Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press
The 2020 Major League Baseball season is going to be a unique experience for players and team decision-makers alike. Not only will the abbreviated 60-game season represent a sprint to the postseason, but it will also leave a very small trade window.
With opening day scheduled for July 23 and the trade deadline scheduled for August 31, teams will have just 39 days to evaluate their situations and make the necessary in-season moves. Naturally, starting fast will be key for teams hoping to be in the buyer’s market.
A definitive start—positively or negatively—could be key for a team like the Cleveland Indians. Cleveland could be in a position to trade its biggest star, shortstop Francisco Lindor, if a playoff run seems unlikely. Doing so would probably maximize the value Cleveland can expect to get in return.
“A Lindor trade feels inevitable, though it remains to be seen whether that will happen before Aug. 31 or sometime this offseason,” Mark Feinsand of MLB.com recently wrote. “A team acquiring the All-Star shortstop in-season would have Lindor for two pennant races and/or postseasons, though it’s unlikely that the Indians will lower their asking price even in a shortened season.”
As Feinsand points out, a team dealing for Lindor before the deadline would have him for two postseason pushes. A team trading for him in the offseason would have just one year of player control. Lindor has an arbitration year in 2021 and will be an unrestricted free agent in 2022.
While an extension is an option for Cleveland, Lindor seems set on reaching free agency:
Keith Britton @KeithBritton86
.@keithlaw on @BullandFox more on #Indians – Lindor: “I personally think, knowing him and knowing who his representative is, they just want to go to free agency. My understanding is, the team was willing to talk extension with him and he just said ‘I’m going to free agency.'”
This puts Cleveland in an awkward position. The team knows it is likely to lose Lindor eventually. The question is whether to try making a run with him in a shortened season or to try building for the future. If Cleveland starts slow, the right offer will likely push it toward the latter option.
Waiting until the offseason will make trading Lindor more difficult.
“The Indians listened to offers for Lindor last winter and didn’t like what they heard. But trading him prior to his expiration date is the best way to inject new life into their system,” Anthony Castrovince of MLB.com wrote. “While Lindor’s big 2021 price tag might be difficult for the Indians to absorb (especially in these conditions), it also has a big impact on his trade value, and you can’t just give away a once-in-a-generation player.”
Marcus Stroman and Robbie Ray
Adam Hunger/Associated Press
The New York Mets are in a similar situation with pitcher Marcus Stroman. Stroman, who was acquired from the Toronto Blue Jays nearly a year ago, will be a free agent next season.
“Stroman won’t be traded if the Mets are in contention, but if New York falls behind in the NL East, anything could happen,” Feinsand wrote. “Stroman, who will earn a prorated $4.44 million in his contract year, was a highly sought-after arm a year ago; if he’s made available, the same will likely be true next month.”
Stroman certainly should carry trade value ahead of the deadline. A first-time All-Star in 2019, he went 10-13 as a starter (4-2 for New York) and finished with an ERA of 3.22. In Toronto last season, he had an impressive ERA of just 2.96.
As is the case for Lindor, Stroman’s immediate future could depend on his team’s playoff chances in late August.
According to Feinsand, Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher Robbie Ray could also be on the move if his team doesn’t start well:
“Ray has been a fixture on the trade-rumor market for well over a year, but now that he’s headed for free agency at the end of the season, a trade could very well happen if Arizona gets off to a bad start in 2020. Ray will earn a smidge less than $3.5 million for his prorated salary, so if the D-backs aren’t confident they will be able to sign him to a new deal next winter, teams around the league would surely show interest in a solid starter at that price.”
The 28-year-old went 12-8 last season with an ERA of 4.34. He may not be quite as desirable as Stroman on the trade market, but contenders will likely show interest if he becomes available.