That was the best Indians owner Paul Dolan could do for Indians fans nervous about the long-term future of Francisco Lindor in Cleveland.
That came after a winter of payroll slashing by the Indians, the results of which are now on gruesome display on a nightly basis, as the offensively handicapped local nine plays game after excruciating game of first-one-to-three wins.
It almost felt like unintentional fan taunting, because everyone knows that when Lindor becomes a free agent after the 2021 season, he will sign with the highest bidder, which obviously will not be the team that drafted him, signed him, developed him, but won’t cash in on Lindor’s prime years, which will be played for and enjoyed by those elsewhere.
It would be a lot easier to do that had the apparently still-underfinanced Indians ownership not gutted the lineup during the offseason, leaving Lindor, and almost Lindor alone, responsible for getting all the big hits necessary to give the team a chance to win a championship.
The deeper into the season the Indians get, the dopier the decision to slash payroll by gutting the lineup looks. Even though the team took a Houston haymaker in the Division Series last fall, getting bum-rushed out of the postseason in three games, given the talent still on the roster, and, ownership surely knew, the unlikelihood of keeping it together indefinitely, this was the time to hit the gas, not slam on the competitive brakes.
But there they are: the telltale skid marks that are trailing the discount Indians through the first two months of this ponderous season. It’s a season that history will likely look upon as one in which the team’s championship window was prematurely and ingloriously shut by ownership.
It’s never a good time to slam shut the window of opportunity, much less to do so when a loaded roster is built around a potential Hall of Fame shortstop, whose presence in the city that hatched his history-making career has a very definite — and fast-approaching — shelf life.
Lindor nearing the finish line in Cleveland is not the time to throttle down. It’s the time to intensify the quest, or, at the very least, to maintain the quest.
It most certainly is not the time to abandon the quest, which is what ownership effectively did by cutting the lineup out from under the best leadoff hitter in the game, and the best all-around shortstop the Indians have had since player-manager Lou Boudreau shortstopped and managed the Indians to their last World Series title 70 years ago.
More like lament him for the woeful supporting cast with whom he’s trudging through his twilight years — or year — in Cleveland. Him, who could potentially be, with more formidable accomplices, a hero to millions of World Series-starved fans. Lament him, who even if he entertained a shred of hope that he could play his whole career, or at least all of the still-to-come peak years of it, in Cleveland, can see the handwriting on the wall.
So much so that the question must now be asked: Since the earnest pursuit of a championship has been abandoned — history gives us no examples of a team downsizing its way to a World Series parade — at what point do the Indians open the Lindor auction in order to recoup value for a generational talent that any team would love to have, and, one way or another, one soon will?
The longer the Indians wait to trade him, the less they can expect to get in return. Put another way: If the Indians aren’t going to use Lindor to seriously pursue a championship, there are plenty of other teams out there that will, and they are willing to pay handsomely for the chance.
It is into this corner that the Indians have painted themselves. There is simply not enough offense on this team to catch the prodigious slugging of the Minnesota Twins, much less make a deep run into the postseason.
So the Indians have two options. They can keep Lindor until he leaves as a free agent, and get nothing in return, a la Michael Brantley, or they can trade him.
Trading Lindor now would give the acquiring team 2½ years of a potential Hall of Fame shortstop. The going rate for that should be the top two position player prospects, or two major league-ready impact bats from any organization, with some additional sugar thrown into the deal as well.
Keeping Lindor under false pretenses — that the Indians are going all out to win the World Series — benefits nobody.
For a lot of reasons, this was the year ownership should have stayed the course and swung for the fences one final time. Ownership chose not to do so.