Well, at least the Padres’ pursuit of Corey Kluber makes a little more sense now.
The Indians’ ace would have been a great addition to the Dodgers pitching staff. In a way, the Reds kind of made sense too. But the Padres? They were baseball Siberia. No playoff appearances since 2006, and no winning record since 2010. They were the team Bruce Bochy (who announced earlier this week that this would be his last season as Giants manager) left before establishing his Hall of Fame bona fides in San Francisco.
But with news that they’ve signed Manny Machado to a 10-year, $300 million deal (the richest contract ever given to someone not named Giancarlo Stanton), the Padres are definitely pushing all their chips into the center of the table. They’re still pursuing Bryce Harper, the other big free agent this off-season, and all of a sudden, their farm system is stacked – including former Indians prospect Francisco Mejia, who was dealt to San Diego in the deal that brought Brad Hand to Cleveland.
This is the type of deal that could make or break a franchise. It might end up making or breaking the Indians as well.
Contracts like Machado’s (to which the standard disclaimers apply: The Padres haven’t officially confirmed the deal) set the market not just for this off-season, but for seasons to come. And it could have ramifications for Francisco Lindor’s future. And Lindor already seems to have one foot out the door in Clevealnd.
A decade ago, the end of LeBron James’ contract loomed like a sword of Damocles over the Cavaliers. I found myself coming back to the words of Robert DeNiro in “Ronin,” when he was asked how he knew he was being set up in an arms deal that went awry: When there is doubt, there is no doubt. If we had to ask if LeBron was staying, he wasn’t staying. Same with Lindor, who in remarks to the media at spring training on Monday, was as noncommittal as he could be without actually saying he was gone at the end of his contract.
(At this point, it seems fair to remind you that the Indians were accused of bringing him along slowly just to maximize team control for as long as possible – the same thing that the Blue Jays are now accused of doing with Vladimir Guerrero Jr. Of course, I’m sure it’s just coincidence that Mark Shapiro was in the front office for the Indians at the time – and is with the Jays now.)
Barring some tinkering on the edges, the team in spring training is basically the team we’ll see in April. Management has said maybe they’ll make a push at a deadline acquisition.
One of the hallmarks in the Terry Francona era for the Indians has been an element of luck. In Francona’s first year as Tribe manager, the team won their last 10 games to get a wild card spot. In 2016, they took control of the division with a 14-game winning streak, and the following year won 22 games in a row. And they’ve depended on that luck as well. It didn’t materialize last year, for whatever reason, and the Tribe won the division but made a quick postseason exit.
This team will likely win the division, but will have to depend on a lot going right for any chance at a deep run in the playoffs. It’s not out of the question. But the converse is also true. It’s not out of the question that the team catches a run of bad luck, and a season that began with reasonably high hopes could turn into a full on teardown. And one of the big bargaining chips may end up being Francisco Lindor.
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