It was one of the biggest moves in all of Major League Baseball’s past off-season, let alone for the two teams involved in the transaction. As the book on the 2021 regular season has come to a close, we now have some context for all of the moves that were made this past winter. Chief among those moves for baseball in Cleveland is the one that is dissected below, what most people simply know as the Francisco Lindor trade. To briefly summarize in case you have lived under a rock for the last year, in exchange for the baseball talents of Lindor and starting pitcher Carlos Carrasco, the Indians received shortstops Andres Gimenez and Amed Rosario as well as minor league outfielder Isaiah Greene and minor league starting pitcher Josh Wolf.
The trade elicited knee-jerk reactions from all when it was finalized, and for great reason as one of baseball’s biggest stars was headed to one of its biggest stages. Of course, those immediate reactions could only hold so much water. Since all six players now have a full regular season under their belt with their new organizations, it feels like a fair time to finally sit down and begin to evaluate this move. While this trade’s ultimate story is still far from told, we can at least begin to have an understanding of how it will bear out. So in the spirit of that previously used analogy, consider this more of the delayed knee jerk that you pretend to have when a child uses their toy doctor’s kit on you, as opposed to the real deal you get from the physician’s hammer at the doctor’s office. We’ve had to think about this trade a little bit now and we are better for it. And here’s what we know about each individual so far, starting with the departures, from a Cleveland fan’s perspective.
Carrasco had been a member of the Indians organization since his acquisition from Philadelphia as part of a package received for Cliff Lee in 2009. He struggled early in his career but became a valued and dependable member of the Indians pitching staff starting with strong relief performances in 2013 and establishing himself as a front-of-the-line starter in 2014. After more than a decade as a familiar face to Cleveland fans, many were disappointed to see him shipped away to New York, particularly after a public battle with cancer that started in 2019 that galvanized fans and teammates around him. Carrasco had also had a great relationship with the Cleveland organization, extending his contract in 2018 to remain with the team through 2022. Following the 2020 playoffs, Carrasco’s place on Cleveland’s roster seemed secure, but that was not ultimately the case. His inclusion in the Lindor trade seeming to be related to his relatively high rate of pay as the Indians shed payroll for 2021.
Carrasco’s 2021 season would not replicate his good times in Cleveland though. Mets fans would be disappointed with the extended delay they would receive before Cookie was ever able to don a Mets uniform and perform on the mound. He would suffer a hamstring injury in Spring Training that would not only put his appearance on the Opening Day roster in jeopardy but that would ultimately keep him off the field for the entire first half of the season. Ultimately, Carrasco made his Mets debut on July 30th. That first start may actually have been his best as it was the only time he surrendered one run or less all season, doing so over four innings vs. the Cincinnati Reds. In total, Carrasco made 12 starts that lasted 53 2/3 innings with an ERA of 6.04. He allowed more than two home runs per nine innings in 2021 including three in two innings pitched vs. the Dodgers on August 15th.
Nothing is certain, but a hamstring injury that took five months of recovery combined with the ineffectiveness of his return and the fact that Carrasco will be 35 in 2022 suggests that his best days are behind him. Over the last three seasons his ERA is 4.69 and even when prorating 2020 to 162 games, he has averaged 1.6 WAR per season over the course of the same time frame. In his defense and to the dismay of Cleveland fans, that level of effectiveness does surpass what the Indians received from starters Triston McKenzie and Zach Plesac in 2021. However, that pair of Cleveland righties are 23 and 26 years old respectively with plenty of room to improve. They also had better individual performances in 2021 than Carrasco, having singular outings that showed a lot of promise (they are also cost-controlled players). If Carrasco remains in Cleveland in 2021 and has the same injury problems he had in New York then any positive impact he may have does not exist before the 2021 trade deadline. In short, Cleveland is selling at the deadline whether Carrasco is traded or not. Having Carrasco on this roster would not have been beneficial to a contending Cleveland team and is likely even less beneficial for the future as he continues to age.
The other and more prominent piece of the Indians trade to the Mets, Francisco Lindor moving on from Cleveland and heading to New York didn’t just make waves for the two teams involved, but made headlines for the baseball and sports world at large. Lindor had been the face of the Indians and arguably one of the biggest faces in the game, period. After the Cleveland organization was publicly non-committal about Lindor’s long-term future with the team, trade talks came to a head over the course of the past off-season. With one year left on his contract, it was unlikely that the Indians were going to be able to compete with larger pocketed teams to retain him after 2021. Rather than only get draft picks upon his exit from town, the Tribe opted to trade him and Carrasco for more talent. The depth of New York’s pockets then became apparent when Lindor signed a 10-year, $341 million extension with the Mets on April 5th. Lindor is now slated to be a Met through his age 37 season.
As for his play on the field in 2021, Lindor appeared in 125 games, though he did miss more than a full month with an oblique strain. That injury would loom large for his new team as the Mets were 48-42 and in first place in the National League East on the day he was sent to the Injured List. When he returned to the ball club on August 24th, they were 62-64 and in third place, having gone 14-22 in his absence.
