New York Yankees: Why trading for star SS Francisco Lindor is not the right move

New York Yankees, Mets, Francisco Lindor

With the World Series having only ended a few weeks ago, the offseason is already in full swing. Yankees fans are now playing the same game as we always do, in putting together hypotheticals and potential offseason moves. One move that has been circulating for years, and is once again ramped back up, is seeing Francisco Lindor come to New York.

A deal that has been talked about for seemingly ages may finally be materializing this offseason. The basis for this article, discussing Lindor being traded in the first place that is, is based on Cleveland publicly coming out and saying that they’re trying to get rid of him before the next season begins. Now, one thing many Yankees fans can agree on in a potential Lindor acquisition is that they are conflicted. I am going to explain why getting Lindor isn’t the move for this Yankees team next season, and going forward especially.

Lindor would not be a massive upgrade over the current 2B/SS pairing

Why anyone would argue against trading for Lindor may seem like lunacy, but when there are numerous factors as to the reasoning behind it, it makes plenty of sense. There’s no denying that Francisco Lindor is one of the games best shortstops and has been for some time now. Sporting a career OPS and WRC+ of .833 & 118, respectively, to pair with numerous 5.0+ fWAR seasons, Lindor has done everything and then some to prove himself in this league. However, taking a closer look at his last three seasons, there are signs of slight regression. Before everyone’s eyebrows raise overhearing “regression” and Lindor in the same thought, Lindor’s best season was undoubtedly 2018. From a statistical perspective, the following two seasons, Lindor’s performance has decreased. Below is a comparison of his seasons from ’18-’20 (info via Fangraphs):

2018 158 661 .871 130 .368 7.6 .279
2019 143 598 .854 114 .349 4.4 .291
2020 60 236 .750 100 .324 1.7 .280

Yes, the argument could be made that this chaotic year may be the outlier in an otherwise very formidable career for Lindor. However, the other argument could be that perhaps the five seasons of superstar like workload, and having played 145+ games in 4/5 of those seasons, may be slightly wearing on him. The immediate counterargument to that is that there’s no denying Lindor’s superstar abilities and ceiling. Dan Szymborski’s ZiPS projections are very kind to Lindor for ’21, projecting a 6.4 fWAR season to go with 35 HR and a .895 OPS. This last year, across a full season, Lindor’s pure value from a Wins Above Replacement perspective would’ve been roughly 4.5-5.0. Which falls in line with his ’19 season, more than his ’18 one. I also made point to include BABIP, showing that Lindor’s luck over the three years has been rather consistent, and there is no correlation to him being “unlucky.”

I’m not saying Lindor isn’t a great player, as that would be idiocy on my part, but I am saying he wouldn’t be a good move for New York. Take a look at Gleyber’s past three seasons, as well as his ’21 ZiPS projection, below (info via Fangraphs):

2018 123 431 .820 122 .349 2.0 .321
2019 144 546 .871 125 .358 3.6 .296
2020 42 136 .724 106 .326 0.2 .286
2021 149 544 .946 N/A .386 5.4 .305

While Gleyber’s 2020 COVID season was also not anything to write home about, for him to still produce late in the season when it mattered most shows to me that he got his feet under him over time. In the second half, Gleyber OPS’d .842, to go with a 134 WRC+. In comparison, Lindor’s second-half numbers were as such: .785 OPS & a 111 WRC+. Not to mention Torres’ lifetime postseason numbers of a 1.037 OPS, with 5 HR and a 179 WRC+ across 21 games. To me, there’s no glaring upgrade to Lindor over Gleyber, or what is more necessary to compare, Lindor over DJ LeMahieu.

