Let’s put aside for a moment whether or not the Indians should trade Francisco Lindor and just pretend that it’s a foregone conclusion (it’s obviously not). What exactly would the ideal return look like? It wouldn’t be a collection of distant prospects, no matter how promising they look.1 After all, the Indians are trying to compete in 2020, and if they sell their best position player for future-only value, why hold on to anybody at all? Conversely, the ideal return wouldn’t be for players within a few years of free agency, either; otherwise, why trade Lindor in the first place? Those players would, at best, be a lateral move, and would provide no salary relief. Positionally, with apologies to Yu Chang, the only promising, longterm replacements at shortstop in the Indians organization haven’t played above Single-A. So, the ideal headliner for a return package for Francisco Lindor would be headlined a cost-controlled MLB-ready potential superstar shortstop, someone who, one day, could approach the level of play of Lindor himself.
In what I’m sure is a completely unrelated development, MLB.com’s Jon Morosi tweeted out the following on October 28:
— Jon Morosi (@jonmorosi) October 29, 2019
It’s highly dubious that Morosi fabricated sources, which means it’s highly probable that the Dodgers instructed him to release this message. Of course, the actual content of the proclamation isn’t all that surprising or interesting. Francisco Lindor is projected by Steamer to be the fourth most valuable position player in all of MLB in 2020. The Dodgers obviously want him on their team, as every team trying to make the playoffs does. What is interesting about the Morosi report is that it exists in the first place. Obviously, teams’ true intentions, evaluations, and motives are mostly kept secret as a competitive advantage. So, when teams leak information about their intentions, one has to consider their motives in doing so.
Therefore, the Dodgers certainly have something to gain by stirring up this Lindor rumor. Perhaps it’s a simple public relations ploy. After all, the Dodgers have now lost to the eventual World Series champions in four consecutive Octobers. It would be unsurprising if they sense some anxiety and dread in their fanbase, so a shiny new superstar might ease their pain. On the other hand, MLB teams in 2019 are run like businesses, and the Dodgers are among the most successful examples. They’re a highly valuable organization in the second-largest market with an avid fanbase and seven consecutive division titles. They conduct themselves in a logical, passionless manner. They have little need to concern themselves with restless fans because, at the end of the day, it’s not costing them anything.2 Morosi’s sources didn’t inform him of the Dodgers’ intentions for the benefit of the public; it was to let every other team know that their pursuit is serious. Remember the perfect candidate to headline a Lindor deal? His name is Gavin Lux. He’s The Guy*, and he’s on the Dodgers.
As it stands, the Dodgers employ a wealth of middle-infield talent. Corey Seager, Max Muncy, Chris Taylor, and Kike Hernandez each played in at least fifty games at a middle-infield position in 2019. In addition to Lux, Los Angeles has also cultivated two more nationally respected middle-infield prospects in Jeter Downs and Omar Estevez, whom FanGraphs has ranked the 5th and 7th best prospects in the organization, respectively. Both finished their 2019 seasons in Double-A, and both can play each position effectively. The Dodgers are so plump with middle infield talent that they’re in the unique position of being able to trade Gavin Lux, the ninth-best prospect in baseball per FanGraphs, and not miss a beat.
The remainder of the league already knew the Dodgers are able to trade Lux, but by publicly announcing their intention to acquire Lindor, they’re at least implying a willingness to do so. Whether or not they actually want to trade Lux for Lindor is something only the Dodgers know, but the fit is so perfect that other teams must suspect the Dodgers have implicitly set the price for Lindor with their public declaration of intent. Trading such a highly coveted prospect is something most teams cannot afford and in many cases aren’t even able to do. If we accept FanGraphs prospect rankings, only nine or so teams can possess a prospect as valuable as Lux by definition. So, by setting such a high price point, they might have somewhat quieted what would normally be a loud market for a superstar player. Even if other teams do engage in serious discussions with the Indians, it couldn’t have hurt for the Dodgers to try to stop them.
Whether or not the Indians would be willing to trade their star shortstop for Gavin Lux is a separate issue. Last July, FanGraphs.com released its annual Trade Value series, in which Kiley McDaniel uses his league sources and personal baseball intuition to rank people by how much they would fetch in a trade. He evaluated the version of Francisco Lindor with 2.5 years of team control as baseball’s 13th most valuable person. Lux was not listed in the main series, although McDaniel included him in a group of 15 players whom he estimated could be in 2020’s edition. Since then, Lindor has lost 20% of his team control, while Lux continued to rake in Double- and Triple-A, meaning that their values are trending towards a merge. Still, the Indians should expect to fetch more than just Lux in a trade, though not as much more as some fans may hope. Additionally, it should be noted that, while Lux was drafted as a fielding specialist, some evaluators fear he’s developed some throwing issues, which may prompt a transition across the keystone if left uncorrected.
It’s a Catch-22. As someone who has the privilege of watching such a joyful and exceptional player on the team I follow most closely, I sure hope the Indians don’t trade Francisco Lindor, at least not this offseason. On the other hand, if the Dodgers make the Indians a Godfather offer, one that they cannot refuse, it would be logical for Chris Antonetti to pull the trigger. I think we all want the Indians to remain competitive as long as possible, but they can only accomplish that goal by making rational decisions. Replacing Lindor’s on-field production would be difficult, but not impossible, and if they can do it, they should do it. On the other hand, I don’t know much about Lux as a human being—I’m sure he’s a swell guy—but Francisco Lindor’s energy and enthusiasm, and of course, his smile, well, they’re irreplaceable.
EDIT: After the composition of this article, Chris Antonetti announced that he expects Francisco Lindor to be the starting shortstop in 2020. Take this with a grain of salt. As with the Dodgers’ ploy with Morosi, the declaration could easily be a bargaining tool.