GOODYEAR, Ariz. — Francisco Lindor didn’t sound like a man who had been shopped around all winter and was approaching the end of his time with the Cleveland Indians. He sounded genuinely upbeat about the potential of a franchise that has spent the past two offseasons reducing payroll. He sounded sincere when he addressed reporters after Monday’s workout and said, “I wanna win here. I wanna stay here.”
In the end, as is always the case, money will be the deciding factor. Twenty months from now, Lindor will become eligible for free agency and will command a contract that could exceed the eight-year, $260 million deal Nolan Arenado signed to stay with the Colorado Rockies. The Indians probably won’t go there. You could argue they can — that practically every billionaire owner has the financial resources for such a commitment — and Lindor would agree.
“The team is not broke, the league is not broke,” he said. “There’s money.”
But the reality is Lindor’s free-agent years could ultimately absorb about a quarter of the Indians’ budget, and that ratio doesn’t necessarily yield sustainable success in the sport. Indians president Chris Antonetti was adamant about his desire to keep Lindor when he spoke at the start of camp, but he also acknowledged the inherent difficulties.
“When you look at the economics of baseball, and the realities of building championship teams in a small market, it gets really tough,” Antonetti said. “The interest is there, the desire is there, on both sides, to try to get something done. And whether or not that’s possible, we just don’t know.”
Consider this a plea to play it out, regardless of where that leads. If the Mookie Betts trade taught us anything, it’s that attaining equal value for generational talents is unrealistic — especially if they’re nearing free agency, even more so in a time when front offices are so protective of their prospects.
Rival evaluators believe the Boston Red Sox did well in their trade with the Los Angeles Dodgers, considering Betts is only a season away from free agency and that they also wanted to offload David Price‘s contract. But it might not have been worth all the blowback. It might not have been enough to justify all those days — 81 of them, at least — when fans will sit in the stands at Fenway Park and not see Mookie Betts play.
Few executives were surprised Lindor wasn’t traded this offseason. Many believed the Indians were mainly trying to get a sense for his market value, open to being blown away by an offer but mostly gathering intel for a potential trade in July. Given the urgency of teams vying for a spot in the postseason, the return might be better then than it would have been this past offseason. But if the Indians wait until the 2020-21 offseason, when only a year would separate Lindor from free agency, trading a franchise pillar might no longer be worth it.
In short, the Indians may reach that proverbial fork in the road in about five months.
“Our first priority would be if we could find a way to extend Francisco’s term here,” Antonetti said. “If that’s not possible, then we have to look at alternate paths. And one of those paths is Francisco staying here ’til the end of his contract or term with us and leaving as a free agent. That could happen. That’s happened with players here in the past. And there have been other situations in which we’ve traded them. It’s really dependent upon a lot of factors that would play into those decisions. But our clear preference would be for him to be here beyond 2021.”
Lindor, who won’t turn 27 until November, accumulated 23.2 FanGraphs wins above replacement from 2016 to 2019, sixth highest in the sport. During that time, he batted .284/.346/.495, hit 118 home runs, stole 81 bases, played in four All-Star Games, won two Silver Sluggers and took home a couple of Gold Gloves at shortstop. The Indians are 72 years removed from their last World Series championship. They may never employ someone as good, as magnetic or as exciting as Lindor — and they’re still in a position to win with him.
The Minnesota Twins look like legitimate contenders and the Chicago White Sox suddenly loom as threats, but the Indians have the pitching depth to sustain the loss of Corey Kluber and still possess the talent to recapture the American League Central. The window is still open, even if only slightly, and who knows when it might be again? The Indians can hold on to Lindor for these remaining two years, give it their best shot, then live with the results of it. His talent justifies impracticality.
“I’m not sure we’re gonna win 105 games or 100 games, but we’re gonna compete, and it’s gonna be a fun year,” Lindor said. “We’ll surprise a lot of people. A lot of people are not counting on us. I am.”
Publicly, at least, Lindor and Antonetti continue to hold out hope for an extension.
The question is whether the Indians can consistently field a winning team with Lindor on their payroll.
“That’s the biggest challenge,” Antonetti acknowledged. “It’s not the desire.”
