‘I wanna win’ in Cleveland
GOODYEAR, Ariz. — After an entire offseason of rumors about a potential trade, and constant speculation that his team ultimately will not be able to afford him, Cleveland Indians shortstop Francisco Lindor wanted to make one thing clear after his first official workout of spring training.
“I wanna win here, I wanna stay here,” Lindor said Monday afternoon. “I wanna stay here in Cleveland. This is home. I’m not playing to get traded or to put myself in a good spot to get traded. I’m playing to win. I want to win here.”
Lindor, a four-time All-Star and one of the game’s best all-around players, is only two seasons away from free agency and will undoubtedly command $30-plus million a year on a long-term contract once he ventures into the open market. But the Indians have been trimming their payroll in recent years, going from $135 million to open 2018 to $120 million in 2019 to an estimated $90 million in 2020.
Lindor, 26, could eventually absorb about a quarter of the Indians’ payroll, putting the franchise in a similarly precarious situation as the San Diego Padres after they signed Manny Machado.
Lindor nonetheless thinks a long-term deal is possible.
“If the negotiations or whatever makes sense, it’s gonna happen,” Lindor said. “The team is not broke. The league is not broke. There’s money.”
The Indians reportedly shopped Lindor over the offseason, but some of the executives involved in the negotiations came away believing that the team wasn’t all that serious about trading him. Despite sending Corey Kluber to the Texas Rangers, the Indians possess a wealth of young pitching and remain hopeful of competing in the American League Central — a division where the Minnesota Twins and Chicago White Sox loom as legitimate threats.
If the Indians fall out of contention over the summer, it’s possible they’d trade Lindor in July — or in the offseason that follows.
Indians president Chris Antonetti would seemingly prefer not to.
“We’d love for Francisco to be here long term,” Antonetti said. “I think Francisco shares that desire. We have, and our ownership has made, meaningful efforts to try and do that. And so has Francisco. And he and his representative, David Meter, continue to express to us, both publicly and privately, that he’d like to stay here and like to stay in Cleveland. And I think he’s been consistent with what he shared with all of you. Now, how we make that happen is where it gets difficult.
“It’s not because of a lack of desire on our part, or not because of a lack of desire on Francisco’s part. But more when you look at the economics of baseball and the realities of building championship teams in a small market, it gets really tough. The interest is there, the desire is there, on both sides, to try to get something done. And whether or not that’s possible we just don’t know.”
Antonetti first needs to determine whether he can get Lindor to sign the type of extension that would allow the Indians to remain competitive, conversations that are expected to continue during spring training. If nothing makes sense for either side, Antonetti must decide whether to trade Lindor — and suffer backlash like the Boston Red Sox, who recently traded Mookie Betts to the Los Angeles Dodgers — or try to win with him until he becomes a free agent after the 2021 season.
Antonetti said the latter is “certainly one of the paths we could pursue.”
“I love it here,” Lindor said. “The people are great, the city of Cleveland has been nothing but good to me. Why would I want to leave? If we have a team in Puerto Rico, that would be a little different; I’d be saying I want to get out of Cleveland and be in Puerto Rico. But that’s not the case. I’m just enjoying the ride here. I’m blessed to be playing this game on a daily basis. And to be able to call this my job, it doesn’t get any better than this.”