Financially speaking, Lindor doesn’t make sense

The honest truth behind the Lindor possibility is that it is either the Yankees resign DJ or let him walk and pursue someone like Lindor. DJ LeMahieu has been one of, if not the best Yankee player since his arrival in 2019. Over the past two seasons, DJ has put together back-to-back top 5 AL MVP finishes (4th in ’19, and now finds himself amongst the 3 finalists this year). Add to that jaw-dropping WRC+ tallies of 144 and 177, and OPS’ of .893 & 1.011. To me, losing DJ would be losing one of the most crucial pillars to this team’s shape. Having LeMahieu bat leadoff sets the table for the Murderer’s Row reincarnate of sluggers that the Yankees have compiled, and in that role, he has thrived. Across 731 AB’s in the leadoff spot, LeMahieu has cumulatively OPS’d roughly .930, to go with a fantastic WRC+ of 155. DJ LeMahieu is one of the best players in baseball at the moment, and to choose Lindor over him could be a mistake.

The financial side to it is a huge one that all Yankees fans know all too well. Lindor is likely going to be asking for an 8+ year deal worth 200+ million dollars after this next season. For the Yankees future, it would cripple the team financially and chain them in place for years to come. Lindor will be turning 27 this week, and the idea of having another player in their mid-to-late thirties eating $25,000,000 a year doesn’t sound too appealing. Whereas with LeMahieu — who is yes, 32 — a contract that I can see being offered and potentially agreed upon is something like 4 years for 70 million.

I don’t see any reasons why DJ wouldn’t want to stay in New York, as from a pure neutral perspective, there is no bigger team in baseball, and arguably all of sports. Add to that he enjoys life in NY and as a member of the team, and has put together the two best seasons of his career in Pinstripes. Circling back to the Gleyber point earlier, him only being 23 and not hitting FA until 2025 should be all the front office needs to see to convince them he’s the future at shortstop. Gleyber certainly doesn’t have the defensive acumen that Lindor does, but even in a shortened season in which he OPS’d .636 in the first half, his 106 WRC+ still surpassed Lindor’s 100 and was above MLB average. The interesting thing as well, in regards to DJ, is that he seems to be getting better as he gets older. Not to mention his archetype and hitting approach should bode well for him to play well into his late 30’s.

This Yankees payroll is already at mammoth numbers, and even with some guys like Paxton and Gardner coming off the books, there’s no room for a $200,000,000+ contract to be fit in. While the Yankees may never go through financial hardship and show no hesitation in splashing the cash, it just doesn’t make any sense. The holes in this team are not in the middle infield, but instead in the rotation. Having Luis Severino healthy by midseason — as Cashman has hinted at a likely June/July return timetable –  is huge, but the Yankees are still lacking one more arm. As proven this year with both Tampa and LAD, having a clear elite rotation and bullpen are vital to competing for a championship. I understand the offense went stagnant versus Tampa at parts, but the overall takeaway from this season should be to bolster the rotation. Trading for Lindor would rule out the signing or acquisition of any front end pitcher. Looking at bringing Morton in on a two-year deal, or Bauer on a one-and-done — or if he changes his mind, a longer-term deal, is the clear better option than trying to acquire Lindor.

A brighter future or the proven option?

Now for the most obvious argument against acquiring Lindor — the trade process itself. Trading for Lindor would mean the Yankees would have to part with numerous pieces, all of which likely would have some impact on the team going forward. Cleveland isn’t a bad team by any means, and their pitching is still amongst the best in baseball. However, they cannot afford to keep Lindor on payroll going forward, and there have already been talks of a rebuild beginning in Cleveland. What that unfortunately means is that the asking price for Lindor isn’t going to be lowered due to poor relations with the team or any other sort of issues that may impact a player’s stock. It is a simple financial matter for Cleveland, and seeing as to how they’re likely going to have to pay their flurry of standout pitchers in the coming years, shipping Lindor off for the betterment of their future is the obvious play. I would imagine a trade package for Lindor would include these potential names: Clint Frazier, Miguel Andujar, Gary Sanchez, Deivi Garcia, Clarke Schmidt, Estevan Florial, Alexander Vizcaino, Kevin Alcantara, and Tyler Wade. For note as well, I do not think, despite having seen some Yankees fans say they’re okay with it, that Voit would be made part of any potential deal for Lindor. While I’m sure a handful of those names would make a few Yankees fans smile to see them shipped off, I am not all for shipping off guys coming off an underwhelming year.

