make just $6.25 million in 2020 and $9 million in 2021 before his two option years at $11 million and $13 million for 2022 and 2023, respectively. That’s a total of just $39.25 million over the next four years. Lindor is set to make $40 million (or more) over the next two years!

Cleveland could just let Ramirez play out the next four years and reap the rewards of MVP-level play from a vastly underpaid player. Ramirez would play out his age 27-30 seasons and then be eligible for free agency as a 31-year-old for the 2024 season. That’s very reasonable for the Tribe to do; however, the Brewers took my idea and put it into action with their own superstar in Christian Yelich.

Yelich had three years of control left at $41.5 million that would have taken him through his age-30 season, just like Ramirez. However, the Brewers were able to leverage that immensely team-friendly deal of his and extend him (allegedly at least) for a total of nine years (counting 2020), keeping him in Milwaukee through his age-36 season, and potentially through 37 (with an option). That could make Yelich a Brewer for the rest of his career.

The Indians are in a great position to do the exact same with Ramirez. Ramirez is stuck making under $40 million over the next four years. He could play that out and then hope to sign a monster deal at 31. If he plays like he has the last three years, that’s possible. But four years is a long time to wait for a big payday. Lots can happen, both good and bad. Yelich knew this and it’s likely the reason he agreed to an extension below market value.

So what can the Tribe do to get Ramirez to sign? The answer is to pay him a lot more over the next four years.

The Indians can structure an extension similar to how the Brewers did with Yelich. “Rip up” the option years while keeping the two guaranteed years. This will get Ramirez a lot more in 2022 and 2023, something he’ll like. The Indians can also include a substantial signing bonus that will be paid out over the next two years. Here’s a realistic breakdown of how the overall deal could look:

’20: $6.25M, ’21: $9M, ’22: $16M, ’23: $18M, ’24: $18M, ’25: $20M, ’26: $20M, ’27: $20M, ’28: $20M, ’29: $22.5M club option ($2.5M buyout)

$10.25M signing bonus ($5.25M paid in 2020, $5M paid in 2021)

Total money over the nine guaranteed years is $160 million with potential for it being a 10-year, $180 million deal. That’s just over $120 million in guaranteed new money ($140 million with option) for Jose Ramirez.

For Ramirez to turn that down, he’d have to assume he can sign for more than a five-year, $120 million deal as a 31-year-old free agent heading into the 2024 season (with an option that could make it a six-year, $140 million deal). He definitely could get more than that if things go right. But one bad year or a change in the Collective Bargaining Agreement and he could lose millions.

The Indians would be taking a big risk with this deal too though. They are giving Ramirez an extra $20.25 million over the next four years when he’s already under control. They may not feel he’s worth $120 million in his 30’s, which is not unreasonable. However, they did give then-34-year-old Edwin Encarnacion a three-year, $60 million deal. Paying Ramirez $20 million in his age 34-35 seasons doesn’t seem like any worse an investment in contrast.

Maybe the Indians could do a shorter deal in a similar fashion too. It doesn’t have to be as long as the Yelich deal, perhaps ending the guarantee after 2025 and making 2026 the option year. That’s $100 million total guaranteed with potential for $120 million overall. It’s $60 million in new money over two years or just over $80 million over three years. That’s a heck of an extension still.

And a beautiful thing about either of these extensions is that they don’t hurt the Tribe financially in the long term. They aren’t paying one guy well over 20% of their payroll as they would be with a Lindor extension. They’d have the ability to add around him with not just prospects but potential free agents/trades.

Yes, a Francisco Lindor extension would still be amazing. I’ve loved the guy since the fall before the Indians drafted him. He’s a future Hall of Famer, and I still think there’s a sliver of hope he stays and I want him to stay. But the Indians can’t just sit around hoping he signs.

Be proactive and make sure you have a good core should he leave. Ramirez is a guy you can still build around and win a title with. If not for Lindor, he’d already be the Indians’ franchise player. I mean, he’s been the Tribe’s best player over the last three years. He’s only one year older than Lindor and can play all over the infield. One could even argue he’s every bit as valuable to the club, potentially more.

Next: Yelich extension not comparable to Lindor situation

So while I totally get Tribe fans wanting to keep Lindor around forever, maybe they should consider another star player who has a realistic shot at being an Indian for life. And who knows, maybe, just maybe, seeing Ramirez sign longterm would get Lindor to have a change of heart and think about staying. One in a million? Sure, but the Ramirez deal is structured in a way you actually could fit both potentially. The dream doesn’t die with a Ramirez extension, but the dream of a franchise player spending his career with the Indians? That would be realized.

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