Rumor check: Francisco Lindor
Could the Indians shortstop find his way to St. Louis?
Just over a week ago it began being reported that the Cleveland Indians have informed other clubs that they intend to trade Francisco Lindor this offseason. It’s not that surprising of a proposition considering that the organization has all but come out and said that they don’t intend to sign their star 27-year-old shortstop to an extension once his years of team control come to an end at after the 2021 season. That means the time to trade Lindor is now.
There have also been a few reports that the Cardinals are among the top candidates to acquire Lindor in a trade, and it’s important to watch the wording in articles. I’ve not seen any actual reports that the Cardinals are pursuing Lindor or intend to pursue him, just that people think he’d fit with the Cardinals. If we go back several years, we saw this with the Colorado Rockies and Troy Tulowitzki winter after winter, but there was never anything there except dots being connected by the media. And wording is always very important to pay attention to during rumor season.
But let’s take a look at the idea of acquiring Lindor.
What are the numbers?
The 27-year-old Lindor did not set the world on fire in 2020, hitting just .258/.335/.415 with a 100 wRC+ and 3.8 WAR/600. It was easily the least productive season of his career, following the previous least productive season of his career.
But his offensive performance was a little inexplicable. His strikeout rate was a career high, though only slightly higher than his career average. His walk rate was the second best of his career and his line drive rate was more than 3 percentage points better than his previous career high. Based on my some of the work I’ve done to develop my own expected performance metrics, Lindor probably should have had a batting line closer to .289/.354/.494.
Defensively, Lindor was just a +2 defensive runs saved, the lowest of his career even if you normalize it to 1000 defensive innings. UZR liked him a little more, as it always has, with a +11.7 UZR/150, tops among MLB shortstops. His +8.4 Def was also tops among MLB shortstops and second best in baseball among non-catchers behind Nolan Arenado.
The former first round pick has one season of salary arbitration remaining. He made $17.5 million in 2020 before proration and MLBTradeRumors’ models for projected arbitration salaries for 2021 have him making somewhere between $17.5 million and $21.5 million. Personally, I think it would be hard to offer him much less than $20 million if you wanted to sign him long-term.
Does this move make sense?
Two years ago I’d have looked at the idea of trading for Lindor and said no to the idea without blinking. Last February I considered that Paul DeJong was knocking on the door of a case that he was the best shortstop in baseball. I had tweeted in January that Lindor wasn’t that much of an improvement over DeJong. After all, Lindor was worth 4.0 WAR/600 in 2019 while DeJong had been worth 3.7 WAR/600. All that expense for one-third of a win? Hard to justify.
But now? I’m coming around on it.
DeJong, also 27, had a down year offensively and defensively. He’s still a quality defender with good power potential in his bat, but even in the light of the whole team not showing much power potential this season, it was a disappointing season for DeJong. He posted an 86 wRC+ which was 7th among regular players on the club. That was behind Tommy Edman, your probable starting second baseman at the moment, who has played shortstop throughout the minors.
At this point, I personally wouldn’t let DeJong being on the roster stop you from making a trade, but DeJong’s value is about to start plummeting as his salary increases if he can’t figure out how to consistently hit.
Should they do it?
That’s the obvious question that has no answer right now. The organization needs to figure out what they’re doing this winter. I read one article that suggested that the Cardinals needed to figure out whether they would be bringing back Adam Wainwright and Yadier Molina before they looked at outside acquisitions, but what’s the point in bringing those guys back if you’re not going to make additions to a team that finished third in the division?
You have their declining of a $12.5 million option of Kolten Wong, who had been the club’s most valuable player per plate appearance the past three seasons.
Then Bill DeWitt Jr. has said that the team’s budget is fluid and the team wants to have a contender for their fans. We’ve heard that story from ownership before. Talk is cheap, great players aren’t. It’s time to put to bed the talk of “being competitive” and talk about winning.
My last article wrote about the “Winter of Stanton” and the moves that the Cardinals had on the table that winter before they pulled back and made Marcell Ozuna their only acquisition.
Then two years ago the Cardinals acquired Paul Goldschmidt. He joined a team core of Matt Carpenter, Molina, and Wainwright as guys all on the wrong side of the decline curve. Arguably, these guys were as good at the present as they were going to be over their remaining time in a Cardinals uniform. Instead of going and getting the epitome of a player they’d outlined wanting each offseason for years — a young, left-handed power bat named Bryce Harper — they decided just staying competitive was enough.
Over the last several years the Cardinals have done nothing but maintain the status quo to remain competitive rather than do what they needed to do to put their team over the top. We’ve seen it in the standings as they’ve gone from fighting for division titles to needing to fall back on the wild card. The Cardinals have won one division title in the last five seasons, something last done from 1995 to 1999. It’s gotten that I feel like we’re watching the end of The Incredibles.
Then there’s the question of whether after all the talent they’ve traded away in recent years for Ozuna and Goldschmidt, whether they’re willing to take another shot at acquiring a difference making player.
Maybe I’m being too harsh on the Cardinals, but it’s becoming harder and harder for me to see how everything can fold together for this team to be a winner and I don’t see the team reacting. Last winter, I was optimistic that this team being better than they were in 2019 was possible. And might it have worked better over 162 games instead of 60? Possibly. But we didn’t play 162 games last season.
Regardless, there’s no doubt that the Cardinals need to add something to this club to make it better. I don’t think one piece does the trick and Lindor isn’t the magic ingredient that makes the club a postseason favorite — there are very real holes, especially in the rotation — but he is clearly the kind of player the Cardinals should be looking to add this winter.
I will be banging the drum all winter long that the Cardinals should not add anyone over the age of 30 to their roster. Yes, that includes Wainwright and Molina. This team is too heavily invested in veteran players. Almost $50 million will come off the books next winter between Carpenter, Dexter Fowler, and Andrew Miller. It’s time to let some of these contracts run out and get younger. As I’ve been saying for awhile, let the kids play themselves out of a job. And if they do, then you go find someone who can fill the need.
At 27-years-old, Lindor is the player teams want to add this winter. I’m willing to overlook 2020, especially with some of the statistical oddities that appear to have played out over a shortened season. There’s hope to suggest that his bat should have been much more productive than he was.
He’s young and he’s good enough that you’ll want to keep him around long-term. Maybe he plays third base. Maybe DeJong plays third base. Maybe DeJong goes to Cleveland. Either way, it’s a start. And if the Cardinals make this move, that’s exactly what it should be. A start.
Jon Doble has been writing about the St. Louis Cardinals since 2010. You can find him on Twitter at @GroundRuleDoble. Thank you for reading.