Listen. This article is not going to be a “carry the company water” thing. I have been as critical of the Cleveland Indians as almost anyone this offseason, despite being among the more cheery-hearted fans. But, when the news broke that Francisco Lindor suffered a calf strain and will “return to Major League game activity” in seven to nine weeks (Friday news dump style), I realized that this is not the absolute worst news on the planet after the initial gut reaction of putting my head through my computer monitor.1
Can I actually talk about HOW the news came across and rant for a moment? Let me be frank: I work in social media (kinda), so I have empathy for those brave individuals that station themselves behind the @’s of big brands. It’s thankless work, mostly because you spend the majority of your day reading through complaints and swears and people not realizing that you yourself are not the general manager and have no control over roster spots or transactions or Chief Wahoo being gone or mostly anything beyond the tweet that you are currently reading and quote tweeting expletives about.
Francisco Lindor has sustained a right calf strain while preparing for ST. He has started rehab & is expected to return to Major League game activity in 7-to-9 weeks.
Get well soon & keep smiling!
We are confident that everyone will handle this news calmly & rationally … pic.twitter.com/x19uXFClGC
— Cleveland Indians (@Indians) February 8, 2019
But, the last line of the tweet above is so overly sarcastic and petty that it took me longer to forgive that than it did to realize Frankie being around for possibly the first two weeks or more of the season is not a huge ordeal. In this time where brands are becoming self-aware and speaking in the first person about existential crises,2 it’s actually OK if you just… ya know… wanna report stuff without being witty.
Yes, we are talking about one of the two best hitters in the lineup and a Top 10 hitter in all of baseball. A lead-off ace playing Gold Glove caliber defense, and inarguably one of the brightest stars that all of baseball has to offer. No one wants to cheer for his replacement, and no one wants to see him miss loads of time. But, try as I might, I can see a sliver of a silver lining.
When talking about Lindor, you are undeniably talking about the heart of the Tribe. As such, Lindor is one of those Ripken-esque ironman type players that rarely if ever takes a day off.3 Since getting the call up in the middle of the 2015 season, Lindor has missed a total of 13 games in those three and two-thirds of a season. Getting your star player a little rest in the early going, when the schedule is more spread out and allows for more rest anyway, is a good idea. Lindor doesn’t have the wear-and-tear issues of some of the rotation arms in the past,4 but having him ready to pounce on some fastballs come September and October is key.
While there are select few in the major leagues who can replicate what Lindor can do, having Mr. Smiles on the bench will allow for the team and fans to see what a glimpse of life after Lindor might look like. Hold out hope all you want of an extension, and it’s possible that a low-ball Manny Machado or Bryce Harper contract scares Team Lindor into signing something long term with Cleveland, but we may only have a select few years with the shortstop wearing No. 12.5 As it stands now, Max Moroff and Yu Chang are the possible replacements for Lindor, and… it’s not great.
Moroff was acquired from Pittsburgh for former shortstop stopgap Erik Gonzalez, along with Jordan Luplow, and is the owner of a career wRC+ of 70, and 0.5 fWAR. He is a middle infielder replacement best used sparingly and as a day-game-after-night-game starter five times a year rather than a daily option. However, he is only 25 and could be coming into some power with some launch angle help from his new teammates.
The other internal option is Yu Chang, and to me, this is the option that is more preferable. Chang is an Indians prospect who has steadily climbed the organizational ladder, but many casual fans would know from being thrown around in trade rumors for the last three years. Chang played 94 games at shortstop last year for the Triple-A Columbus Clippers and posted a 109 wRC+ and had a batted ball profile that you want in 2018, 23.5%/32.4%/44.1% line drive/groundball/flyball percentages.6 He is the closest prospect team president Chris Antonetti, general manager Mike Chernoff, and manager Terry Francona can count on to give comparable statistics to what they will miss with Lindor on the shelf, and could possibly be the one counted on in years to come to cover short if/when Lindor is gone via trade for parts or free agency.
In summation,7 are we wanting Lindor to miss time? Absolutely not. But there is a path where his missed time is a blessing in disguise. Take your time, Frankie, get some rest, don’t come back til the injury is 200% gone, and get ready to go all kinds of crazy on some games in the future.