I’m sure most of my comrades within the ranks of Wahoo’s on First are about to have a heart attack upon reading that headline. We have discussed in an endless number of emails the projected career path of Francisco Lindor and for the most part have settled on 2015 as his expected permanent arrival with a September call up in 2014 as a teaser. It a projection that makes sense both in terms of this team’s current make up and where they stand as title contenders. But what if the Indians have different plans?
Take for instance the performance of Asdrubal Cabrera in 2013. He has had a miserable season offensively and his defense has continued to be spotty at best. With each and every at bat the 2011 version of Cabrera who hit .273/.332/.460 and blasted 25 home runs becomes even more of a distant memory. At what point does the regression from all-star caliber shortstop to albatross become too much to bear?
Adding to the situation is Cabrera’s looming contract situation. He is set to make $10-million in 2014 and then hit the free agent market that following offseason. Is the Tribe prepared to pay a player that appears to be a shell of his former self $10-million to hit .230/.290/.380? Can they afford to pay Cabrera elite shortstop money when he is anything but an elite shortstop? Most importantly, are the Indians prepared to hold onto Cabrera for the 2014 season and then let him walk away for nothing?
While the answers to the first two questions present a certain degree of difficulty, the third is simple. There is no way the Indians are going to allow Cabrera to walk away without receiving something in return. Rather than allow Cabrera to diminish his value further, odds are likely that they will explore any and all opportunities to move him this offseason. If that happens and they are able to rid themselves of the Cabrera quandary, then where do they turn?
Enter, Francisco Lindor.
As the top prospect in the Indians’ organization and fifth overall in all of baseball, Lindor certainly has the pedigree required to make an impact at the big league level. However, he has several things working against him.
First is Lindor’s age. Come Opening Day of 2014, he will only be 20-years old. From that stand point there is certainly no need to rush Lindor’s progression. He has another seven to eight years before he hits his athletic prime and peak years as a major league player. There is also no need to accelerate his free agent clock. The Indians will want to utilize him when they are ready to contend and also guarantee themselves Lindor’s prime years. For a “small market” team that objective is imperative.
Second, there is the question of whether or not Lindor is ready to make the leap to the big league ranks. For what it’s worth, he only has two full seasons of professional baseball under his belt and has yet to play above the Double-A level. What’s evident from his brief time in the minors, however, is just how good Lindor could be.
|2013||19||2 Teams||2 Lgs||A+-AA||104||464||403||65||122||22||7||2||34||25||7||49||46||.303||.380||.407||.787|
No matter what the challenge has been thus far, Lindor has stared it in the face and met it head on. The end result has been fantastic. But again, the problem is experience. Despite the performance it is hard to ignore the fact that Lindor had only played in a grand total of 21 Double-A games before he was shut down for the remainder of the season with a bad back. Disappointing as that may have been, it was the smart move to make at the time. At this point, health needs to be valued over a few extra handfuls of plate appearances.
However, working in Lindor’s favor has been the precedent set by other teams in Major League Baseball.
Take for instance the Orioles’ Manny Machado. He has established himself as a star and at the age of twenty years old made it to the big leagues faster than anyone could have possibly imagined. In fact, Machado made it to the bigs after 219 minor league games. Lindor has already exceeded that total by playing in 231. Machado is also made his debut at the age of twenty, the same age Lindor will be in 2014, and had been sensational in his first full season as the age of 21. Throw in the fact that he has made a positional move to third base, and doing it at a gold glove caliber mind you, and Machado’s success appears to be the gold standard as a match for Lindor.
The Nationals’ Bryce Harper made the jump to the big leagues even sooner than Machado. At the age of 19 and after 134 minor league games, Harper was playing every day and batting in the heart of the Washington lineup while being selected to two NL All-Star teams. Injuries have slowed him down a bit this year, but when healthy he has proven himself not only to be a confident hitter at the big league level, but also one to be feared.
Perhaps the greatest success story of late has been Mike Trout. While Trout played by far the most minor league games of the three, 286 for those counting, and has had by far the most success. His near MVP season in 2012 at the age of 20 was something to behold. He posted a 10.9 bWAR for crying out loud. As a 21-year old in his first full season in the majors Trout has been even better. Through 125 games he had posted a bWAR of 7.6. He will certainly break the 10 WAR mark once again and if not for Miguel Cabrera‘s historic run and the Angels’ futility he may very well be in the conversation for AL MVP for a second straight season.
So what conclusion can we draw from all of this? Well, the biggest conclusion we can make is that there is no reason to think Lindor can’t have success at the big league level as a 20-year old rookie. But, it is probably unlikely that the Indians will take that approach. While trading Asdrubal is probably an inevitability, odds are we’re more likely to see a full season of Mike Aviles before we see the job handed over to Lindor. If he is as good as he is being projected the Indians will do everything in their power to avoid starting the clock on his big league time.
So will Francisco Lindor be a member of the 2014 Cleveland Indians? It’s plausible, but highly unlikely to happen. Be prepared to see Lindor make his debut in September 2014 with a full-time call up at the start of 2015, at the earliest.