Antonetti said both sides have made “meaningful efforts” in their pursuit of an extension. Lindor understands his value and understands the business components that make trading him a possibility. The Dodgers, New York Mets, San Diego Padres and Cincinnati Reds were all linked to him over the winter, but Lindor said he “didn’t really pay much attention” to the rumors.
“Single, no kids, two dogs,” he noted. “I can just pack up and go.”
Perhaps he should just, you know, stay.
Agent Scott Boras says MLB draft limits send ‘wrong message’
Agent Scott Boras believes the agreement reached between Major League Baseball and the players’ union “sends the wrong message” when it comes to possibly shortening the draft and limiting the financial pool for amateur players.
Under terms of the agreement, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred has the discretion to shorten the 2020 draft from 40 rounds to as few as five rounds, sources told ESPN. And he also has the right to shorten the 2021 draft to as few as 20 rounds.
“For owners to do this to these young men, who are so passionate about baseball, is something that they need to examine their conscience,” Boras told USA Today Sports in a story published Friday. “More kids will have to go to [college]. And anyone not taken among the top 200 players will have to go back to school.”
Sources said players drafted in 2020 will get only $100,000 of their bonus this year. The remaining amount will be split into payments made in July 2021 and July 2022.
“I’m a big proponent of college, so I want these kids to get their education, but what really bothers me is that kids outside the fifth round deserve their bonuses,” Boras told USA Today Sports. “And now they’re freezing their [bonuses] for the next two years, and are paying them late.”
He later added: “I just think in this climate and this environment, you should keep the status quo. You’re sending a message to drafted players you are major league baseball’s step-child. It’s unconscionable to me for that small amount of money. We’re talking about a whopping $6 million savings over the whole damn draft.”
Boras said that by cutting the draft, teams will suffer.
“In reality, you are going to be surrounding [established] players with less-caliber players now,” Boras told USA Today Sports. “They need 10 rounds to fill their minor-leagues teams with talent. A sixth-round high school talent is a good player. An eighth-rounder out of college is a good player. They can be All-Star players. Now, they’ll be back in school.
“Really, we’re not giving them much of a choice.”
Tim Kurkjian’s baseball fix – Mom’s birthday, and how she almost cost my brother a home run
You love baseball. Tim Kurkjian loves baseball. So while we await its return, every day we’ll provide you with a story or two tied to this date in baseball history.
ON THIS DATE IN 1924, my mother, aptly named Joy, was born. Today is her birth and she turned 96.
She really had no chance in our house against her three boys, who loved and played the game, and her husband, who loved it more than anyone I have ever known. My mom was born in Bournemouth, England, and lived there until her early 20s. My dad loved my mom so much, the only time I saw him disagree with her was when she said that a bowler in cricket throws harder than a pitcher does in baseball.
“Joy, stop!” my dad said at the dinner table in 1968, soon after the historic Game 1 of the World Series. “No cricket player throws harder than Bob Gibson!”
My mom and dad went to all the games played by my brothers at Catholic University. The baseball and football team shared the CU Stadium in the 1970s. The right field stands were 250 feet from home plate. The ground rules were unique: any ball that landed no more than halfway up the stands was a double, any ball that landed beyond that was ruled a home run.
So my beloved mom was standing on the dividing line of the stands in 1974 when my brother Andy, who broke all the home run and RBI records at CU, hit a line drive into the stands. The ball hit my mom in the shoulder, and fell into the doubles area.
The umpires conferred. The ball had landed in the doubles area, but if it hadn’t hit that woman (who was the mother of the hitter), it would have been a home run. It was ruled a homer.
My dad, who knew my mom was physically tougher than he was, made sure my mom’s shoulder was OK, then jokingly told her, “What are you doing? You almost cost the kid a home run!”
Other baseball notes from March 28
In 1958, Hall of Fame outfielder Chuck Klein died at age 53. He is the only 40-40 player in history. In 1930, he hit 40 home runs and had 40 outfield assists.
In 1970, Ron Fairly hit a home run in the All-Star Game. He would finish his career with the most career homers (215) by anyone who never hit 20 homers in a season.
