ABOUT FRANCISCO LINDOR
It’s always easy to talk about someone else’s money and contract. So I begin this discussion of Francisco Lindor and the possibility of him signing a contract extension with the Cleveland Indians knowing, well, knowing there is a lot I don’t know about the situation.
I do know the Tribe offered Lindor a long-term extension worth about $100 million in the spring of 2017. In his first 3-1/2 seasons with the Tribe, Lindor never had a significant injury and was never on the disabled list.
In the last three seasons, he’s missed only 10 games. Not only has the shortstop been a star, he’s been durable.
At 25, Lindor is a superstar.
He’s a switch-hitting shortstop who has batted .283 (.837 OPS) and averaged 27 HR and 86 RBI over the last three seasons. He has been an All-Star and a top-three finalist for a Gold Glove in the last three years.
Perhaps it’s too late for Lindor to consider an extension.
He will be a free agent at the end of 2020. He was arbitration-eligible and signed a contract worth $10.55 million. Very seldom does a player who is paid that much end up taking a pay cut if he is arbitration eligible again.
But I wonder if his recent calf injury will change his thinking. Lindor is expected to miss seven to nine weeks, according to the Indians.
Terry Francona told the media in Goodyear: “He’s in such good shape. He’s young. He works hard. He’ll be fine.”
The Tribe manager mentioned he’d “bet the under” in terms of Lindor coming back sooner than expected.
I believe the Indians will be extra careful with Lindor, especially after what they experienced with Lonnie Chisenhall in the last two seasons.
Chisenhall was on the disabled list five times during 2017-18, three times because of calf muscle injuries. He played only 29 games in 2018 and 82 in 2017.
He became a free agent and signed with the Pirates. He told Chris Adamski of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review there was “no definitive reason” for calf injuries. But they were chronic for Chisenhall.
Same for Josh Donaldson, who joined the Tribe late in the 2018 season. From 2013-16 Donaldson played an average of 157 games per season. It dropped to 113 in 2017, and 36 in 2018. Donaldson had some other injuries in that span, but the cranky left calf muscle was the main problem.
Donaldson proved to be healthy with the Tribe for 16 September games and in the three-game postseason. That was enough to convince the Braves to sign him to a $23 million deal for 2019.
Nonetheless, calf injuries make me nervous.
A LITTLE HISTORY
Lindor is in a different situation than Grady Sizemore, who signed a six-year, $24 million extension after his first full season. He was still two years from arbitration.
He was an All-Star in the first three years of the deal. Here’s what happened as he began to physically break down at age 27:
- 2009: Batted .248 with 18 HR and 64 RBI. Salary – $4.8 million.
- 2010: Batted .211 with 0 HR and 13 RBI. Salary – $5.8 million.
- 2011: Batted .224 with 10 HR and 32 RBI. Salary – $7.7 million.
- 2012: Did not play. The Indians re-signed him for $5 million.
I’m conservative by nature. In that view, it made sense for pitchers Corey Kluber and Carlos Carrasco to sign long-term contracts deemed “team friendly” by many agents. Carrasco even signed a second extension this winter.
Michael Brantley signed a four-year, $25 million extension with the Tribe in the spring of 2014. He made the All-Star team that season. But injuries hit him hard in 2016-17, two shoulder surgeries and an ankle surgery. He played only 101 games, but pocketed $14 million for those two years.
He was healthy in 2018, batting .309 after the Indians picked up his $12 million option. He signed with Houston over the winter ($32 million over two seasons).
Travis Hafner signed a $56 million extension and within a year had major shoulder issues. Jason Kipnis signed a five-year, $52 million extension before the 2015 season. He played well for two years, then injuries hit in 2017. He slumped in 2018.
I’m sure there are examples of young players who signed long-term deals early in their careers, then regretted it when they stayed healthy and posted huge stats.
But it would be worth the time for the Indians and Lindor’s agents to sit down this spring and see if there is a way to make a deal for three more years through the 2022 season.
At that point, he’ll be 29 – still young enough to sign a monster free-agent deal.
Or maybe I’m just dreaming because Lindor is such a terrific player and so much fun to watch.
Then again, Lindor can always take the Trevor Bauer approach. The pitcher is vowing to sign one-year contracts once he becomes a free agent.
I doubt most players will take that approach.
ABOUT THE TRIBE
1. The Indians believe they can help veteran relievers revive their careers. They have done it recently with Oliver Perez, Dan Otero, Jeff Manship and Nick Goody. So it’s worth watching several veteran relievers in camp – especially Alex Wilson and Nick Wittgren.
2. It’s hard to understand why no one signed Wilson to a big-league contract. The 32-year-old right-hander had a 2-4 record and 3.36 ERA for the Tigers in 2018. For his career, he’s 13-13 with a 3.23 ERA. He’s healthy. My guess is, in an era of flame-throwing relievers, Wilson is underwhelming – averaging only 6.1 strikeouts per nine innings.
3. The Indians signed Wilson to a minor league deal. Unless he has a lousy spring, he should make the team. The same is true for Nick Wittgren, acquired from Miami in a small deal before camp opened. He was 2-1 with a 2.94 ERA for the Marlins last season.
4. Wittgren had some arm issues in 2017 and had minor (non-Tommy John) elbow surgery. But he was healthy by the end of 2018. For his three-year big league career, the 27-year-old right-hander is 9-5 with a 3.60 ERA. Like Wilson, his fastball is average. He throws strikes and has been effective.
5. Manager Terry Francona told the media in Goodyear that he likes Wittgren’s “deceptive motion” and the experience of “having done it before.” In other words, the Indians do want more than veterans Brad Hand and Perez to help out in the last few innings.
6. Francona is excited to have Wilson. He told the right-hander not to worry about being a non-roster player: “He’ll be treated like he deserves to be – a veteran.” Francona said every spring, the Indians have kept one to four non-roster players when they opened the season. “It’s how we do business,” he said.