Is It Too Early to Discuss a Lindor Contract Extension?

Players with the skill set that Francisco Lindor possesses do not come along often, and especially for the long suffering fans in Cleveland. He was easily one of the shining stars in the dim sky that was the 2015 season for the Tribe.

Given his strong play, flashy glove, impressive range, speed, consistency at the plate, and an unexpected amount of pop in his bat, it is almost impossible to believe that Lindor played the season as just a 21-year-old. He seemed to handle the pressures placed upon him as one of the future faces of the franchise with relative ease and even dealt with the rookie learning moments, like not hustling out a fly out in Cincinnati in mid-July, with a sense of maturity well beyond his age.

There is no doubt that Lindor is the future in Cleveland and that future for Lindor is right now.

Lindor did not start the Major League portion of his professional career with the fervor that had been expected of him, but he did seem to turn it around after his hustle was questioned by manager Terry Francona in that game against the Reds. At the time, he was 2-for-3 with a single and double when he lifted a fly to center, leaving Jason Kipnis standing on second base with the first out of the inning while taking a slower-than-normal stroll down the first base line.

“I think he’s a very mature young kid,” said Francona the next day. “Saying that, he got caught last night where he hit the ball and didn’t run. I sat and talked to him this morning about it, because I don’t want that to happen. He’s not a bad kid. He’s not a lazy kid. He got caught up for a second in maybe frustration, and I kind of walked him through it. I didn’t yell at him, I just walked him through it and said, ‘Hey, is this what you want to be?’ And he was like, ‘No.’ I said, ‘I agree, because that’s not the way you play.’ He’s a great kid, actually, and plays hard. He just got frustrated, and you saw what happened. Rather than not address, or scream at him, I just don’t want it to happen any more. I would be willing to bet it doesn’t.”

“The hustle thing, you either do it or you don’t, because you don’t know when it’s going to pay off,” Francona added later in the discussion. “But, I guarantee that if you do it every time, it will pay off.”

Lindor singled in his next at bat for his first career three-hit game. He ended the day with a .241 batting average, boosting his season mark through 28 games by 17 points behind his day at the plate.

In his final 71 games following his discussion with Francona, Lindor hit .342 with a .384 on-base percentage. He hit a surprising ten home runs, 18 doubles, four triples, and drove in 42 runs from the top of the order. He was also eleven of 13 stealing bases after his chat.

Lindor emerged as a leader, one whose hustle seemed only to inspire those around him that much more to play hard. He was a key part of the late playoff push by the Tribe in August, after the club dealt away multiple veterans in the span of a week. When most would have understood if the Indians settled in and coasted through the remaining portion of their season schedule, they instead played themselves back to the brink of contention in the American League Wild Card race. While it was not all courtesy of Lindor, it certainly was not hurt by his .370 performance at the dish that month.

He ended the season with an impressive .313/.353/.482 slash line in 99 games of his debut season. He chased his dozen homers with 22 doubles, four triples, 51 RBI, and a 12-for-14 success rate stealing bases. It led to a disappointing, but not unexpected, second place finish in the AL Rookie of the Year voting to Houston’s budding superstar, Carlos Correa.

Unlike stories earlier on the site this week regarding Cody Allen and Danny Salazar, the question of whether or not the Indians should begin engaging discussions in a long-term contract extension with Lindor is a completely different conversation to have.

Both Allen and Salazar have a bit more MLB experience under their collective belts. Allen and Lindor were drafted by the Indians in the same 2011 draft, but Allen was selected in the 23rd round and was fast-tracked to the Majors and is nearly five years older than his draft mate. Salazar, who will turn 26 in January, just completed his third year of work at the MLB level, going 14-10 with 195 strikeouts in 185 innings, posting a 3.45 ERA in 30 starts, and has been a part of the Indians organization in some way since signing in 2006.

Salazar is pre-arbitration eligible this season, but will enter the arbitration process following the 2016 season and is under control of the Indians until the end of the 2020 season. Allen is set to see a healthy jump in pay this winter in his first year of arbitration eligibility and will not become a free agent until after the 2018 season.

Lindor is just 22, having celebrated his birthday in November. The switch-hitting shortstop has long been rumored to be the long-term double play solution with Kipnis in Cleveland and has done nothing to convince those in the game otherwise. The defensive side of his game was supposed to be his strength, so the prowess he showed at the plate was all added bonus.

The Indians have made a concerted effort to lock up their young stars, buying out arbitration and pre-arbitration seasons in order to create financially beneficial situations for both the team and the player. The player gets a commitment and more money in the early years of the contract than he would have received through pre-arb salaries, but the team may wind up spending much less in later years for a player who excels.

By keeping Lindor in Columbus until mid-June, the Indians avoided a situation that would put their budding star into Super Two status, a move that cost Lindor a chunk of money by preventing him from adding a fourth year of arbitration. It led to a frustrating and galvanizing debate, as the Indians opted to leave a stellar young prospect in the minors at a position of weakness for the inconsistent and unproven Jose Ramirez at shortstop, whose sole job was to keep the seat warm for the heir apparent. Lindor’s slow start in the minors in 2015 did not press the club’s hand in his second stint at the Triple-A level, but some could question how much additional benefit he received by remaining a Columbus Clipper until the Super Two danger zone was passed.

Should the Indians extend him now? There is no real rush other than giving the front office a better understanding of what their payroll limitations may be in the future. With Corey Kluber and Yan Gomes under contract through 2021, Kipnis and Carlos Carrasco through 2020, and Michael Brantley through 2018, the Indians already have a lot of money on their books for the future.

Cleveland, regardless of when they pay Lindor, will be handing the young man a significant sum of money at some point in the future. There is no sense of urgency, as he will be flying by at the pre-arbitration level for the next couple of years, but if they want to make good with their young star, they will not wait until he gets too close to those arbitration years, when his contract could see a healthy and substantial jump if he plays the way he has so far in the early portion of his career.

Making a commitment to another core piece of the future and one of the faces of the franchise will happen, but probably not this offseason. It would not be the first time that the team bought out a player in his pre-arbitration years – the club did similar with Kluber in 2015 and Gomes and Kipnis in 2014, as well as with Carlos Santana and Grady Sizemore previously. There were risks attached to each of those players, whether they be performance or risk of injury, but Lindor has put himself in a good position so far through nearly 100 games of action.

In the meantime, Lindor can help his cause by continuing to play at the high level anticipated when the Indians selected him with the eighth overall pick in the 2011 draft.

Photo: Rick Osentoski/USA TODAY Sports

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