Featured, Indians

Extending Francisco Lindor at the Corner of Carnegie and Ontario

With the Cleveland Indians extending Jose Ramirez this past Friday at the Corner of Carnegie and Ontario, talk has heated up regarding the franchise cornerstone, Francisco Lindor. The talk took a hilarious turn on Saturday, while the Indians were playing the Chicago White Sox. Tom Hamilton was talking with Brody Chernoff, the young son of Indians’ GM Mike Chernoff, and in one of the best moments of Spring Training, Brody perhaps leaked some pertinent information.

Tom Hamilton: Let me ask you, just between us and all the people listening, has Dad had any phone calls lately? Who’s he trying to get, cuz he won’t tell us, can you?

Brody: He’s trying to, um, get Lindor to play for seven more years.

Out of the mouths of babes, right?

Clearly, the Indians are talking to Lindor, and while you have to take information “leaked” by a six-year old with a grain of salt, the years certainly add up. But instead of looking at this potential deal out of the eyes of Brody, let’s take a look at what the Indians did specifically with Jose Ramirez.

The Indians signed the current Tribe third baseman to what amounts to a four-year, $26 million dollar deal, with two club options, worth $11 million and $13 million. If the Indians utilize both options, it turns into a six-year deal, worth a total of $48 million. The two things to note about the deal are the four years, and the two options. Those four years constitute his final pre-arbitration year, as well as his arbitration years, with the options swallowing up two years of free agency.

Here is what the contract looks like, according to Paul Hoynes:

Signing Bonus: $2,000,000
2017: $571,400 (pre-arbitration 2, age 24)
2018: $2,428,600 (pre-arbitration 3, age 25)
2019: $3,750,000 (arb 1, age 26)
2020: $6,250,000 (arb 2, age 27)
2021: $9,000,000 (arb 3, age 28)

Total Guaranteed: $24,000,000 + two million for the buyout makes it $26,000,000

2022: ***$11,000,000 (FA 1, age 29)
2023: ***$13,000,000 (FA 2, age 30)

Total Contract if options are picked up: $48 million, and there are two $1,000,000 escalators for those option years, which brings the total potential value up to $50,000,0001

***club options

The deal is similar to the one that fellow infielder Jason Kipnis signed prior to the 2014 season, when he signed a six-year, $52.5 million dollar deal, with a club option at the end. The deal didn’t have two club options, like JRam’s, but it did have two contractual years past arbitration, and a club option, swallowing up three free agent seasons as well. It looked like this:

Signing Bonus: $1,000,000
2014: $2,000,000 (pre-arb 3, age 27)
2015: $4,000,000 (arb 1, age 28)
2016: $6,000,000 (arb 2, age 29)
2017: $9,000,000 (arb 3, age 30)
2018: $13,500,000 (FA 1, age 31)
2019: $14,500,000 (FA 2, age 32)

Total Guaranteed: $50,000,000 + $2,500,000 for the buyout makes it $52,500,000

2020: ***$16,500,000 (FA 3, age 33)

Total Contract if options are picked up: $69,000,000

While the deals are similar in theory, they are drastically different in approach, which is important to note when thinking about a potential Francisco Lindor deal. Kipnis had two full seasons prior to his 2014 season and was coming off of his first All-Star season. He was also three years older than Ramirez, and while Ramirez had spent parts of three seasons in the bigs, 2016 was his first full season. Kipnis was also the established second baseman, and while JRam is currently at third, he’s yet to play a full season there.

Both deals were aggressive, but in different ways. If Kipnis plays out his option years, he’ll be with the Indians through his age 33 season. They bought out his arbitration and two-full years, and added a club option on to the tail end of the deal. If you look closely at Kipnis’s actual arbitration years, you can see that it closely matches JRam’s deal. Where it differs is past that. Kipnis nabbed two FA years at a whopping $28 million. This is likely due to his more established full-time gig at second, two full seasons, and his age at the time of the signing. They were able to leverage that into another club option.

With JRam, the aggression was in the ability to sign him to a long term deal at similar numbers to Kipnis, but give the club flexibility with the options at the end, since he’s younger, and somewhat less established. The fact that they were able to put this kind of deal together for JRam in a relatable fashion to Kipnis really says it all though. Even with salaries somewhat escalating, they were able to sign JRam to a team friendly deal, and still have the flexibility to bail, should his numbers not be replicated in years to come. On JRam’s end of this, if he performs, he’s a free agent at 30, right in his prime wheel house.

So how does this connect to Francisco Lindor? Obviously, under the Chris Antonetti and Mike Chernoff regime, the Indians aren’t waiting around to sign their young talent. With JRam, they struck while the iron was hot, and while the attendance and playoff figures gave them the window to spend. This is only a precursor to what they likely will do with the face of the franchise, Francisco Lindor.

Zack Meisel discussed this very thing in a fantastic piece written a week ago. Signing Lindor isn’t an easy task. While JRam is forever, Lindor has been earmarked for superstardom since the day he was drafted. At a young age, Lindor will be looking at a monster contract at the end of his arbitration years by a big market. If he stays healthy, he’s a $20+ million-a-year player.

