Cleveland Indians: Why letting Francisco Lindor go was the right move

Cleveland Indians, Francisco Lindor

Francisco Lindor #12 of the New York Mets, formerly of the Cleveland Indians (Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images)

Letting Francisco Lindor go was the right move for the Cleveland Indians.

On January 7, 2021 the Cleveland Indians traded their star shortstop in Francisco Lindor to the New York Mets. Fast forward almost three months to the day and the Mets have inked Lindor to a $341 million deal over the next 10 years. The deal will keep Lindor in Queens through the 2031 season, but fans of the Tribe should be relieved that it was the Mets that made that deal and not the Indians.

It’s hard to question the impact that Lindor had in Cleveland. He was the face of the franchise and one of the top players on the team year after year. However, like many players before him, he outpriced himself with the organization. No matter the financial arguments we make, this is the situation that the team is in and one we have to come to terms with. The Cleveland Indians are far from the only small market team in baseball, but losing Lindor hurt a bit more than other moves.

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Now that Lindor and the Mets have agreed to the extension, I raise the point that the Indians are now better off without Lindor. Could the team have forked over the $34.1 million per year for the next decade? Sure. Would it have crippled this team financially based on how the owners want to operate? Absolutely.

This isn’t an argument over whether or not the ownership should be spending more money per year. Rather an argument that by working with what they are given, the front office made the right decision in moving Lindor.

Note: Contract information found at spotrac.com

As it currently stands, the Cleveland Indians payroll is projected to be just over $49 million in 2021 with only $25 million on the books for 2022. That $25 million could also technically be wiped off as it is made up of three club options. Roberto Perez has an option for $7 million, Cesar Hernandez for $6 million and Jose Ramirez for $12 million.

That’s only three players, though. The Indians have another 20 players that will be back on cheap arbitration contracts or rookie deals from not having enough service time to qualify for arbitration. Players still under team control without arbitration include: Andres Gimenez, Yu Chang, Josh Naylor, Zach Plesac, Aaron Civale, Logan Allen, Triston McKenzie, James Karinchak and Emmanuel Clase.

Figure all nine will be back on contracts somewhere between $570,000 and $600,000 next year, so at most you’re looking at $5.4 million for the group. That added to the $25 million from club options and the total is at $30.4 million for 12 core players, still $3.7 million less than the Mets will pay Lindor.

Let me say that again. Half of the Cleveland Indians roster in 2022 combined will make $3.7 million less than Francisco Lindor alone. Now do that for the next 10 years.

Keep in mind also that the Indians will have other big contracts coming up to make decisions on. Jose Ramirez is set to be a free agent in 2024 followed by Shane Bieber and Franmil Reyes in 2025. While in short-term, those don’t have an impact they have a massive impact in the long-term scope of a 10-year deal for one player.

Ramirez has been in MVP consideration, Bieber won the Cy Young and Reyes could turn into a power machine being just 22-years old. Those could be hefty contracts all in the span of two off-seasons. With Lindor’s contract weighing down on the team, those deals would seem impossible. Now, there’s a much better chance that they can all be brought back.

Alright, so the short-term. Lindor could have played in Cleveland this year or until the deadline?

Yes, I hear that argument, but keep in mind who the Indians have this season because of the deal. Andres Gimenez and Amed Rosario are already at the major league level, but go beyond just the trade.

Lindor is making $22.3 million this season before his lucrative deal sets in next year. Gimenez and Rosario combined make just under $3 million, so we’ll say that the deal saved the Indians about $19 million on the books in 2021. But that money is being used elsewhere.

Cesar Hernandez signed for $5 million and Eddie Rosario for $8 million. Two big free agent additions for a total of $13 million. We still have $6 million to use from Lindor’s deal.

Then let’s add Ben Gamel at $1.5 million, Bryan Shaw at $1 million and let’s bring back Oliver Perez to the bullpen to have a lefty at $1.25 million, where’s that put us? Still about $2.25 million under Lindor’s arbitration deal.

The timeline makes it seem like the Cleveland Indians could have done all of this with Lindor, but the reality is the front office was working with the idea that Lindor wouldn’t be in Cleveland. Instead, they invested his $22.3 million into a total of five impact players for the Tribe this season while preparing for a future that will include a lot of expiring contracts for emerging stars. Again, now consider similar moves for the next 10 years with his $34.1 million a season.

Yes, the Francisco Lindor trade hurt and was a reminder that the Indians don’t spend money. However, the front office is in the process of working their magic and in the long-run, the Indians could very easily end up the winners of the deal in the big picture.