In a normal year, the St. Louis Cardinals would be contenders for Francisco Lindor. However, the stars are not aligned right now.
For the last couple of years, each winter and trade deadline have brought rumors that the Cleveland Indians were interested in moving on from their superstar shortstop, Francisco Lindor. Each time that happened, it seemed to throw St. Louis Cardinals fans into a frenzy.
Lindor came up with Cleveland in 2015 as a 21-year-old and quickly established himself as a star. Since he finished second in Rookie of the Year voting that year, Lindor has been a four-time All-Star, two-time Gold Glove, two-time Silver Slugger award winner, and hasn’t finished outside of the top 15 in MVP voting other than in 2020.
Back in 2019, the Indians’ owner Paul Dolan, after being asked about Lindor’s future, simply said, “Enjoy him.” This was a clear designation that the Indians, a perennial bottom-ten payroll team, would not be in the conversation to sign Lindor long-term. This jumped the likelihood of a trade skyrocket.
After the team neglected to trade Lindor during the 2019 or 2020 season, his trade value has dropped because he is a free agent after the 2021 season. Regardless, the Indians seem to have plans to trade him before the 2021 season begins.
For reference on how bad things must be in Cleveland, Lindor will be owed a spotrac.com estimated $19.5M in 2021 in his final year of arbitration. With that on the books for Lindor, the Indians’ 40-man payroll sits at just over $67M for 2021. Without him, that will drop below $50M in total.
In years past, many fans wanted to see Lindor in Cardinal red, and we can’t deny the fit. Lindor, while playing premium defense at a premium infield position, has three 30+ homer seasons and averaged a 120 wRC+ with around an .850 OPS in his career. Lindor also has averages about 20 steals per season. 2020 was a down year for Lindor where his wRC+ was just 100, but he still put up a 1.7 fWAR.
Lindor has three seasons of a 5.0 or better fWAR, peaking at a 7.6 fWAR in 2018. The best part is that Lindor still hasn’t turned 27. In the Cardinals lineup, he would be the perfect complement to Paul Goldschmidt.
I know the Cardinals have Paul DeJong, but the fit with Lindor would be exactly what the team needs. Include DeJong in a deal, move him to third, it wouldn’t matter. If you have a chance to get a player like Lindor, incumbent players don’t stand in the way. Until Lindor is undoubtedly traded this winter, Cardinal fans will surely be clamoring for him.
The problem is, it doesn’t make sense for the Cardinals with their financial restrictions for this winter. As sad as that is, it is true. The front office hasn’t announced anything yet, but it is likely the team will be looking to cut payroll $20M to $40M this winter. They have already done a considerable chunk of that by declining Wong’s $12.5M option ($11.5 saved), but that isn’t enough by itself.
Letting Yadier Molina and Adam Wainwright find other homes in free agency saves another $25M and trading Carlos Martinez away (assuming you aren’t taking much salary on as a result) saves about $10M more.
If the team does all that, they cut payroll by about $45M. When you factor in that the team needs to pay for arbitration increases to Jack Flaherty, Harrison Bader, and more, that number shrinks. Without Yadi, the team will need to resign a veteran catcher to share time with Andrew Knizner, and that is all without signing any other free agents.
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Depending on how much the team needs to cut salary, there could be a way to swing it, but the Cardinals also have to consider the team they have, and their ability to go for it all in 2021.
When the Cardinals traded for Paul Goldschmidt before the 2019 season, they were confident before they made the deal that Goldy would be interested or even likely to sign long-term in St. Louis. With the financial outlook of 2021 and beyond still wildly unclear, the team may not be in a position (even with Carpenter and Fowler’s salaries coming off the books for 2022) to commit to paying Lindor a superstar’s salary.
If the Cardinals are extremely confident that they could sign Lindor for a long-term deal after trading for him, I have no doubt they would be interested. Under non-COVID circumstances, I would think trading for Lindor would be exactly what they would be looking at.
However, it seems like there are too many obstacles between where the team is right now and keeping Lindor in a Cardinals jersey for years to come.
I wish the situation was different, I really do. There will be plenty of people who still hold hope that the Cardinals would disregard the sport’s current financial woes and go trade for and sign Lindor. I just don’t see it happening.