With Lindor under control for five more seasons (two pre-arb years, and three arbitration years), the Indians will be looking at a similar type of deal as Jose Ramirez. Unlike Ramirez, Lindor is an established shortstop coming off of a gold glove season. He’s a Top 5 defender, already an all-star, and finished in the Top 10 of the AL MVP vote last year.

Like I said, he’s the face of the franchise. So, what would the Indians be looking to do regarding their superstar?

One word: BIG

The framework for Kipnis and Ramirez seems fairly standard, so the guaranteed money could be similar. The problem is that the goal of such a deal would be to get him for two or more controllable years. This is where it could get hairy. While Ramirez was fine with the club options, it’s possible that Lindor would want to leverage a $20,000,000+ a year contract after arbitration into something guaranteed. On top of that, to compensate for massive pre-free agency value, he could want something bigger.

Look for his pre-arb deal to look similar to Kipnis:

2017: $2,000,000 (pre-arb 2, age 23)
2018: $4,000,000 (pre-arb 3, age 24)
2019: $6,000,000 (arb 1, age 25)
2020: $9,000,000 (arb 2, age 26)
2021: $13,500,000 (arb 3, age 27)

This would be a $34.5 million dollar guarantee over five years, which is a good contract. The curious piece to the deal, though, comes in 2021, when his arbitration number would likely be far below $13.5 million. Remember, this jump in Kipnis’s contract was due to it being a year past what would have been his first free agent year. I also think Lindor has a case to force the Indians to bump up those figures, in return for a free agent year or two. That could come in the form of a bonus on top of reworking his 2017 money. So let’s bump each year up via a million dollars, and think bonus, or just pure numbers. This would be:

2017: $3,000,000 (pre-arb 2, age 23)
2018: $5,000,000 (pre-arb 3, age 24)
2019: $7,000,000 (arb 1, age 25)
2020: $10,000,000 (arb 2, age 26)
2021: $14,500,000 (arb 3, age 27)

This would bump that guaranteed money to $39.5 million, which I believe gives the Indians their parameters for Lindor’s arbitration years, somewhere between $34.5 and $39.5 million. Here’s where it really gets interesting though.

Lindor’s agent likely leverages those post arbitration years as big ticket items, and I can’t decide whether or not he tries to leverage them into guaranteed money, or club options. That could play into the equation. But here’s where young Brody plays a part in this equation. He mentioned seven-years, and I have to believe that is what the Indians are selling.

If I’m a betting man, the Indians would likely have that 2021 year under $14.5, and want to lock Lindor up to club options in 2022 and 2023, in the neighborhood of $14,000,000 and $16,000,000. That would make the deal look like this:

2017: $3,000,000 (pre-arb 2, age 23)
2018: $5,000,000 (pre-arb 3, age 24)
2019: $7,000,000 (arb 1, age 25)
2020: $10,000,000 (arb 2, age 26)
2021: $11,000,000 (arb 3, age 27)
2022: $14,000,000 ***(FA 1, age 28)
2023: $16,000,000 ***(FA 2, age 29)

This would make the full-term deal if the options are picked up at seven years and $66 million. This would correlate with Andrelton Simmons’ seven-year deal that he signed as a Super Two in 2014. Simmons was older, isn’t as good offensively, but was guaranteed his entire deal. He’s since been traded.

I’m guessing that the trick for Lindor and his agent will be for those two option years. Perhaps it’s as simple as changing them to mutual options, or maybe he’ll go for seven guaranteed years. Either way, I think they’ll want a little more at the tail end of that deal.

2017: $3,000,000 (pre-arb 2, age 23)
2018: $5,000,000 (pre-arb 3, age 24)
2019: $7,000,000 (arb 1, age 25)
2020: $10,000,000 (arb 2, age 26)
2021: $12,500,000 (arb 3, age 27)
2022: $15,000,000 (FA 1, age 28)
2023: $17,000,000 (FA 2, age 29)

That would be a seven-year, $69.5 million guarantee, or at the very least, a mutual option deal that he could opt out of, if it all plays right.

He’d be leveraging the potential of a few $20,000,000 paydays against father time and injuries. Either way, he’d come out of this contract at the age of 30, and like JRam, in the prime of his career.

Of course, this is just play money, and it’s hard to gauge what the Indians will ultimately do, and what Francisco Lindor will ultimately accept, if anything. Meisel speculated that the contract would end up in between $65 and $75 million, but surmised that it would be a six-year deal. While I’m not saying it’s out of the question, that would be such a grand leap from my sample, I couldn’t see it happen. Hell, my figures are a leap, and they are substantially lower.

Without looking at other figures, I came up with 5-years and $55 million, with two club options at $30 million total. That’s a seven-year, $85 million deal, for those parsing the numbers together at home. It seems insane to think that it’s possible, let alone for the Cleveland Indians.

But it is.

Just ask Brody Chernoff.

  1. Special thanks to MLB.com’s Jordan Bastian, for clarifying the specifics of the contract. []