What can Cleveland get for Francisco Lindor?
As most baseball fans know, it’s highly likely that Indians star SS Francisco Lindor Francisco Lindor [36.2] will be traded this winter. So the question is, what’s the most likely return?
Unfortunately for Cleveland fans, we don’t think it will be huge.
Lindor is approaching his final year of control before free agency, which makes the likelihood of a trade even higher, especially considering the budget outlook of the small-market Indians. But that also tamps down his value quite a bit from where it was last year at this time (in the 60s).
How we arrived at Lindor’s valuation
Prior to this season, the consensus of major projection systems we survey predicted Lindor would deliver a 6.5 WAR season in 2020. Instead, using those same inputs, he produced 1.4 WAR in a 60-game season, which translates to 3.7 WAR if applied to a full season. It was a bit of a down year for him. Defensively, it was roughly in line; but offensively, he declined to the level of an average hitter, with a slash line of .258/.335/.415, for a WRC+ of exactly 100.
Notably, this is his second consecutive year of decline. His 2018 year of 7.6 fWAR is starting to look like his peak, which was followed by 4.4 fWAR in 2019 and an annualized 4.6 fWAR in 2020. Using BP’s WARP number, which we find correlates well with hitters, his decline pattern is more pronounced: 6.5 to 3.8 to 3.2. The main culprit seems to be his slugging percentage, which dropped over 100 points this year. His ISO dropped to a pedestrian .157.
That has an impact on his future projection. If he had performed to expectations in 2020, we would have expected a 6.1 WAR year in 2021. Instead, factoring in his lower numbers, the model now projects him for 4.6 WAR in 2021.
Expected stats such as xwOBA tell a similar tale: In his peak year, he was at .382; the past two seasons he’s been stuck in the .330s. The more that happens, the more it suggests it’s his new normal. That said, it’s always possible that a change of scenery could perk him up again. He’ll also be playing at age 27 in 2021, which is typically prime age. Projection systems give him a slight bump up for that.
After baking in all that, his updated projections give us an initial field value of $40M. In other words, if he were a free agent, and insisted on only a 1-year deal, that would be his price.
Lindor is entering his final year of arbitration. Matt Swartz, who provides arbitration estimates to MLBTR, projects his 2021 salary at $21.5M assuming normal patterns. So doing the math, that gets us to an initial surplus value of roughly $18.5M.
But there are a few other factors to consider.
First, any team that trades for him in the offseason will also receive the hidden value of draft pick compensation tied to a qualifying offer after the season. This varies by team and circumstance, but at the high end that pick could be worth as much as $9M. So we’ll assume that and add that in. That gets us to $27.5M.
Second, Lindor is obviously a marketable star. His smile would grace the cover of programs, be plastered on the sides of a stadium, and help fill seats in a revenue-challenged year. We’ll add 10% for that. That gets us to $31.5M.
Finally, a player of his calibre figures to generate multiple bids. The above number figures to be the starting point, so with that as the low, we calculate his range to go as high as $41M, with the median at $36.2M.
So where would he fit?
As BTV user jsmort99 points out: “There is a limited market for him. It takes a contending team, which eliminates quite a few teams. They won’t trade within the AL Central. It has to be a team without a franchise shortstop. And lastly, it has to be a fairly big market, for a team to give up top prospects to take on a one-year rental with the idea to sign him to a long-term deal. So how many teams does that leave? The Yankees, Angels, Braves, Cardinals and Dodgers? And then you have to look at the farm systems of those teams and see if they have the prospects that fit the Indians needs.”
Bingo. It’s likely to be a big-market team with both the budget to fit his salary in, with the need at SS. It’s debatable whether Cleveland will accept prospects, though, as their recent pattern suggests they prefer controllable MLB-level talent. So the strength of the farm is less of an issue.
All that said, we think Lindor will go for something in this range. When the Indians traded Trevor Bauer and Mike Clevinger, their values were in the high 30s. Bauer got them Franmil Reyes as the main piece; Clevinger got them a mix of MLB-level players and two prospects, although none were considered stars or future stars.
Figure Lindor brings back something similar — not a huge haul, mind you, but most likely a regular young position player and a lottery ticket or two.