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Cleveland Indians’ Francisco Lindor: The pros and cons of waiting for the big payoff

CLEVELAND, Ohio – Early in the 2017 season the news broke that Francisco Lindor, the Indians young shortstop, turned down a contract extension thought to be in the range of $100 million. Lindor at the time was making just over the major league minimum.

One of the reasons Lindor and his agent, David Meter, said no was because of the much anticipated free agent class of 2018. That would be the one currently on display with Manny Machado and Bryce Harper each looking for contracts in the 10-year $300 million vicinity. Lindor still has three years to play before he’s eligible for free agency, but the rising tide of Machado and Harper’s anticipated deals would definitely raise his boat as well.

What Lindor has done over his first three years with the Indians certainly gives every indication that he’ll be in line for a similar deal when he gets a shot at free agency. At 24 he’s gone to three All-Star Games, played in Game 7 of the World Series, won three division titles, two Silver Slugger awards, one Gold Glove and one Platinum Glove.

He’s a switch-hitter with a .288 career average, 98 home runs and 310 RBI. Last season he set a franchise record for shortstops with 39 homers. The record he broke belonged to him after he hit 33 homers in 2017.

Lindor tied for the MLB lead with 129 runs last season. He was second in the AL in total bases, second in multi-hit games and stole 25 bases in 35 attempts.

So just to be clear, Lindor, in the immortal words of Brandon Phillips, “can pick it and swing it.’ He has a face-of-the franchise smile, is kid and adult friendly and bi-lingual. And Indians’ fans are reluctantly counting the days until he disappears down the free-agent highway.

But that highway is not an endless seam of flawless blacktop. The 2018 free agent class was supposed to be one of the best in history and it wasn’t all about Machado and Harper. But Josh Donaldson tore a calf muscle last season and settled for a one-year deal with Atlanta. Yes, it was for $23 million, but Donaldson was anticipating something a lot longer and with a lot more zeroes.

Right-hander Matt Harvey, the one-time Dark Knight of the Mets, saw his value drop because of injuries and signed a one-year $11 million deal with the Angels. Elvis Andrus didn’t opt out of his deal with Texas at the end of last season after breaking his elbow. Cody Allen, the Indians dependable closer for so many years, is still on the market after an inconsistent season. The Cardinals took a leap of faith by signing lefty Andrew Miller to a two-year $25 million deal despite five trip to the disabled list in the last two seasons with the Tribe.

Lefty Dallas Keuchel is still unsigned as he tries to recapture his 2015 Cy Young magic. Give Andrew McCutchen props for signing a three-year $50 million deal with the Phillies, but he is not the MVP-caliber player that he was in Pittsburgh.

The Indians have a history of signing young players to contract extensions that offer protection at the expense of the top dollar available. Players such as Grady Sizemore, Michael Brantley, Carlos Carrasco, Corey Kluber and Jose Ramirez have signed such deals. They’ve been criticized for them as well.

But when Sizemore’s body broke down, how do you think he felt about that guaranteed deal? What about Brantley missing almost two years with shoulder and ankle surgeries and still getting paid like an All-Star? How about Carrasco and the heart problems he’s had?

People seem to feel the Indians pulled a fast one on Ramirez by signing him to a club-friendly long-term contract. But if you think about how far Ramirez has come — from a projected utility player to a talent that has out-shined Lindor — why wouldn’t he take the guaranteed money when it was offered.

Athletes, like all of us, are not invincible. Talent, no matter how great, is finite.

Harper, before he became a free agent, signed two extensions with the Nationals. Machado never did with the Orioles, choosing to go year to year. So far Lindor has gone year to year with the Tribe, qualifying for arbitration for the first time this winter.

After Lindor turned down the extension, he was asked if he was concerned about injury. He said he wasn’t. He said he put his faith in God.

As for the Indians, Chris Antonetti, president of baseball operations, said he is always willing to talk contract with Lindor and his representatives.

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