Francisco Lindor’s uncertain future with the Cleveland Indians — and his greatest victory


Picking the second-best day of Francisco Lindor‘s tenure with the Cleveland Indians is a daunting task. Maybe it was the night in 2017 when Lindor slammed a double to extend Cleveland’s winning streak to 22 games, or perhaps it was the day when he hit the home run against the Boston Red Sox in the 2016 playoffs, a grin covering his face as he circled the bases. Maybe it was the moment when he first stepped into the Indians’ dugout for his first game in the big leagues, with manager Terry Francona.

Lindor is only 26 years old and he has already built so much history in Cleveland, with three top-10 finishes in the AL MVP voting, a couple of Gold Gloves, four All-Star appearances. But Lindor is nearing the end of his time with the Indians — it’s within the realm of possibility that he’ll play his last game in a Cleveland uniform on Wednesday or Thursday if the Indians don’t survive their wild-card series. It’s also possible that with the American League’s best pitcher and position player in the 2020 season — Shane Bieber and Jose Ramirez, respectively — Cleveland could play well into October, as it did in 2016. It might turn out that Lindor’s second-best moment with Cleveland occurs in the American League Championship Series in 2020, or the World Series; maybe Lindor will share in the first championship dogpile by an Indians team since 1948.

The best moment of Lindor’s time with the Indians? Well, that’s easy. Nothing surpasses what happened on Nov. 2, 2016, the day the Chicago Cubs beat Cleveland in the extra inning of World Series Game 7.

The word in elementary school was that the young Francisco Lindor talked too much in class. Like a water hose you couldn’t turn off, the words pouring out. His energy, his joy, was irrepressible, not to be constrained by any supposed rules about who was allowed to talk at any given moment.

“We called him Pacquito,” said Legna, his oldest sibling, smiling. “We’d ask him, ‘Can you please zip it for five minutes. We only ask you five minutes. OK, how about two minutes?’ It was like that around friends at school. It’s been like that everywhere. He loves to talk.”

Their mom, Maria Serrano, worked hard, and as the oldest child at home, Legna watched over her siblings. She had felt an incredible bond with her little brother the first time she saw him, as an infant. “I felt that moment that I kind of like had a son,” she recalled. “Since then, I treat him like a son, more than like a brother. So I have been watching over him.”

For Francisco, any dictum from Legna was law. He might’ve debated with his mom, but when his big sister rendered a judgment, well, that was that. “She always looked out after us.” Francisco recalled. “She always made sure we were doing things the right way. It’s the way she is, and I just respect her a lot for that. … She’s always been the strongest one. She’s always been the role model.”

Early in the 2016 season, Legna was diagnosed with stage 2 cervical cancer, and when her doctors talked about immediate options, she had a condition: Before her treatment would begin, she said, she needed to fly to see her little brother. To tell him the news, in person. She flew to Cleveland, asked Francisco if they could go for a drive, and explained her diagnosis. He remembers not even being able to look at her, while Legna comforted him. “She was trying to make me feel a bit better.”

“I’m the brother, I’m the man, I gotta act strong,” Francisco recalled. “And she’s always been strong for me, since day one, so now I gotta be strong for her. How do I do this?”

As always, Legna had thoughts about this: Just play, she told him. Just keep playing. Just keep doing what do you. At the end of the drive, Francisco went to a bathroom and cried, fearful about his sister. “I was asking why — why was this happening to her, why was this happening to me?” he recalled.

Francisco already had a habit of praying for well-being, for himself, friends and family, and as he stood on the field in Cleveland shaken by his sister’s diagnosis, he felt like a hypocrite. Now was the time to believe, to have faith. “It was my turn to understand that it happens for a reason,” he recalled in an interview with E:60. “It was my turn to understand that I gotta be there, and I gotta be supportive. After that, it was like, ‘It’s all right, it’s OK. She’ll be fine, she’ll be fine, she’ll be fine.”

Legna went for treatment, and Francisco played, with a new purpose. He was named to the American League All-Star team for the first time, and unbeknownst to him, Legna got the OK from doctors to fly to San Diego to share in the experience — surprising her brother with a knock on the door.

The Indians would make the playoffs that year, first beating the Red Sox in the division series, then the Toronto Blue Jays in the ALCS, to advance to face the Cubs in the World Series. Legna was unable to travel, remaining in Puerto Rico for treatment. “She was watching me on TV, and I was doing it for her,” he said.

The Indians won three of the first four games in the World Series, before losing Games 5 and 6, to set up a winner-take-all Game 7 in Cleveland. On his way to Progressive Field, Lindor got a phone call — Legna, calling with news. “I beat cancer,” she told him.

Francisco said, “I walked in that clubhouse, I’m good. I got my sister. I’m in the postseason, but I’m good. … If we win it, we did it for the city of Cleveland. If we didn’t win — I still won.”

In one of the best World Series games ever, the Indians mounted a comeback, punctuated by Rajai Davis’ home run off Aroldis Chapman. But after a rain delay, the Cubs scored a run in the 10th inning to clinch that franchise’s first championship in 108 years. After the game, Lindor was incredibly circumspect in speaking with reporters, talking about the experience of playing in the World Series. He had not yet spoken publicly about his sister.

Lindor went to a restaurant with a group of family and friends, and someone at the table was near tears over the Indians’ loss. Francisco stepped in with some perspective. “I’m like, ‘Why are you crying? We got Legna now — we good, we good. We’ll be in the World Series next season. Don’t worry, we’ll win the World Series at some point.”