Lindor struggled early in the season to the point he received boos from the Mets faithful. Though his struggles early were heavily publicized, the games following his initial return from the IL were actually the home to his worst stretch of baseball. He hit just .160 in the seven games he played in August before finding his footing in September. For the season, Lindor slashed .230/.322/.412 with a weighted Runs Created+ of 103. His season offensively was very similar to the slightly disappointing (for him) 2020 campaign that he put together in his final stint in Cleveland. 2021 saw Lindor’s worst On Base Percentage of his career despite having a career-high walk rate, suggesting either bad luck or poor contact. Despite a slightly underwhelming offensive season, Lindor remains arguably the best defensive shortstop in baseball. Despite the lengthy nature of his contract, it stands to reason he should be able to remain at short for both the near and distant future. Even with diminished offensive numbers, Lindor can hang his hat on his defense and remain a quality ballplayer.
For comparison’s sake, Indians shortstops as a team slashed .267/.311/.397 for a wRC+ of 93 while being exactly average in terms of Outs Above Average defensively. These numbers dictate that not having Lindor was a downgrade both offensively and defensively, even with the promising emergence of Amed Rosario (2.6 WAR, more on him shortly) as the season progressed. While it likely did not take a year of games and analysis for Cleveland fans to come to this conclusion, whether the decrease in production at shortstop is acceptable due to not having Lindor burdening the team’s payroll is debatable. While the front office might feel good about replacing most of Lindor’s production with much more cost-effective options, it’s not necessarily in fans’ nature to champion cost-effectiveness overproduction. This is the unfortunate fight that the small-market Indians/Guardians and their fans find themselves in. Still, the difference between Lindor and the shortstops the Indians employed in 2021 is likely not the full 13 wins that were the difference between Cleveland and the AL Central-winning Chicago White Sox.
One of two potential Lindor replacements that was received during the trade, Gimenez was the younger of the immediate additions to the Major League roster and came with the glimmering sheen of prospect potential. Originally considered most likely to start 2021 at AAA Columbus, he won a spot on the Major League roster coming out of Spring Training due to strong play and was the starting shortstop for a majority of games early in the season, especially vs. right-handed pitching. After a month and a half of regular season play, this ascension appeared to be a little bit too much too quickly. He was demoted to AAA on May 18th after hitting only .179 with two home runs and an abysmal wRC+ of 43 though he proved himself to be a strong shortstop defensively both by metrics (four Outs Above Average in just 42 games) and eye test.
Gimenez would return to the Major League roster on August 9th, just a little under three months after his demotion and after earning his return to Cleveland with impressive play. He would also play more second base in his second turn in the majors, as Rosario had assumed the every day (or most of the days) shortstop role. Gimenez would swing it better in his second stint with the big league club, hitting .245 in 38 games and having six doubles. His wRC+ would be much closer to the league average at 94. Still, Gimenez’s reputation and general numbers suggest he is a strong middle infielder if nothing else and he is certainly in the equation to compete for a starting spot in 2022. At 23 years old, Gimenez stands to only get better with more Major League at-bats. His defense is already an asset. If he can sustain and improve the offense he showed in his late-season return, he can play up the middle for the Guardians for many years to come.
SS Amed Rosario
Rosario already got a lot of attention in a previous piece that was done and all of the main points remain the same. After only having one strong offensive season on record in his Mets career dating back to 2017 and his continued reputation as a butcher of a shortstop, he became expendable for New York when Lindor was put on the table. The Indians decided to run with the young talent despite his drawbacks and without a well-defined idea of how to use him coming into 2021. Early in the season, they tried to leverage his immense speed into a role in center-field that he had never tried at any level before. That experiment ended not so much because Rosario was doing especially poorly in center but rather because Gimenez’s dismissal left a vacuum at a shortstop and Rosario had the most experience at the newly vacated position.
While Rosario’s reputation as a poor defensive shortstop turned out to be pretty well-founded over the course of the next 4+ months, the stability of having him in the lineup seemingly benefited the Indians. Rosario was a steadying force on the field as the Indians cycled through players at positions around him, trying to maximize opportunities for as many youngsters as possible. Additionally, Rosario settled in offensively after returning to short. After May 18th he was the Indians’ second most valuable position player while hitting .300 and getting on base at a better rate than Franmil Reyes. Admittedly, Rosario did cool off some in September. Before the season’s final month he was actually matching Lindor’s production in some advanced metrics. More importantly, that cooldown led to his numbers regressing while Gimenez’s improved. The gap between the two former Mets shortstops may not be as large as it once seemed. Rosario is likely the leader in the clubhouse for the starting shortstop job for Cleveland in 2022 and will likely only be removed from that role if he is supplanted by someone else’s superior play. However, between Gimenez and nearly MLB-ready middle infield prospects Gabriel Arias and Tyler Freeman, Rosario’s everyday role isn’t a total foregone conclusion even if it stands to reason he will likely be in the Indians lineup most days in 2022.
