While the offseason has been historically slow and the winter has crawled along at an even slower pace, we at Did The Tribe Win Last Night look ahead to the warmer days of the 2018 season by remembering Tribe players past and present.
Countdown to Opening Day – 12 days
Houston’s Jose Altuve just received a massive payday from the Astros on Friday, netting a contract extension reportedly worth five years and more than $150 million.
That news does not bode well for the Cleveland Indians and their future affiliation (and negotiations) with star shortstop Francisco Lindor.
While Lindor’s future financial earnings were thought to be tied to another member of the Astros organization, his friend and fellow shortstop Carlos Correa, the fact that the older Altuve got such a significant offer means that, despite a dry offseason with significant declines in contract dollars given, there is still plenty of money floating around the MLB landscape to give to players who deserve it. Altuve was certainly one of the more deserving players out there – the seventh-year man is a five-time All-Star, a four-time Silver Slugger winner, and took home the AL MVP in 2017 after a third place finish in the voting the season before. He did all that while playing on a five-year, $18.5 million extension (or six-year, $25 million pact if including his obvious team option for 2019) that he signed prior to the 2014 season.
Lindor, like Altuve, broke into the Bigs at the young age of 21, getting that service time clock running early on. He has played three seasons for the Indians on minimum rates, making just $579,300 last season. Meanwhile, the eighth overall pick of the 2011 draft gave the Indians a second straight All-Star appearance and his first Silver Slugger award while placing fifth in the MVP tally, his second top-ten finish in two full seasons in the Majors. He turned 24 in the offseason.
There’s a lot to like about Lindor’s game and he certainly has played well above value as a 16.0 bWAR player through his first 416 games as an Indian. His defense is flashy, sometimes providing flashbacks to another historic shortstop in franchise history, Omar Vizquel. Lindor took home both the Gold Glove Award at shortstop and the Platinum Glove honor in the American League during his first full season of play in 2016. He is smart and dangerous on the base paths – he has stolen 46 bases in 56 attempts in his career. He has hit for a healthy average and gotten on base in general at a good clip – he owns a .293 career average with a .349 OBP, although last year was a down year in both categories for him. He has combined for 360 hits over the last two years and has seen a dramatic uptick in his power – in just 39 more plate appearances last season compared to 2016, Lindor went from 30 doubles to 44 and more than doubled his home run production from 15 to 33, all while driving in a career-best 89 runs.
The Indians should enjoy Lindor’s cheap rates now, because arbitration (which he is eligible to start beginning with his negotiations for 2019) is going to change that quickly. Lindor has banked on his high ceiling and lofty expectations, opting to forgo extension talks, and he will cash in accordingly. There will be no Jose Ramirez type of deal (five years, $26 million with two team options, buying out several arbitration years) for one of the new faces of the MLB scene. His star is just beginning to rise, evidenced by his cover athlete status on the second-tier baseball game R.B.I. Baseball 18, which is set to release on major video game consoles next week.
A switch-hitter with less wear on his body than someone like Altuve, Lindor will come at a frightening cost to the Indians at some point, one that could spell a short end for his time in Cleveland given the piles of money already owed to players over the next few years.
While Lindor draws some comparisons to Vizquel for his glove work, he may be a better comparable to another former 12 in Tribe history, Roberto Alomar (1999-2001). Similarly a middle infielder by trade (but almost exclusively a second baseman throughout his career), the switch-hitting Alomar was known for his flashy style of play and great numbers at the plate.
Alomar broke into the Majors in 1988, working as the San Diego Padres’ full-time second baseman. He hit .266 and finished fifth in the NL Rookie of the year voting. His career really began to take off as he was heading out of San Diego, traded with Joe Carter to the Toronto Blue Jays for Tony Fernandez and Fred McGriff following his first All-Star campaign in 1990. He would spend five years north of the border and was an All-Star and Gold Glove winner each season, flashing extra base potential, the ability to hit for a high average, a good eye at the plate, and speed on the bases (including a career-high 55 stolen bases in 1993). His time with the Jays was highlighted by three straight playoff appearances, including back-to-back World Series titles in 1992 and 1993. He was the MVP of the ALCS in 1992, hitting .423 with a pair of homers and four RBI. He drove in ten runs and stole eight bases in the 1993 postseason and hit .480 in the World Series against Philadelphia.
He signed with the Baltimore Orioles following the 1995 season and helped lead the O’s to the playoffs in 1996 and 1997, where they found competition in the Indians both times. His time in Maryland included three straight All-Star seasons and he also won his second career Silver Slugger award and added two more Gold Gloves to his resume.
Alomar joined his brother Sandy in Cleveland in December of 1998 and would spend three All-Star years (the final ones of his career) in an Indians uniform, putting together arguably his best single season in 1999 when he slashed .323/.422/.533 with career-highs in runs scored (138), homers (24), RBI (120), walks (99), and sacrifices (13, which led all of baseball). He would win two more Silver Sluggers while in Cleveland and three more Gold Gloves and had a pair of top-5 MVP seasons, finishing third in 1999 and fourth in 2001.
The Indians dealt him to the New York Mets as part of an eight-player swap in December of 2001, sending him, pitcher Mike Bacsik, and minor leaguer Danny Peoples to Shea for top prospect Alex Escobar, veteran outfielder Matt Lawton, pitchers Jerrod Riggan and Billy Traber, and first baseman Earl Snyder in an attempt to restock the depleted farm system. Alomar’s career was on the downswing at that point, as he hit no higher than .266 in a single season over the next three years, spending 2002 with the Mets, 2003 with New York and the Chicago White Sox, and 2004 with the Arizona Diamondbacks before a trade back to the Sox. An attempt to keep his career going in 2005 with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays fell short and he retired towards the end of spring training.
Alomar finished his career with a .300/.371/.443 triple slash with 210 homers and 474 stolen bases. He went into the Hall of Fame on his second ballot in 2011, receiving 90% of the vote in what some believe was retribution for his unsightly spitting incident from earlier in his career with home plate umpire John Hirschbeck while with Baltimore.
Lindor, of course, wears 12 in honor of his idol, Alomar (who was also an inspiration for him to switch hit). The talented second baseman wore the number 12 for all but four months of his 17-year Hall of Fame career.
Other notable 12s in Tribe history (48 in total): Joe Shaute (the first in 1929), Willis Hudlin (1930-40), Lou Brissie (1951-53), Don Mossi (1954-58), Woodie Held (1963-64), Graig Nettles (1970-72), Jeff Kent (1996), Greg Swindell (1996), Ben Francisco (2007-09), Ezequiel Carrera (2011-12), Mark Reynolds (2013)
Photo: Rob Carr/Getty Images