The Indians can’t afford to dwell on the Francisco Lindor saga. It’s time to plan for a future built around Jose Ramirez, Shane Bieber, and Mike Clevinger.
The most optimistic of Cleveland Indians fans should not be particularly surprised that Francisco Lindor has tabled contract negotiations in order to focus on preparing for the season.
Even if the two sides wind up miraculously coming to an agreement at some point before the end of the 2021 season, that end result will not change the fact this has always been the longest of long shots.
Though Lindor is still technically under team control for two full years, this postponement-with-a-hint-of-finality feels like the appropriate time for the Indians to begin genuinely addressing their long-term future whether it includes him or not.
Our Matt Bretz already went into great detail on why extending Jose Ramirez actually makes the most sense of any long-term financial decision the Indians could make right now. Ramirez is more than fit to carry the torch as the face of the franchise if and when Lindor departs; the argument can be made he at least owns a share of that title right now.
Mike Clevinger and Shane Bieber could also benefit financially from Cleveland’s inability to reach a deal with its superstar shortstop. If the Indians can’t come up with upwards of $300 million to keep Lindor around, why not spend less than half that to lock up their best young pitchers for the long haul?
Clevinger makes less sense for this than Bieber, as the former is already set to hit free agency at the age of 32. Still, Clevinger might be willing to sign for a relative discount if the Indians offer him a lofty enough raise during his final two arbitration years.
Bieber won’t even be arbitration-eligible until 2022. There’s some risk involved in extending a player this early if the price is too high, but the idea of eliminating arbitration in favor of guaranteed money often appeals to guys in Bieber’s situation, which gives the team a sizable chunk of the leverage in such talks.
Corey Kluber agreed to an extremely team-friendly five-year, $38.5 million extension with the Indians just months after winning his first Cy Young in 2014. Kluber was older then than Bieber is now, but the Indians shouldn’t be too hard-pressed to make an extension worth the latter’s while.
Cleveland could extend Bieber through 2027 and he’d still only be 32 years old when the contract ended.
The Indians’ most prudent course of action would be to focus specifically on Ramirez and Bieber, and then see what is left to come up with a number that fits for Clevinger. Depending on how Clevinger feels about hitting free agency on time, it is perfectly reasonable to suggest the Indians could sign all three.
Locking down a young ace and a franchise position player into the back half of this decade would keep that often-alluded-to-in-conversation, frequently-ignored-in-real-life contention window open as the next generation of Tribe prospects makes its way to the big leagues.
If Tyler Freeman and Nolan Jones pan out, a core of those two, Ramirez, and Franmil Reyes sounds like a pretty solid foundation of position players to build around through the late 2020’s. Let Bieber, who has all the makings of the Tribe’s next Kluber, anchor the rotation. And if Clevinger sticks around, Cleveland’s starting staff remains formidable long beyond Lindor’s expiration date.
The despair brought about by Lindor’s days in Cleveland appearing officially numbered is not unwarranted. But if the Indians play their cards right, they could wind up with at least two–and possibly three–players for less than the price of one.
A Lindor-less future is incomprehensibly discouraging to think about, but it doesn’t have to be the end of this era of Indians baseball.