The postmortem on the Cleveland Indians’ 2018 season began a few days ago as they were bulldozed by the Houston Astros in the American League Division Series over the course of three games. The Indians had won their third consecutive American League Central division title (2016-2018) under manager Terry Francona. It also marked the fourth time since Francona’s arrival in 2013 the Indians had won at least 90 ball games in a season. By all accounts, the Indians have enjoyed tremendous success during Francona’s tenure as manager even though the recent quality of their divisional opponents might not have been on the same level as the ball clubs in the American League East and West divisions.
The Indians’ swift departure from postseason competition was clearly disappointing for loyal fans, but it also felt as if an era of continued excellence was ending for the ball club as well. While the painful memories of the 2016 World Series still linger, it might be an appropriate time for the Indians to thoughtfully evaluate the present and effectively plan for the future. In truth, the Indians’ expectations and reality might be out of sync as the Houston Astros and Boston Red Sox are the unquestioned gold standard of American League ball clubs.
Baseball’s off-season always presents a myriad of challenges and opportunities when it comes to roster construction and development, but the Indians have a unique circumstance in front of them that needs undivided attention guided by prudence. They will obviously confront several difficult decisions as noteworthy and well compensated ball players such as outfielders Michael Brantley and Lonnie Chisenhall and pitchers Cody Allen and Andrew Miller head towards free agency. This quartet comprised nearly $37 million of the Indians’ estimated $135 million 2018 Opening Day payroll. It’s fair to say veteran outfielders Melky Cabrera and Rajai Davis along with pitcher Oliver Perez will likely move on after the expiration of their one-year contracts. Pitcher Carlos Carrasco has a $9 million club option for 2019 and the estimated $1.13 million Josh Donaldson 19 game gamble (including postseason) failed to achieve its intended postseason goals as he now looks for health and a new ball club in 2019.
The biggest frustration for not only Indians’ fans but for all Major League Baseball is shortstop Francisco Lindor’s brief postseason appearance. In a sport desperately in need of charismatic ball players to enthusiastically market to the masses, Lindor oozes exuberance out of every pore in his immensely talented body. He is a cornerstone ball player who will undoubtedly become one of the game’s most bankable assets over the next decade.
If the Indians decide to embark upon a rebuilding process while attempting to be somewhat competitive over the next few seasons, it is imperative that Lindor serves as the franchise’s bedrock with a long-term contract that represents financial security and unequivocal faith in his exceptional abilities. It is Lindor that will help continue to build and cultivate the Indians’ winning culture while rapidly maturing into an elite ball player. Therefore, Lindor should not have to endure three upcoming off-seasons of potentially contentious salary arbitration negotiations until he can finally test his true market value in free agency at the end of the 2021 season. His future in Cleveland should be the number one priority for the Indians this off-season.
Lindor is an alluring ball player who enthralls with his wizardry both on defense and offense. Over the past three seasons (2016-2018), Lindor has the second-best ultimate zone rating (UZR) for all qualified major league shortstops (35.4) and only trails Andrelton Simmons (48.6) of the Los Angeles Angels. He also scores exceptionally well in defensive runs saved (DRS) during the same period. Lindor (36) ranks only behind Simmons (71) and Addison Russell (47) of the Chicago Cubs in terms of DRS. An American League Gold Glove and Platinum Glove Awards winner by the age of 22 in 2016, Lindor is far more than a slick fielding shortstop with lightning quick reflexes.
Offensively, Lindor has developed into an explosive presence every time he steps into the batter’s box. Lindor’s slight frame and size in comparison to the likes of Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton might have you wondering if he is capable of consistently hitting for power at the major league level. In 2018, Lindor set career highs in on base plus slugging percentage plus (OPS+) at 131 and weighted runs created plus (wRC+) at 130 while tying with Mookie Betts of the Boston Red Sox for the most runs scored (129) in all of baseball. Since 2017, Lindor has hit at least 30 home runs, 40 doubles, and surpassed 320 total bases per season.
While it is premature to mention Lindor in the same breath as Derek Jeter, it’s fascinating to see what both shortstops had achieved by the conclusion of their age 24 seasons. Jeter, a surefire first ballot Hall of Famer in 2020, never achieved what Lindor had over the past two seasons in terms of home runs, doubles, and total bases. In fact, Jeter never hit 30 home runs in a season and surpassed 300 total bases four times (1998, 1999, 2004, 2006) over 20 seasons. He also eclipsed 40 doubles in a season only once (2004).
Derek Jeter Versus Francisco Lindor Through Age 24 Regular Season
|Statistic||Derek Jeter (1995-1998)||Francisco Lindor (2015-2018)|
Derek Jeter Versus Francisco Lindor Through Age 24 Postseason
|Statistic||Derek Jeter (1996-1998)||Francisco Lindor (2016-2018)|
The Cleveland Indians intimately understand how important Francisco Lindor is to the present and future of their franchise. However, they still have an important decision to make this off-season regarding Lindor’s financial future. It’s safe to say that Lindor’s overall value far exceeds his 2018 salary of $623,200. Do they play it safe and carefully negotiate through the salary arbitration process for the next three off-seasons or do they make a long-term commitment about six years in length which takes Lindor to the conclusion of his age 30 season? Either way, Lindor should be treated as priority number one for the Indians even as they wrestle with the possibility of rebuilding.