While not a lot, or anything at all, really, is happening in baseball in January 2022. But a lot of things happened in 2021. January 7, 2022 happens to be one year since one of the most significant trades, at least headlines or meaning, more than substance so far, in Cleveland baseball history – the Fransico Lindor trade.

Cleveland of course drafted Lindor fourth overall in the 2011 draft, he was second in the AL Rookie of the Year voting in 2015, and in 2016 he was at the heart of Cleveland’s run to the World Series.

His performance, personality, smile and doing his interviews in English allowed him to stand apart on a local and national level despite Jose Ramirez outperforming him between 2017-2020, .

Lindor became the face of the franchise and one of the most recognizable players in Major League Baseball – no easy feat considering struggles the organization has promoting its biggest name players, let alone a market like Cleveland. 

From 2017-2019, he averaged 34 homers, 42 doubles, 20 steals, and hit .278/.342/.514, good for a 122 wRC+ over that time. Lindor also earned two Gold Glove awards, two Silver Slugger awards, and was named to four consecutive All-Star teams from 2016-2019.

Once it was reported Cleveland supposedly offered as much as $200 million for a contract that Lindor turned down, there was zero chance that he would play longer than his club controlled years in northeast Ohio. Really, Cleveland probably didn’t have a single chance to sign Lindor after not getting it done in his pre-arbitration years, which is the only time they’ve had success signing a young player long term, perhaps outside of Carlos Carrasco and Travis Hafner.

Last winter the franchise’s front office made the choice to trade him, since they wouldn’t be given the funds to sign him to a contract that he would sign for, if any, rather than play the string out on Lindor’s seventh year in Cleveland. The trade was inevitable by the end of 2019 and probably sealed after a COVID and revenue disrupted 2020 season. 

So where has Cleveland gone in the year since the trade with its fan base, team and how have things turned out so far for each side.

For Cleveland

Lindor’s 103 wRC+ was the worst of his career, just a point lower than his 104 mark in 2020. But that 103 mark was still better than Amed Rosario’s 99 wRC+, who started the majority of Cleveland’s games at shortstop in 2021, so yes, despite the mental gymnastics you might have seen on social media last season during Lindor’s struggles, he finished the year better offensively than Rosario. He hit 20 homers, stole 10 bases and had a .734 OPS to Rosario’s .731 OPS, 11 homers and 13 steals.

Cleveland tried Amed Rosario in centerfield early in the 2021 season
Photo: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The trade didn’t immediately provide many answers for Cleveland, not that it was going to, but they had a lot of questions to try to answer right away.

Cleveland went into the season by moving to Rosario to centerfield and Andres Gimenez at shortstop, because Gimenez had an impressive spring training and the trade gave Cleveland no answers about centerfield either, so they tried to force one by putting Rosario out there. That experiment didn’t last long and neither did Gimenez’s run at shortstop, as he was sent back to Triple-A Columbus when his spring training success didn’t carry into the regular season.

Rosario started the majority of games at shortstop for Cleveland in 2021, but that didn’t help answer their question about their long term shortstop. For now, it appears he’s their shortstop going into 2022 at the moment. He did have a solid 2021 season, maybe not laying claim to it, but not enough to have someone else overtake him. But with Gimenez, Gabriel Arias, Brayan Rocchio, and Tyler Freeman all on the 40 man roster, and Arias having a good year in Triple-A in 2021, there’s still a lot of unanswered questions. 

Photo: Ken Blaze – USA Today
Andres Gimenez earned the shortstop job in spring training but was sent down after struggling.

These sort of things tend to work themselves out but the organization has had a hard time finding answers or creating situations to help get those answers. But clearly adding two shortstops in the deal to send their long time shortstop out, with a system full of shortstops on the way, made finding answers quickly a little more difficult. Cleveland probably took the best package of talent they could get in the trade and would figure things out later, which is the right approach, but it made things more complicated in the short term. Gimenez put up the best numbers of his career in Triple-A when he went back hitting .287/.342/.502 with 10 homers and eight steals in 223 plate appearances after he posted just a .218/.282/.351 slash line with five homers and 11 steals in the majors. He should get another shot at a starting role this year.

The prospects

As for the long term, the other two players in the deal, RHP Josh Wolf, and OF Isaiah Greene made their debuts but are still a long ways off from factoring into the outcome of the deal.