As for how Gimenez and Rosario compare to Lindor, they combine for the majority of the shortstop production in 2021 that wasn’t quite up to Lindor’s standard. With Gimenez being only 23-years old and Rosario showing some potential willingness to play across the diamond, they do have their own individual benefits as ballplayers even if they don’t quite aggregate to Lindor’s level.
The Indians acquired Greene just months after he was drafted by the Mets 69th overall in the 2020 June Draft. Due to the elimination of minor league baseball in 2020 due to COVID-19 restrictions, he had not yet played a professional game when he was transferred to the Tribe.
Early indications about Greene had to come from his time in high school competition and suggested that he is a toolsy, left-handed outfielder with great speed and good defensive skill. He has a line-drive stroke at the plate that drew comparisons to Michael Brantley though it is very much yet to be seen if that will bear out. More recently, Greene played 43 games in 2021 on a team at the Indians Rookie Complex in Arizona. He hit .289 with a very encouraging.421 On-Base Percentage, though he has shown little power so far with only one home run in league play.
What ultimately comes of Greene is still a total question mark. He was ranked the 28th prospect in the Indians organization by Fangraphs this past off-season and was in the same exact spot for MLB.com in their mid-season rankings this year. Projections don’t expect him to sniff the Majors before 2024 at the soonest. Much may depend on his ability to increase his power at the plate. As it stands, his skill-set seems similar to many athletic but offensively disappointing outfielders Cleveland has employed in recent seasons (Brad Zimmer and Oscar Mercado immediately come to mind). He will have to drive the ball with authority if he ever wants his ceiling to be more than as a 4th outfielder. Granted, he is 20 years old and just completed his first year of pro ball, so plenty of opportunities to improve or bust are still on the table.
SP Josh Wolf
The final piece of the trade, Wolf returned to the mound in 2021 after not pitching in 2020 due to the lack of minor league season. Cleveland placed him at Single-A Lynchburg where he remained for the entire course of the year. Wolf is a hard-throwing right-hander with a good fastball and slider as well as a developing change-up. The Mets had drafted him in the 2nd Round of the June Draft in 2019 and while he only pitched eight innings of Rookie League ball in 2019, Wolf was listed as a Top 15 prospect in the Mets organization in multiple publications in 2020.
Unfortunately, that potential hasn’t come to fruition yet. Wolf struggled at Lynchburg in 2021 with a 5.35 ERA and 1.63 WHIP, largely inflated by a poor walk rate. Command will be key to Wolf’s future, though his struggles are already troubling enough for him to have been taken off of MLB.com’s Top 30 Indians Prospects list. Still, someone of his draft pedigree stands to likely be promoted to AA for the 2022 season. Further, if there is an organization in baseball that will find a way to get quality out of its pitchers that organization is Cleveland. His story is only slightly more told than Greene’s at this point, and while it is seemingly negative thus far, Cleveland has made more out of less in the past.
Even with a full year under our belt, the entirety of the story of the Francisco Lindor is far from told. As all trades involved future prospects are known to do, this trade’s legacy will carry on for years if not even a full decade. For Cleveland’s sake, they can only help it will pay dividends as Greene and Wolf come of age.
This is far from yet to be seen. In the immediate, the obvious conclusion seems to be the most realistic one. The Mets got the best player in this trade in Lindor, but in getting him and his production, they have had to pay out the nose and will have to continue to pay as Lindor ages. The key to this trade for the Mets will be whether Lindor can re-find the offensive form he had before 2020. Lindor is a legitimate starting MLB shortstop when he performs offensively like he did in 2020 or 2021 but he is an All-Star worthy of his new massive contract only if he hits like he did in between 2016 and 2018.
On the other side, the Indians may not have received the level of player of Lindor in Amed Rosario, but they found an everyday starter in him that they can feel good about having in their lineup every day. Whether he, Gimenez, or someone else is their future shortstop is as much of to question as whether a 35-year old Carrasco can return to form as a starter for the Mets in the year that remains on his contract. At this point, I think positive production is more likely from Gimenez or Rosario than Carrasco.
But the most unknown entities of all in this deal are the minor league prospects the Indians received. With very little pro experience still under their belts, it’s hard to draw any real conclusions. Wolf should progress to AA in 2022 and that should provide more of an idea of who the hard-throwing righty really is. With less than 50 pro games played, we won’t know about Greene for some time yet.
If I were to rank the players involved in this trade for what I believe their potential benefit will be to their current team in the future, I would rank them like this:
- Francisco Lindor- Mets
- Andres Gimenez- Guardians
- Amed Rosario- Guardians
- Carlos Carrasco- Mets
- Isaiah Greene- Guardians
- Josh Wolf- Guardians
Feature Image- Fantasy Sports Degens