CLEVELAND — Francisco Lindor swears he hasn’t listened to any of the trade rumors swirling around him this winter. The All-Star shortstop might not be able to avoid them this spring.
Lindor’s unsettled future with Cleveland hangs over the team like a darkening storm cloud. And when he and the Indians arrive at training camp in Goodyear, Arizona, the 27-year-old’s fluid situation will likely be a daily topic until there is some resolution.
Will he stay or will he go?
The Indians have entertained trade offers for their best all-around player because it doesn’t appear Cleveland will have enough money to satisfy Lindor, one of baseball’s biggest stars who recently floated out $500 million as a possible target for a multi-year contract for him. He’s not eligible for free agency until after the 2021 season, but the mid-market, cost-conscious Indians might not be able to risk losing him without any compensation.
“The front office tries to put a team together to win, not to save money,” Lindor said at the team’s Tribefest, where he was grilled about what might come next. “They’re supposed to try to put a team together to win. I’m here to try to win.”
For now, Lindor is around, and with him, the Indians can win. They won 93 games last season but missed the playoffs, finishing eight games behind the Minnesota Twins. However, with one of the majors’ strongest starting staffs, Cleveland remains a contender,
Cleveland’s pitching staff needs a new leading man after two-time Cy Young winner Corey Kluber was traded to Texas this winter. Kluber’s unparalleled work ethic and consistency rubbed off on Shane Bieber, last season’s All-Star Game MVP, who went 15-8 in 2019.
“He’s going to leave some big shoes to fill but I also think we did a pretty good job with that last year with him and his injury (broken arm),” he said. “It was unfortunate but I feel like we, as a staff, stepped up.”
Free agent Cesar Hernandez was signed to take over at second base after the Indians decided not to bring back Jason Kipnis.
Rookies to watch
Hard-throwing right-handers James Karinchak and Emmanuel Clase give manager Terry Francona some late-inning bullpen options he didn’t have in 2019. Karinchak appeared in five games last season and showed the same fearlessness that moved him quickly through the minors. Clase is considered the centerpiece of the Kluber deal. The 21-year-old appeared in 21 games for Texas last season, so he’s ready,
Cleveland’s starting rotation remains the club’s backbone. Bieber, Mike Clevinger and Carlos Carrasco are a formidable 1-2-3 punch, and Aaron Civale and Zach Plesac showed major promise after solid performances last season.
Only Oscar Mercado, who hit 15 homers and batted ,269 in 115 games as a rookie in ‘19, can be penciled into a everyday starting outfield spot. Slugger Franmil Reyes will get a long look in right, but Francona has to feel comfortable about his defense to keep using him there more than at DH. Newly acquired Delino DeShields, Jordan Luplow, Greg Allen, Jake Bauers and Bradley Zimmer are all in the mix.
With the clock ticking on Lindor, the Indians could make one last hard push at winning their first World Series title since 1948 before they have to part ways. The division, on a whole, should be better after numerous offseason moves. The Twins won’t be easy to catch after adding free agents Homer Bailey and Josh Donaldson. The Indians will open the season at home on March 26 against Detroit.