In 1986, in the last significant trade made between the Yankees and Red Sox, the Red Sox sent DH Mike Easler to the Yankees for DH Don Baylor. Easler was an ordained minister. The deal was agreed to on Good Friday.
‘What even is that pitch?’ An oral history of Kerry Wood’s 20-K day – Chicago Cubs Blog
Editor’s note: This story originally ran on May 6, 2018 for the 20th anniversary of Kerry Wood’s 20-strikeout game
It was an otherwise nondescript day. In fact, it was a forgettable one. Overcast and rainy, the Cubs were hosting the Houston Astros in an early May matinee. School was still in session, so just 15,758 fans were in attendance. How many stayed to see history is unknown, as the rain picked up throughout the day.
That didn’t stop 20-year-old Kerry Wood from a magical performance. He produced the highest game score in baseball history, posting a pitching line of 9 IP, 1 H, 0 BB, 20 K’s. He did it with a dynamic fastball and a slurve, which the Astros would call unhittable. Here are the memories of some of those involved, including Wood. Current Cubs pitchers Jon Lester and Kyle Hendricks add their two cents as well after watching the highlights in arguably the greatest-pitched game in Wrigley Field history. It was May 6, 1998 — 20 years ago.
Kerry Wood: “I remember specifically having low energy that day. I don’t know why. Maybe it was a day game or the overcast skies. I was dragging at the ballpark. It wasn’t jumping right away, the way I wanted. I felt sluggish.”
Cubs manager Jim Riggleman: “I do remember him saying that after the fact. He didn’t have a great warm-up.”
Astros second baseman Craig Biggio: “Our minor league [scout] said, ‘Hey, he has a good fastball, OK curve and be patient with him.’ We watched him warm up, and it was like, ‘OK, no big deal.’ Then the game started, and the kid put on his Superman costume, and the next thing you know, he struck 20 of us out.”
Wood: “I was all over the place in warm-ups. I was erratic. Every other pitch in the bullpen, I was getting another ball because I was throwing it to the screen or bouncing it in. I didn’t throw one strike. The first pitch of the game, it didn’t change. I hit [plate umpire] Jerry Meals in the mask. I didn’t have the feel.”
Plate umpire Jerry Meals: “To this day, I don’t think I’ve ever had that happen again. It’s the first pitch of the game, so things start going through my head. ‘Is there something I need to be addressing? Is there some bad blood? How do you get crossed up on the first pitch? What the hell is going on here?'”
Wood: “I went to 2-0 on Craig Biggio, then struck out the side. I absolutely surprised myself. After the first I felt great, but I had zero of those feelings warming up.”
Biggio: “He had a nice, smooth delivery. The ball was electric. I could relate it to [Craig] Kimbrel. He’s got that ball where he throws it and it pops in the glove, and it’s heavy and hard and firm. He was on.”
Jon Lester: “In that game, it wasn’t a lot of long at-bats. You see a lot of swings-and-misses and takes, not a lot of foul balls. Nowadays, you know the spin rate and all this stuff, that would have been plus-plus. That’s the biggest thing, the way those pitches broke.”
After four innings, Wood had eight strikeouts. An infield hit by Astros shortstop Ricky Gutierrez ruined any chance of a no-hitter, but by then, he was locked in and thinking about a complete game.
Wood: “Bagwell’s second at-bat, I know I get to 3-1, and I throw hook-hook and buckle him back-to-back. After that, I knew I had a chance to finish this.”
Meals: “He had everything working. He had a good-hitting team just baffled. They were flailing on the breaking stuff and couldn’t catch up to the fastball.”
Kyle Hendricks: “The movement on his pitches was incredible. What even is that pitch [the slurve]? I don’t know how you snap that off. No clue. You can just see how much spin is being created. Those guys didn’t have a chance.”
Biggio: “We didn’t have the technology they have today. Now you know everything about a guy. What he throws, how hard and stuff like that. You got everything. And you can go look at your at-bats as the game is going on.”
Lester: “The only information you had back then was facing the guy.”
Riggleman: “Somewhere around his 13th strikeout, [third-base coach] Tom Gamboa said, ‘You know how many strikeouts he has?’ It became interesting. … I didn’t know 20 was a record.”
Meals: “The weather turned crappy in the sixth. The grounds crew did a good job.”