The most likely is that we see a package consisting of Frazier, Wade, and one of Vizcaino/Alcantara, if not both. While Tyler is one of my favorite Yankees players, there is no denying that every year is the same with him, it seems. Coming into the season, fighting for a spot. He ends up playing well and earning said spot, and then in the limited reps he gets, fails to deliver anything of true substance. Three years now, I have been awaiting that T-Dizzle breakout season, but each year I find myself coming more and more to terms with the reality that Wade may just forever be a super-utility player. The one saving grace to this last rough season by Wade is that he got extremely unlucky, as he posted a .188 BABIP — which for reference was the 5th lowest in all of baseball amongst players with at least 100 PA’s. However, losing Frazier especially would be far more than I am willing to give up.

While Frazier may never reach the pure value of Lindor, in that he himself may never be that 7.0 fWAR player, he brings much more value in a position we lack. To say the Yankees outfield is in sound shape going forward is debatable, as even with a healthy Judge and Stanton for next year, there’s no telling what can happen. Frazier has most definitely earned his place in this team as the LF going forward, and to dispute, it would be difficult. While I like Tauchman’s balanced profile on both sides of the ball, he is a 4th OF down the road if he is to remain in Pinstripes. Adding to that, the chance that Gardner doesn’t return and Stanton DH’s full time, the need for Frazier is imminent. When Stanton and Judge were battling their various ailments last year, Frazier saw time in both corner spots. For a while, he was the best hitter on the team and provided constant sparks in rather stagnant showings.

Another thing to note with Frazier is that he took huge steps in the right direction this last year. From an offensive perspective, especially, he was tearing the cover off the baseball. Below is how Frazier performed last season, in comparison to his 2019 showing. (info via Fangraphs):

2019 69 225 .806 108 .333 0.1
2020 39 131 .905 149 .388 1.3

I also feel it’s worth noting that Frazier’s K% dropped, though only by a point (28.5% to 27.5%), and his BB% more than doubled (6.5% in ’19 & 15.6% in ’20). The offensive adjustments he seemingly needed to make coming off a solid limited 2019 showing, he made. More importantly, as the bat was never the problem with Frazier, he improved drastically defensively (info via Fangraphs):

2019 395.1 -8 -16.7 .785 3
2020 280.0 2 10.1 .925 1

As one can see, Frazier is on his way to becoming a solidified star in the MLB. There’s no denying his potential, and his bat has been ready for a long time. Shipping him off back to Cleveland would mean that the Indians would be able to capitalize on his potential and reap the rewards going forward. To say Frazier’s value is high right now is an understatement, as there is no doubt he is one of the next big things in this league. All he needed was the chance and consistent playtime, and thus far, he has delivered. While sure he could regress offensively, if Frazier is able to play bang average defense, even below, his bat alone would bring forth 3.0 fWAR. One of my personal favorite stats to use when judging a player’s defensive value — especially for corner outfielders, is RZR — Revised Zone Rating. RZR is “the proportion of balls hit into a fielder’s zone that he successfully converted into an out.” Frazier’s .925 is a massive jump from the previous year, and his 1.000 RZR in RF shows that he has taken a step in the right direction. It shows to me that he’s reading the ball better, setting up for success prior, and taking better angles on the ball when it is hit toward him. Losing Frazier and, say, Wade, along with a T10 prospect or two, is not worth it for Lindor.

Despite his proven value and abilities, there’s no clear factor showing that he would make this team that much better for the next couple of years. Whereas, keeping the potential superstar in Frazier, resigning LeMahieu for the next few seasons, and allowing the prospects that have already grown a ton in the system to keep growing will pay off a far better reward. If New York is to decide on going after Lindor, I wouldn’t complain as, in the end, the Yankees would be getting a proven player with a bright future ahead.

However, let me put it in the simplest way, what would YOU rather have: Francisco Lindor added to the juggernaut lineup OR a potentially brighter, but riskier, future on the backs of Frazier, Gleyber, Judge, and various other prospects that could make a name for themselves?