Can the Cleveland Indians clear space to sign Francisco Lindor long-term?

The owners of the Cleveland Indians have made it known they want to keep payroll low, but can they create space to keep Francisco Lindor?

It has been well documented that the Cleveland Indians are in the business of saving money in every way possible of late, cutting their team payroll from a little over $149 million in 2017 to just over $100 million this season. As part of that deduction in salary, it has been made nearly crystal clear that Francisco Lindor won’t be signing a long-term deal in Cleveland. Expected to ink a deal in the range of $30 million per year, if not higher, Lindor has a high price tag that doesn’t seem reachable for the Cleveland front office.

But for the sake of argument, what if it was? What if the Indians could clear enough space on the payroll to easily add Lindor without breaking the bank with the combined number they have in mind. Somehow, it isn’t impossible.

Majority of the Indians’ payroll is made up of a few key players, including Lindor. Luckily, the Indians have one of the stronger farm systems in baseball that could allow them to let go of other expensive players to make that $30 million a year for Lindor more achievable.

We’ll begin with the most expensive player on the roster at the moment, Carlos Santana. Now, Santana has drawn walks like no one’s business this season, but that doesn’t always translate to production. He isn’t the threat he used to be and isn’t worth his $20 million that is counted on the payroll.

Santana has a club option for next year that could cause the team to back out of the last year of his deal, set for $17.5 million on the payroll. There are a few options for the Indians to take here.

The first is that they move on from Santana and cut ties completely, counting on a combination of Bobby Bradley, Josh Naylor or Jake Bauers to take over the position in the field. All three are as ready as they’ll be for the majors and could step in.

The other would be to bring back Santana on a cheaper deal that would be a fraction of his contract. He’s shown his love for Cleveland since returning and might provide the Indians with a hometown discount of sorts. Regardless, Santana’s deal provides an easy way for the team to produce a large chunk of Lindor’s future deal.

The next player that could be let go is Carlos Carrasco. In the second year of a five-year deal, Carrasco will soon be the Indians’ most expensive player while also being one of the oldest. The rest of the rotation for Cleveland is young and budding into a solid four.

Carrasco is a great player to have in the clubhouse, but his price tag will continue to rise through his contract. In his last year, being 2023, Carrasco is set to make over $14 million at the age of 36. He might still be effective at that point, but there are younger and cheaper options in the system that could step up in his absence.

Continuing down the payroll, we come to Jose Ramirez who, although cheap for his value, is still the fourth highest paid player on the team at just over $6 million. The catch for Ramirez is that his deal keeps increasing each year. In 2021 it’ll become $9 million before a club option in 2022 for $11 million and then another option in 2023 for $13 million.

Although Ramirez has been a great player for the team, we’re approaching the zone where his price tag becomes a bit high and there’s a cheaper option in the minors. That option is the Indians’ top prospect, Nolan Jones.

Jones would have been biting at the bit for his debut right now had there been a minor league season, but without it his experience is capped at Double-A. However, his sample size has been enough to see what is coming and proactively move Ramirez before his value dips. If Jones needs a bit more time, then Yu Chang can cover for the time being.

Another player that is easily replaceable, but is making a lot of money right now is Cesar Hernandez. Also at just over $6 million this year, Hernandez has been a nice addition to the lineup, but could play his price tag too high down the road.

If these moves are made to keep Lindor, then the Indians will have a plethora of middle infield prospects with one spot locked up. The obvious place for those players would be second base, where a guy like No. 2 prospect Tyler Freeman could slide in as the double play tandem with Lindor. If that’s the case, then Hernandez won’t be needed in a couple years, so his deal would be a short one if he returns.

Although these are the hard hitters for creating payroll space, this is just scratching the surface of moves the Cleveland Indians could make to keep Lindor. As stated earlier, the team’s payroll is almost $50 million less than it was just three seasons ago. The club could double Lindor’s payroll salary, which would be $35 million a year, and still be saving around $30 million from what they paid in 2017 and keep everyone that was just mentioned under contract.

The idea of keeping Lindor has been made into this long shot because of how cheap the Cleveland Indians can be and what the owners have said in interviews. However, the reality is that making space for Lindor would be very simple. For some reason, the Cleveland Indians owners just won’t do it, or at least won’t commit to it.

Next: Three prospects that could help the playoff push