Wood: “My goal was not to walk anyone. That’s what I heard my whole minor league career and my short time in the big leagues: Just don’t walk anyone. In a 1-0 game, I was just focusing on not putting the tying run on base.”
Biggio: “We’re one swing away from tying the game, so we’re not thinking about the strikeouts. But when you go out there, you see the fans throwing up the K’s, and you’re like, ‘Holy shoot, how many strikeouts does this guy have?’ You start counting them up. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 … I think they ran out of K’s.”
During one stretch, Wood struck out five in a row looking.
Wood: “With two strikes maybe they thought I was trying to trick them with off-speed, so a lot of those fastballs were them not pulling the trigger, thinking off-speed.”
Hendricks: “The fastball is obviously electric. It rides up in the zone. A few of these breaking balls to a lefty, it goes up and in to him. The spin rate would have been unbelievable. It makes it more fun to watch, without all those stats on the screen.”
Biggio: “We had 102 wins that year. That was no weak lineup. He carved us up like we didn’t belong there.”
Riggleman: “This is probably a little bit of an indictment of everyone that managed in that period, I was probably thinking like 135 pitches for him. I have to let him try and finish this thing.
“I didn’t want to take him out with men on base. That’s when you give life to the other club. Maybe at the end of the inning. I’m not sure we ever got anyone up though.”
Wood: “Being from Texas and following Roger Clemens, I knew he had the major league record, but it’s not one of those numbers you think is attainable. … I didn’t know how hard I was throwing or how many pitches I had thrown. We didn’t have that back then.”
Riggleman: “There were games [in which] after six or seven [innings], he had 13 or 14 strikeouts, the pitch count was high, and we would take him out. I would get booed like crazy for taking him out. Later, when he was hurt, it was, ‘Oh, you pitched him too much.’”
Wood: “In the seventh inning, I thought the umpires might call it for a moment due to rain. And I knew at that point, if there is a delay, I’m done. I remember thinking, ‘Don’t call that game.’”
The Cubs scored an insurance run in the eighth, giving them a 2-0 lead. Wood had 18 strikeouts yet still did not know he had a chance at a record.
Wood: “I remember thinking in the eighth inning I just wanted to get back out there and finish this up. We scored another run, and I know I just wanted the inning to end. A young player should want his team to score as much as possible.”
Lester: “That would be so hard now. I don’t know if you’ll see 20 again in the future. With bullpens and specialization. … He was very unique. How big and tall he was and he had the levers working. When you think of Kerry Wood, you think of someone special.”
Biggio: “He hit his spots and made his pitches that day. It was just a man amongst boys right there.”
Wood (on getting strikeout No. 20 against Derek Bell): “His first swing in that at-bat, I knew I could throw the rosin bag up there and he would swing at it.”
Meals: “I was thinking about almost calling a no-hitter. The crew chief pointed out he had 20 strikeouts. I had no idea. I wasn’t paying attention to the fans holding up the K’s.”
Wood: “My fist-pump on the mound was about no walks and completing the game. I hugged [reliever] Terry Adams and say something to him, because before the game, he said, ‘Hey rook, why don’t you pitch more than five innings. You’re killing us.’ But no one said anything about 20 strikeouts.”
Meals: “[Umpire] Terry Tata was at first base. He says, ‘You had 19, I had one.’ Because he rang one up on a check swing. That was when I realized 20.”
Wood: “Thirty seconds after it’s over, they bring me over to the camera, and my hands are shaking. My adrenaline is racing. That’s when I found out I struck out 20 and tied the record. I didn’t have anything to say, though.”
Biggio: “You’re bummed out you lost, but 20 punchouts is pretty amazing.”
Riggleman: “You meet a lot of people that say they were there that day, but it was a rainy day in May. Maybe it was 18,000.”
Hendricks: “And to do it that young. He must have been in one of those once-in-a lifetime zones.”
Riggleman: “[Former Cubs] Billy Williams and Ron Santo were at Wood’s game that day and said that it was even more dominating than Sandy Koufax’s perfect game [against the Cubs in 1965]. They were at that one, too. You could make a case, as old as that stadium is, that could be the greatest game anyone has ever pitched there.”
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