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The one Winter Meetings deal the Indians should make

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Extending Francisco Lindor would be the best deal of the week

Divisional Round - Houston Astros v Cleveland Indians - Game Three Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images

With the Winter Meetings in full swing, everyone’s mind is on deals. Will the Indians trade a starter? Will they trade Edwin Encarnacion or Yandy Diaz? Will Michael Martinez get another contract (this was just for you folks playing bingo)?

I’m just as curious about those other moves as anyone, but I think the Indians should do something less expected. Something that would not make a difference next year, but might make the biggest difference of any deal at the Winter Meetings.

The Indians should extend Francisco Lindor.

The 2019 season will be Lindor’s age-25 season and his first arbitration-eligible year. MLB Trade Rumors projects him to rival Kris Bryant’s record first-time arbitration salary of $10.85 million, valuing Lindor at $10.2 million. In order to extend the smiling shortstop, the Tribe has to buy three more arbitration years in order to gain control over anything beyond his age-28 season. No matter how you approach this, it’s obvious that a Lindor extension at this point will require the largest financial outlay in team history. The Indians will finally have to give out a nine-figure deal to make this happen.

But Lindor declined a $100 million deal as recently as 2017, so why would he accept that money now, after adding 13.4 fWAR to his career total?

Per FanGraphs dollar values, Lindor has been worth $182.1 million already in his four-year career. If we assume that he is reaching his peak this coming year, matching the average aging curve, he’s likely to produce more value in 2019 than ever before. But, no matter our affection for Frankie, I think it’s safe to assume the Tribe is not going to top Giancarlo Stanton’s average annual value ($26 million per Spotrac) for 2019, and matching FanGraphs’ valuation for his contract would be a fool’s errand.

Though he was a top 6 player by fWAR last year and projects to be the best player on the team in 2019, I don’t think the Indians have the resources (or intestinal fortitude) to even put Frankie among the top 15 highest-paid players (all above $25 million AAV) right now. If that’s the case, what’s a reasonable deal for both sides?

Lindor’s representative will surely be looking to best Bryant’s first year salary and eventually top Josh Donaldson’s final arbitration year salary. Doing that, at minimum, might look something like

  • 2019: $11 million
  • 2020: $14 million
  • 2021: $18.5 million
  • 2022: $24 million

This could be a likely path for the Tribe whether or not they reach an extension, paying $67.5 million through the end of Lindor’s arbitration years. If they want to purchase any years beyond his age-28 season, they need to pay more up front.

Let’s say they allocate $75 million for the arbitration years and then tack on $60 million to get two additional years of control. In this deal, Lindor is earning more than he might have in arbitration, getting an AAV for his age-29 and -30 seasons of $30 million (which seems likely close to what Harper and Machado will get in free agency), and maintaining the ability sign another large contract at 31. It could break down by year, something like

  • 2019: $12.5 million
  • 2020: $16 million
  • 2021: $20.5 million
  • 2022: $26 million
  • 2023: $30 million
  • 2024: $30 million

At $135 over six years, this deal would be less than Patrick Corbin, a lesser player, scored this offseason, but it would pay Lindor in excess what his arbitration salaries would, making this fairer for both sides. By the time Lindor is making $26 million per season, there would certainly be many other players with AAV in excess of that number.

Is it something the team would agree to? I cannot say with certainty, but based on the potential for marketing a player like Lindor, it seems likely that a deal like this would certainly have value for the club. Moreover, it would fit the payroll.

Here are the payroll numbers (per Cots Contracts) for Cleveland since 2010, adjusted to 2018 dollars:

  • 2010: $71,269,703.40
  • 2011: $55,567,231.10
  • 2012: $72,067,830.24
  • 2013: $87,501,044.35
  • 2014: $91,242,922.87
  • 2015: $93,888,399.93
  • 2016: $101,471,782.88
  • 2017: $128,047,962.79
  • 2018: $134,851,565

If we assume the Indians’ window of contention stays open as long as Lindor is on the team, and thus the team will continue to spend at the 2018 rate rather than the rebuilding 2011 rate, we can apply the 3.2% inflation rate (from 2017 to 2018) to future salaries and come up with what future payrolls might look like:

  • 2019: $139,166,815.08
  • 2020: $143,620,153.16
  • 2021: $148,215,998.06
  • 2022: $152,958,909.99
  • 2023: $157,853,595.10
  • 2024: $162,904,910.14

Using those assumed payroll numbers, the proposed extension for Lindor would fit because he never represents more than 20 percent of the total. Per Travis Sawchik, no team has won the World Series while committing more than 20 percent of it’s payroll to one player since 2003. The closest the Indians would come with these projected payrolls is in 2023, when Lindor would make an estimated 19 percent of the payroll.

Of course, by making these assumptions about payroll, I run the inherent risk of making an ass of myself, especially because the team is actively seeking payroll help ahead of the 2019 season. But even if the payroll numbers are low, extending Lindor beyond his arbitration years is smart business — if Lindor is willing to go along with it.

Smart business is what the Indians are best at, evident in the well below average contracts locking up Carlos Carrasco and Jose Ramirez through 2023. To put those savings toward keeping Lindor in Cleveland long-term would be more of the same, even if the cost is much (much) higher. It is something the Tribe does not have to do to win next season, or in 2020, but it’s the kind of move that would speak volumes about the value of the franchise player, which could certainly pay off with fans.