The Indians made the playoffs in 2017 and 2018 and didn’t advance past the division series, and Cleveland has another chance to move through the postseason, before the front office must again assess what to do with Lindor before he simply becomes too expensive for them.

The Indians’ baseball operations department is regarded within the game as one of the best, a group that executes sound decisions for a franchise with far fewer resources than other clubs. They tried to sign Lindor early in his career, hoping to lock him down with relative gobs of guaranteed money when he was making relative pennies. This approach worked with Jose Ramirez, who signed a long-term deal. But Lindor’s choice was different: He effectively bet on himself by bypassing those early Indians proposals, and soon, he will cash in big time.

Within the Indians’ organization, there was respect and understanding for Lindor’s decision, and a coinciding realization that it meant the shortstop would leave Cleveland someday. For the Indians, who typically have a payroll in the range of $100 million to $120 million, there is too much risk in investing $25 million to $35 million annually in one player, and that’s the range in which Lindor will be paid when he signs the first multiyear deal of his career.

So there will almost certainly be a day when the Indians do what they did with CC Sabathia and Cliff Lee and Trevor Bauer and Mike Clevinger: They will take advantage of Lindor’s trade value, flipping him to a big-market team for younger, cheaper players — perhaps a club with a strong belief that it can sign Lindor to a long-term deal before he becomes a free agent, along the same lines that the Dodgers landed Mookie Betts. The Yankees seem to have a long-term need at shortstop, and have the wherewithal to make that kind of deal; so do the Mets.

The optimal conditions to deal Lindor might have come and gone, lost to the coronavirus pandemic. Rival executives had expected the Indians to listen intently to any offers for the All-Star shortstop in the midst of the 2020 season, after weighing proposals last winter, but in this truncated season that didn’t happen.

Through arbitration, Lindor will get an enormous bump in salary in 2021, from $17.5 million to something closer to $25 million, and with a lot of teams preparing major payroll cuts, the number of clubs willing to take on that kind of salary will be diminished. Additionally, there could be viable market alternatives to Lindor, in the winter before an unprecedented class of free-agent shortstops could hit the market: Beyond Lindor, Javier Baez, Carlos Correa, Corey Seager, Trevor Story and others are in line to become free agents next winter.

But Lindor will draw interest, and assuming that the Indians follow their longstanding history, they will deal him, whether it be this winter — and the offseason is a more suitable time to deal elite position players — or next summer.

Whenever that happens, Lindor’s time with the Indians will have been glorious, with nothing better than that beautiful Cleveland day in early November 2016 when Legna called with the best possible news.

News from around the major leagues

Trevor Bauer is omnipresent in social media, and for that reason alone, he can rub some peers the wrong way in a sport in which sharing opinions publicly will draw scrutiny. Baseball’s long-standing culture has been that players have an obligation to teammates to go about their work mostly in anonymity, and Bauer has never been and will never be fenced in by that kind of convention. In 2020 in particular, that is a good thing; in 2020, without fans in the stands, Bauer has been one of the best things about the sport, reminding everyone that this is supposed to be fun.

In his start against the Brewers the other day, Bauer pitched with extraordinary emotion, shouting excitedly after strikeouts, keeping his eyes on the hitters after he dominated them, strutting off the mound — and other than a couple of double-takes, the Milwaukee players seemed to react in stride, probably because Bauer had walked the talk. In his prior start, Tim Anderson had bested Bauer, getting to a high fastball and blasting a home run, and afterward, Bauer questioned on his Twitter feed why Anderson hadn’t celebrated more, why he hadn’t responded with a gaudy bat flip; he effectively encouraged Anderson and others to play with more outward emotion.

Generally, that can be a whole lot more fun for everyone — for most players, and definitely for fans locked down in the way they can watch sports this year. It’s as if Bauer has launched a one-man assault on baseball’s unwritten rules and in 2020, he’s winning — and is likely to win the NL Cy Young Award, as well.

• How the major award races look from here, on this (likely) last day of the regular season:

AL Cy Young Award: Bieber, who has the lowest ERA in the big leagues, the most strikeouts, and thrown the third-most innings. Right now, he holds the title of best pitcher on the planet. Think about this: The No. 1 hitters in opposing lineups have combined to score a total of one run in his 12 starts.

NL Cy Young Award: Bauer, whose separated himself from the pack with the dominant outing against Milwaukee. With runners in scoring position this season, opposing hitters are 3-for-35 with 15 strikeouts.

NL Most Valuable Player Award: Freddie Freeman. The Braves’ first baseman has an OPS of 1.105 OPS, with 43 walks and 37 strikeouts. If this had been a longer season, the Nationals’ Juan Soto might well have overtaken Freeman — Soto has 26 extra-base hits, 38 walks and 27 strikeouts. Given his understanding of the strike zone and how pitchers deploy breaking balls, he could be poised to win this award more than a couple of times over the next decade.

AL MVP: Like Bauer, Jose Ramirez has finished strong and overtaken the rest of the MVP field. Ramirez has built a substantive lead in WAR over the rest of the AL field, according to FanGraphs’ accounting.

AL Rookie of the Year: The Mariners’ Kyle Lewis, who has an excellent wRC+ of 132. Luis Robert seemed to be in a good position to win this award earlier in the season, but his offense has collapsed in September.

NL Rookie of the Year: If I had a vote — and I don’t — I’d take the Brewers’ Devin Williams, who has had unmatched dominance among first-year players, striking out 53 of the 100 batters he has faced this season, allowing just one earned run in 27 innings. No. 2: Jake Cronenworth of the Padres, who has a .370 on-base percentage and .500 slugging percentage.



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