Wolf turned 21 at the end of the season after making 18 appearances (17 starts), he finished with a 5.35 ERA in 65.2 innings and striking out 67, walking 34. He showed some flashes but struggled with his control. He got up to 96 with the fastball during the season and has good fastball shape and three promising pitches, but his control has a ways to go right now. He’ll likely start 2022 in the rotation at High-A Lake County. The organization has a lot of starting pitching prospects right now, and while Wolf is young, he didn’t pitch himself into that pack firmly and has a lot to prove in 2022.

Greene was a 2020 draft pick and just turned 20 near the end of the season that is spent in Arizona at the Complex League Level. Greene hit .289/.421/.368 with one homer and five steals in 191 plate appearances, but don’t take complex league stats for any sort of barometer of prediction for how players will perform at higher levels. He showed plenty of promise in his swing and plate discipline and will get a chance to play centerfield in Low-A Lynchburg in 2022. He had a good enough season in the complex league to build some excitement, but there’s a long way to go to see where he ends up in the organization’s future plans, even with a void in outfield prospects. 

Rosario and Gimenez are battling to be part of 2022 and beyond while Cleveland waits to see if Wolf and Greene are part of that beyond part still. But the real thing that’s still being evaluated is the fan base’s reaction to the trade.

It’s also probably important to note there, that these were the alternatives to not trading him a year ago, and also not signing him:

  • Let him play out his final year of club control and walk for just draft pick compensation
  • Trade him in July for a lesser package

With the current lockout, there’s no telling how letting him walk after his final year would have played out and it would have muddied up the team’s offseason plans. From that aspect, Cleveland probably had the foresight that if they weren’t going to re-sign Lindor, moving him a year sooner made the most sense.

The fan base

The departure of yet another start player from Cleveland hasn’t done anything to trust or build momentum and goodwill with the fanbase. Despite having been one of the most successful teams in the American League since 2013, not keeping start, recognizable players around continues to drive a lot negative feelings between the fans and the team. It also continues to spur additional fuel to the fire of other trade rumors, like Jose Ramirez this winter, even if they haven’t had any substance to them. 

Photo: Dave Richard/USA Today
Jose Ramirez has had trade rumors surround him since the Lindor trade

The other element to the to the Lindor trade that adds to the sour taste of it all was the inclusion of Carlos Carrasco in the deal. Carrasco had signed a long term deal with Cleveland, again, in 2018, the year before he was diagnosed with a form of leukemia. He returned to the field in 2019 and again in 2020 after the diagnosis, under contract that would have been this season. He developed into a top of the rotation arm in Cleveland after plenty of early struggles and become a beloved member of the community. He was a name that was unexpected to be in the trade that probably ended up a part of it when the team decided to cut the payroll again in wake of no gate revenue in 2020, and going with a younger group again in 2021. 

Whatever the return in the deal at this point, until the team ends up getting more years than just the standard length of club control out of its best players. Spending money recklessly on free agents over 30 might appease some fans, but if that doesnt’ result in wins, it won’t quell anything long term. The best way to find the balance is to keep its own players and give fans a sense that there’s a chance that will happen, while not hanging on too long. A trade like the one of Lindor and Carrasco, even if Carrasco had injury issues all year in 2021, didn’t help that and it won’t no matter how good the return ends up being. That’s why the Ramirez rumors persist and will only get louder next year.

For the Mets

Lindor struggled for most of the season in 2021, he recovered enough to have an above league average season, if just by a little bit. He got his $300+ million ($341) contract from a big market, like he wanted, but he also dealt with harsher media scrutiny that comes with that, like fights with teammates and that becoming public. The Mets also missed the playoffs despite being in first place at points in the seasons and looking like the best team in their division for a period and added expectations by the trade and a new owner.

Aug 29, 2021; New York City, New York, USA; New York Mets shortstop Francisco Lindor (12) and second baseman Javier Baez (23) celebrate after defeating the Washington Nationals 9-4 at Citi Field. Mandatory Credit: Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

Carrasco made just 12 starts, not many of them good, in 2021 after recovering from a hamstring issue in spring training most of the season. 

Still, the Mets are invested in Lindor long term, building around him, and have one more year with Carrasco in the rotation. They continue to build around this trade with more money added, like a real New York team. 

In year one, the trade didn’t work out for them either, but they are tied to their future from it because of the contract and they are building around the trade now, and for the future because even though Lindor struggled in 2021, they’re betting he’ll find the answers to his struggles and continue to be the player he was prior to 2020, with quite a few years left in his prime.

Cleveland will continue to search for answers for his replacement, how to handle its situation with its remaining star players, Ramirez, and Shane Bieber for that matter, he constant questions of these rumors surrounding them, and continually always threading that tight needle that never gets bigger but seems to get smaller.

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