A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, a superstar baseball player had reached his arbitration years, and therefore his services were not as cheap as they once were. His club loved him and would love to keep him around, but the simple economics of it all became complicated when ownership was more concerned about a stiff bottom line than a Hall of Fame talent putting wins on the ledger.
Other teams notice these things, of course. And with the air of inevitability circling, trade talk only becomes inevitable. The dilemma for the team currently housing said superstar becomes this - keep him and win now why you’ve got him, risking having nothing to show for him when he walks in free agency, or trade him now, cashing in with a cache of prospects you hope will eventually be nearly as good as the star is now.
This time around, the fable focuses on Cleveland and shortstop Francisco Lindor, the four-time All Star who, at 26 years old, is one of the absolute best players in baseball. And as MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand reported today, the Cincinnati Reds are the latest team to engage Cleveland on his potential availability.
The Reds are the latest team to engage with the Indians about a potential Francisco Lindor trade, per source. It’s unclear if there’s any traction, but Reds have been aggressive on trade market before (Bauer, Puig) and have attractive trade chips (Senzel, India among them).— Mark Feinsand (@Feinsand) December 19, 2019
If you focus just on the second and third names listed there - Trevor Bauer and Yasiel Puig - the first two paragraphs I wrote up there come even more in focus. Bauer will be a free agent after next year while Puig is one currently, and while neither are on the level of Lindor, both were recently dealt in part because they weren’t in their former teams’ long-term plans. With Lindor, he’s not in Cleveland’s long-term plans because he’s going to demand the kind of salary they don’t feel they can afford, but that’s one of the most interesting paradoxes in the modern baseball world - players that are expensive as heck in arbitration and look to be expensive as heck in a potential extension are so because they’re really freaking incredible at the game of baseball.
Lindor is under team control for both 2020 and 2021, and his estimated arbitration salary for 2020 is some $16.7 million, per MLB Trade Rumors’ model. Given that he’ll warrant another significant raise in 2021, that’s effectively Lindor for age 26 and 27 for some $40 million or so dollars over two years, which while pricey is hardly a dealbreaker for a perennial MVP candidate, especially at a position as coveted as shortstop. Adding a career 119 OPS+ player to any position is instantly a major upgrade - rumored Reds free agent OF target Marcell Ozuna is a career 112 OPS+ hitter, for instance - but that bat bringing legitimate Gold Glove caliber defense at the most important position on the infield is enormously valuable, hence the inclusion of the likes of Nick Senzel and Jonathan India as what the Reds would begin to need to offer to acquire Lindor.
It will certainly be interesting to see if Cleveland, who just won 93 games in 2019, will actively shop Lindor at this juncture, or choose to wait until July, or this time next winter to cash in on their star. Obviously, the longer they wait, the less the return they’ll get, and their deal this week to ship starter Corey Kluber to Texas certainly signals they’re willing to be opportunistic on planning for the future if the right deal presents itself. The Reds, meanwhile, have obviously placed a heavy importance on a playoff run in 2020, as they’ve invested heavily in the likes of Bauer already (who’ll be a free agent at season’s end).
Speaking of Bauer, it’s important to note that these two clubs know each other quite well. They lined up just months ago in the three-team deal that landed Bauer in Cincinnati, and given that the two clubs share the Goodyear, AZ spring training facility, it’s safe to say they’re about as familiar with one another as any two clubs out there. So if there was zero chance of anything going down, I’d be inclined to find it odd that reports of them discussing the idea were still being floated out there. That’s not at all saying it’s a done deal, or anything, as teams rich in talent like the Dodgers will absolutely be throwing their best deals in the ring for Lindor, too. Still, that they’re even talking gives insight that while it might be incredibly costly, the Reds likely do have enough on their roster and in their system to get a deal done, should they choose to push in their chips.
We saw it two years ago in Baltimore with Manny Machado. The Reds themselves ditched their previous core of Johnny Cueto, Jay Bruce, and Todd Frazier in part because they weren’t going to be able to afford to keep them long-term. Years back, the Rockies shipped Matt Holliday out to Oakland for the same reason, while the Marlins once followed the mold in their deal of Hanley Ramirez to Los Angeles. It’s happened for years, and will happen again this winter, whether it’s Lindor this time around or not. And while it would take an incredible amount of prospect and player depth to pull it off, the Reds would be silly to not be exploring the possibility, and might even be silly for not pulling the trigger given the opportunity.