There were reports during Spring Training that the Indians had attempted to work out a multi-year extension with star shortstop Francisco Lindor, but details on the talks never surfaced. This morning, Sports Illustrated’s Tom Verducci reports that Lindor turned down an offer that would’ve paid him “around $100 million.” Paul Hoynes of the Cleveland Plain Dealer adds that the Indians did indeed make a “substantial” offer to Lindor, though he wasn’t able to confirm the $100MM figure (Twitter links). Furthermore, Hoynes says that there are no active extension talks with Lindor or any other player at this time.
Lindor’s rejection of the reported $100MM figure — or anything even close to that figure, for that matter — means that the rising superstar turned down an extension that would’ve shattered the current record for a player in his service class. Lindor, 23, entered the year with just one year, 113 days of Major League service time. As MLBTR’s Extension Tracker shows, the previous record for an extension for any player in the one-plus years of service bracket is Andrelton Simmons’ seven-year, $58MM contract, signed with the Angels prior to the 2014 season. It’s certainly possible that the $100MM figure wasn’t entirely guaranteed and is including the value of some option years, but it does seem all but certain that such an offer would’ve set a new record.
And while it’s undoubtedly difficult for Indians fans to stomach the fact that Lindor wouldn’t take what would’ve been far and away the largest contract in franchise history, it’s also not entirely stunning to hear that he rebuffed the team. Lindor did, after all, receive a healthy $2.9MM bonus as the No. 8 overall pick in the 2011 draft, so he’s started his career in a considerably better place than most of his peers. Beyond that, as Verducci notes in the heart of his column, the free-agent market is moving forward and figures to do so substantially between now and the time that Lindor reaches free agency in the 2021-22 offseason.
The 2018-19 free agent class is stocked with premium talent and figures to be headlined by Bryce Harper and Manny Machado. The common consensus is that each of those players could command at least $300MM, and the possibility of a $400MM contract for either, given that their youth — each will be 26 when entering free agency — will lead to contract offers of extreme length. Lindor won’t be quite so young when he reaches the open market, but he’ll hit free agency at the age of 27 as he heads into his age-28 campaign. That’s still quite young for a player to reach the open market, and Lindor of course figures to do quite well for himself in arbitration over the five years between now and the open market, though he won’t qualify for that process until the completion of the 2018 season.
Notably, Verducci did speak to Lindor’s agent, David Meter, and while Meter understandably didn’t get into any specifics on what was or wasn’t offered, he didn’t take a firm stance against ever agreeing to a long-term deal. “It’s just one of those things we’ll look at on a year-by-year basis,” Meter tells Verducci. “I don’t think it’s very productive to draw a line in the sand.”
While that lends some mild optimism about the possibility of an extension further down the road, it also likely means that the Indians will be required to substantially increase their offer if they’re to have any chances of getting an agreement in place. By the time next offseason rolls around, Lindor will be just one year removed from arbitration eligibility. And though he’d already established himself as one of the game’s elite young talents with a .306/.356/.454 batting line through his first 1122 plate appearances (accompanied by premium baserunning and defense), there are still signs that the best is yet to come. Lindor has already homered four times in 2017 after hitting 15 all of last year, and he’s off to a .351/.415/.684 start to his season through 66 plate appearances. It’s unlikely that he sustains that pace, but any improvement in his production, paired with the increasing proximity to arbitration, will only serve to further escalate the price tag on a Lindor extension.