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Trading Francisco Lindor makes Cleveland’s priorities clear

Ownership ordered the trade of Lindor because it values profits over winning.

American League Wild Card Game 2: New York Yankees v. Cleveland Indians Photo by Joe Sargent/MLB Photos via Getty Images

The inevitable has happened. Francisco Lindor has been traded by the Cleveland Baseball Team to the New York Mets. In exchange, the Baseball Team will receive Amed Rosario, Andrés Giménez, Josh Wolf, and Isaiah Greene Or, the Baseball Team will receive a glove-first shortstop, a younger glove-first shortstop, a pitcher with eight innings of rookie league experience, and an outfielder with no professional experience. If that return seems light, keep in mind that Cleveland also threw in Carlos Carrasco.

Did the Baseball Team get a decent haul? Outlook murky, check back in five years. However, like with the Blake Snell trade, analyzing the return is missing the point. The purpose of the trade wasn’t for Cleveland to acquire franchise-altering talent. They already had that in Lindor. The Dolans directed their front office to cut costs so cut costs they did. Trading a generational talent when the team is on the cusp of contention should invoke consternation, but the answer to why they did it is obvious: to save money.

The answer to the next question is less obvious. What exactly are they planning to do with that money? If a team isn’t willing to spend on Francisco Lindor then who are they willing to spend on? Cleveland has been cutting costs since they traded Corey Kluber to Texas. Trading away Kluber, Trevor Bauer, Mike Clevinger, and waiving Brad Hand might be easier to stomach if at the end, the team could have kept Lindor in Cleveland for the rest of his career.

If the endgame is to instead extend José Ramírez then okay, sure, but Cleveland’s payroll is sitting around $35 million for 2021. Cleveland is a small-market team, and they may have been disproportionately dinged in 2020 without fans and with revenue sharing paused, but they’re also a small market team without commitments.

Cleveland has had the good fortune of playing in the weakest division in MLB. They’ve been able to get progressively worse and still remain in contention, but that luck is going to run out. Even if they have also gotten a little worse this offseason as well, the Twins have been the better team the past two seasons. The White Sox are also on the rise and were arguably a better team than Cleveland last year.

Unless the playoffs are expanded again, it’s not a given that the Baseball Team can just coast into the postseason. Cleveland still hasn’t fixed their outfield problem, there’s no indication they’ll spend on any of the good, inexpensive options available like Jackie Bradley Jr. or Kyle Schwarber let alone George Springer.

Cleveland’s farm continues to be in good shape which is a credit to the player development team. Before acquiring Greene, Wolf, and Giménez, Cleveland had seven players ranked at 50 FV or better (though Nolan Jones and Triston McKenzie are the only ones who are close to the majors). Rather than follow the Dodgers’ path and supplement their farm with free agents or follow the Padres and use their farm to get good players, Cleveland is depending on their farm and nothing else.

The Dolans could always afford Francisco Lindor. To say that they couldn’t is a bald-faced lie. If it wasn’t, all it would prove is that they have no business owning a baseball team.

Kenny Kelly is the managing editor of Beyond the Box Score.