Francisco Lindor is waiting for his number.
The 25-year-old superstar may be young and he may have been more than happy to accept $10 million to avoid the messy arbitration process, but he’s no dummy. He knows what he’s worth, and he’s going to do everything in his power to get it.
Now that fellow superstar Nolan Arenado has his payday with a reported eight-year, $260 million deal that includes an opt-out after three years and a full no-trade clause, Lindor’s magic number that’s he waiting for the Indians to come up with may be a little more clear. He’s one of the best players in baseball, he’s only 25, he plays at a premium position, and he’s marketable as all hell. He’s not going to be cheap.
If the reports of Arenado’s extension with the Rockies are true, it would make him the highest paid position player — per season — in baseball history. The $32.5 million he will receive from the Rockies over the next eight seasons is higher than the $30 million Manny Machado will receive per year in his new deal with the Padres, though the total could be broken by Bryce Harper whenever he finally signs with the Phillies and ends our national nightmare.
How exactly do you get $260 million dollars for playing baseball? For one, be the face of your franchise. Once you’ve cleared that small hurdle, try being a 25.3 WAR player over five seasons, including three-straight seasons of being worth 5.0+ wins. Also consider slashing .297/.374/.561 in your final year before the extension hits and be third in MVP voting for your respective league. Oh, and could you also please play in at least 156 games for four-straight seasons? It’s really not that hard.
Since Arenado broke out in 2015, only a handful of position players have a higher overall fWAR than him (including Lindor), and only Kris Bryant, Josh Donaldson, and Manny Machado have higher WAR totals as third basemen. Point being, Arenado is at the front of his class at his position as one of the best defenders at his position, with a powerful bat to boot. That should sound familiar to Indians fans.
Arenado’s deal comes one year before he was set to enter free agency as a 28-year-old third baseman — similar to the scenario Lindor will be looking at prior to the 2021 season when he prepares to enter his final year with the Indians before free agency. For that reason alone, Arenado’s extension with the Rockies was always going to be a better barometer for the Indians’ ability to extend Lindor than whatever Bryce Harper or Manny Machado signed for. I’m sure Lindor is pitching for a 10-year deal over $300 — as he damn well should — but the Indians are going to gamble that most teams aren’t going to pay a player deep into their 30s like they used to. They’re both going to play a game of chicken with free agency, much like Arenado did with the Rockies.
But here’s the scary thing for the Indians, and Indians fans who want Lindor in Cleveland for a long time to come: He’s so much better than Arenado.
If we want to talk value compared to peers at your position, Lindor led all shortstops in fWAR in 2018, and he leads all shortstops since he broke out in 2015 with 22.8 fWAR. Not counting Manny Machado, who was and is going to be a third baseman, Francisco Lindor’s 120 wRC+ since 2015 is the third highest among his short-stopping peers. A calf strain to start the season will diminish his durability a bit, but since his first full season in 2016, Lindor has sat out just 11 of the Tribes 486 regular season games.
We already know that Lindor is not focused on an extension with the Indians at the moment, and there’s no reason for him to rush. At his current pace, he’s going to be in the same boat as Arenado with an even better career behind him and a new CBA to negotiate under. Lindor has already been to a World Series. He’s already had a 7.6 WAR season; he’s projected to add another 6.4 wins in 2019. With just 574 games under his belt, Lindor has already amassed 22.8 career fWAR, where Nolan Arenado has been worth 25.3 in 876 games. None of this is to trash the greatness of Arenado, but just to put into context how great Lindor is, and is going to be.
Nolan Arenado may have set the bar today, but Lindor is going to rocket right over it. Will the Indians ever be able to pay up for Lindor?
According to Forbes evaluations last April, the Rockies and Indians are very similar teams, financially. The Rockies are valued at $1.1 billion, while the Indians come in at a cool $1.05 billion — 23rd and 24th in baseball, respectively. The Indians do have time to prepare their payroll for Lindor’s impact, though. A lot of their bigger contracts start coming off the books in 2020 and 2021, perhaps in carefully planned preparation of Lindor’s free agency. By that point, Lindor will himself will be likely be making close to $30 million per year in arbitration, while Mike Clevinger will begin to creep further into arbitration and into higher paydays. Outside of those two, there won’t be much on the books.
The good news is that — barring any new big contracts between now and then — Carlos Carrasco is the only player the Indians will have to pay more than $10 million per season. Corey Kluber could be owed as much as $18 million, but it’s on a team option. Same goes for Brad Hand and his $10 million salary. Carrasco and Jose Ramirez are the only players the Indians are fully committed to paying in 2021, not including arbitration and options, and they will be making a combined $21.4 million.
Only time will tell if the numbers will match up for the Indians and Lindor. If not, they could always send him to outer space.