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It’s too early to panic about a Francisco Lindor extension

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Just enjoy the superstar while you have him, and know that the Indians are in good shape.

Cincinnati Reds v Cleveland Indians Photo by Rob Tringali/Getty Images

The replies were predictable, if not maddening.

Cleveland.com’s Paul Hoynes, as he’s wont to do, fired up the always rational Cleveland Indians fan base yesterday with a late-spring non-story about Francisco Lindor playing another season without a big-money deal.

(I’m actually more worried about Trevor Bauer seemingly not being interested in signing a long-term deal to stay here, but that’s another topic for another day.)

The Lindor replies were hilarious, but my favorite was from Joe Barnes:

Francisco Lindor is not going anywhere, gang, at least not for two more years and probably for at least four more years — seasons in which your Cleveland Indians project to be very good (as they have been for the last five seasons, if you haven’t noticed).

Let’s take a look at a few realistic scenarios that could a) be holding up a deal or b) realistic when it comes to the Tribe getting a deal done with the All-Star and MVP candidate.

Scenario 1: Lindor and his agent, David Meter, are waiting to see what happens after the 2018 season.

You may have heard that free agents, with the exception of Eric Hosmer and a few others, got hammered this offseason. You may also have heard that while the middle class has suffered, few expect the league’s elite — like, oh, Bryce Harper and Manny Machado next winter — to suffer.

Chances are Meter and Lindor will at least wait to see what those two marquee players — each of whom will be significantly younger than Lindor will be in his free agency winter — receive to gauge whether the downward trend in spending in free agency continues en masse.

(Side note: Jerry Crasnick on Wednesday morning published a poll of a ton of execs asking about Harper and Machado. Good insight here.)

If Harper and Machado get paid, then I expect Lindor to continue to rebuff the Indians attempts at a long-term deal and enter arbitration next winter, where he’ll begin to cost the Indians a lot more than the $623,000 he’ll be paid this year.)

Scenario 2: Harper and Machado, like Jake Arrieta and Edwin Encarnacion and many more, see their offers depressed to mere crazy level, just not really crazy. Lindor and his agent think hard about what his value is in the New Baseball World Order (NWBO), and re-open negotiations with the Indians.

As Crasnick detailed, there has been plenty of speculation about Harper being a $400 million man, and Machado getting $300 million. Say, on average, each lands eight years and $275 million. Not chump change, but given that Harper and Machado, as mentioned above, will be a couple years younger than Lindor when they enter free agency and they’re more accomplished players, those deals might cause Lindor and his agent to think long and hard about an Indians offer.

A better barometer for Lindor’s deal could be Jose Altuve, who recently signed a five-year, $151 million extension with the Astros, two years before his initial deal was up. Altuve would have been 29 as a free agent after the 2019 season; Lindor will be 28. Machado and Harper will be 26, and Harper and Machado are far more accomplished than Lindor offensively at this stage in their careers – through their age 23 seasons, Machado had amassed 24 WAR, Harper 21.1 and Lindor 16.

The Indians certainly could afford an Altuve-type deal, which — if signed after the 2018 season — could look like seven years and $200 million. (They’d have to be comfortable devoting 25 to 30 percent of their payroll to Lindor, and to this point they haven’t seemed exactly that.)

Look at the Tribe’s payroll commitments over the next four seasons: With the group of players that helped turn the franchise around (Brantley, Kipnis, Kluber, Carrasco Gomes and others) coming off the books, building a team around Lindor, Jose Ramirez (his bargain deal would make a Lindor extension possible), Mike Clevinger, Roberto Perez, Francisco Mejia, Triston McKenzie, Shane Bieber, Tyler Olson and whoever else might blossom isn’t a terrible thing.

Let’s say the Tribe payroll hovers around $120 million or so, give or take. They’d have to be comfortable devoting $35 million of that to their middle infielders, which isn’t unreasonable, especially given some of those young names would be pre-arbitration (like Lindor is now, which is allowing the Indians to pay Encarnacion, Kluber, Carrasco, Brantley, Miller, Kipnis and the others).

Scenario 3: Lindor balks. No deal. It’s 2020, and Lindor is two years from free agency. The Tribe picks up Kluber and Encarnacion’s 2020 options and Ramirez is still a bargain at $6.6 million, but the team is no longer dominating the division against the rebuilt Twins and White Sox (though they are competing). The Indians trade Lindor to maximize value, knowing he’s not going to sign a long-term deal with them. If there’s a taker for Kluber at the deadline, they trade him too to retool.

It will be painful, no doubt. But I don’t buy the “You CAN’T trade him, the fans will never forgive the Dolans!” crowd. Indians fans don’t give the team the benefit of the doubt, ever; Paul Dolan has approved record spending the last two seasons and the team still was criticized this offseason for a perceived lack of activity — rather than credit for a multi-year team building plan that provided Cleveland and Tribe fans with the AL’s best team over the last five seasons.

Think about it: The Indians have planned expertly with extensions and shrewd drafting and trading, and boast three of the best 15 (10?) hitters in the AL and five of the best 20 (?) pitchers in the AL. And yet there’s been nothing but criticism this offseason for not adding to that group. That’s crazy!

If Chris Antonetti & Co., along with the Dolans, determine that Lindor will not re-sign here, I have no doubt they’d make the difficult but right baseball move in dealing Lindor for a haul that would set them up well going forward. (You know – kind of like the CC Sabathia and Cliff Lee deals, the fruits of which we’re still enjoying.)

The good news? We don’t have to worry about this for another few seasons at least.

My advice: Enjoy another team that’s capable of winning the World Series — including your All-Star, MVP candidate shortstop.