Indians enter offseason of major decisions, uncertainty
CLEVELAND (AP) — A short, stressful 2020 season that ended two games into the playoffs is being followed by an equally harrowing offseason for the Cleveland Indians.
They're in a “daunting” financial situation, worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic. Manager Terry Francona's health remains a concern. They're considering a name change.
And if all of that wasn't enough, the Indians have to decide whether it's time to trade All-Star shortstop Francisco Lindor.
No wonder President of Baseball Operations Chris Antonetti is looking a little older.
“My daughter the other day at breakfast, said, ‘Dad, you’ve got a lot of gray hairs over this year. You didn’t have many before this started,'” Antonetti said.
These are indeed challenging days for the Indians, who made the playoffs for the fourth time in five seasons but were swept in the AL wild-card round by the New York Yankees. Now, they're faced with some major decisions, leading off with Lindor.
One of baseball's top stars, Lindor is under contractual control with Cleveland for another year. The 26-year-old, however, has turned down several long-term offers from the team, and now the Indians have to seriously consider trading him in order to remain a contender or do nothing and watch him walk as a free agent late next year.
Antonetti said he hasn't resigned himself to trading Lindor as a given.
“I don’t think I ever take that view,” he said. “He’s one of the best players in the game, he’s one of the best people in the game, he’s one of the best ambassadors in the game. He understandably expects to be compensated as such.
"We understand that. We’ve made a lot of attempts over the course of the last few seasons with Francisco and his agent trying to find common ground on that, where we can compensate him as one of the best players in the game but still also be bale to build a championship team around him, because ultimately that’s what is most important.
“That’s what we want and that’s what Francisco wants — to have a championship in Cleveland. We haven’t yet been able to find that common ground.”
Antonetti said he doesn't know yet if the team will negotiate with Lindor over the next few months.
“What’s happened financially with the pandemic has added an entirely unexpected layer of complexity to trying to plan for what the future may look like,” he said. “So we haven’t even stated to wrap our heads around that and what that could look like.”
If Lindor, who will likely command a deal exceeding $300 million if and when he hits free agency, was out Cleveland's price range before, the club has no chance of signing him after the financial wallop caused by the coronavirus.
The money lost by having no ticket sales, concessions, parking or corporate partnerships, has dealt a massive blow the cash-strapped Indians can't absorb. On top of that, there's no guarantee things will be significantly better in 2021.
Antonetti wouldn't put a ballpark figure on Cleveland's financial hit except to say that it's in the “tens of millions” of dollars.
“That puts us in a really difficult financial position that will take us years to recover from,” he said. “It’s a real, cash loss that we have to borrow a lot of money to be able to fund.”
Antonetti and general manager Mike Chernoff addressed other pressing issues:
— the Indians expect Francona to be ready for the start of the '21 season after he missed most of this year with health issues. The 61-year-old Francona was only in uniform for 14 games.
“He’s starting to feel better and he’s really confident he’ll be able to manage right from the start next season,” Antonetti said.
— no decisions have been made on team contract options for closer Brad Hand, first baseman Carlos Santana or catcher Roberto Pérez. Cleveland would like to re-sign second baseman César Hernández, who fit in nicely in his first season.
— a potential name change is still being discussed by the team with stake holders. Owner Paul Dolan announced in July that the team would consider dropping its name for the first time since 1915, following the decision by the Washington Football Team to abandon Redskins.
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They've lost “tens of millions” in financial revenue during the pandemic, manager Terry Francona has been sick,
It's no wonder Indians president Chris Antonetti