Francisco Lindor sat atop the wishlist of many fans and front offices alike throughout the holiday season, as teams ranging from the Dodgers to the Reds to the Mets were all repeatedly reported to have interest in Lindor. However, Cleveland president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti has stated in the past that he expects Lindor to be his Opening Day shortstop, and he was emphatic in reiterating that belief in a conference call with reporters Wednesday afternoon (audio link).
“Yes, I still have every expectation that Francisco will be our shortstop Opening Day,” Antonetti said when asked about the persistent trade rumors surrounding Lindor. “I’m more confident today in saying that, as more of the offseason has passed, but that’s still our expectation. I’ve tried to be pretty consistent with this. I have never had a different expectation other than Francisco will be our shortstop Opening Day.”
Despite Antonetti’s public, straightforward stance, there’s nevertheless been plenty of reporting on clubs with interest and speculation on trade packages that could appeal to the Indians. Names like Gavin Lux, Dustin May, Nick Senzel and Jeff McNeil have been kicked about the rumor mill in various writings on Lindor, but Antonetti strongly suggested that he’s not the one initiating any talks on Lindor.
“I can’t control the conduct of other teams and them calling us with interest and wanting to explore things,” Antonetti continued. “As I’ve shared with you, we have a responsibility to be responsive to those teams when they engage with us. I can say that we’ve had conversations on the majority of our Major League roster and a bunch of players in our minor league system over the course of the offseason. The majority of those guys, with the exception of just a couple, are still with us.”
The Indians, of course, pulled the trigger on a Corey Kluber trade last month and have been widely reported to be aiming to scale back their payroll after reaching record levels on the heels of their 2016 World Series run. But Cleveland’s Opening Day payroll is projected to check in shy of $100MM — shy of $95MM if Jason Kipnis’ buyout is counted against last year’s budget — placing them well south of their Opening Day marks in 2019 ($119MM), 2018 ($135MM) and 2017 ($124MM). As such, it’s unlikely that there’s any financial pressure to move Lindor and his projected $16.7MM salary (courtesy of MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz).
Moreover, despite their trade of Kluber, the Indians aren’t embarking on any kind of rebuilding effort heading into 2020. They’re still intent on contending with the reigning AL Central champion Twins and the vastly improved White Sox as they look to take advantage of another year in which at least 40 percent of the division is rebuilding. Trading Lindor, even for a package of appealing MLB-ready talent, harms their chances of doing so.
It’s surely a frustrating carousel for Antonetti, as rumors of interest in Lindor won’t cease until Opening Day — and that will only bring a temporary reprieve. Even if Lindor remains with the club, he’ll surely be at least mentioned leading up to the July 31 trade deadline, even if the Indians are in the thick of the division race as most expect them to be. Reports of teams showing interest in Lindor and working to pry him from Cleveland’s grasp will persist, but Antonetti’s latest comments serve as yet another reminder that an actual trade involving the 26-year-old four-time All-Star isn’t especially likely.