The White Sox road to an AL Central title in 2021 might get easier this winter.
According to a report from USA Today's Bob Nightengale, the division-rival Cleveland Indians are intent on trading superstar shortstop Francisco Lindor this offseason in an effort to save money. As Nightengale points out, Lindor is expected to earn north of $20 million through the arbitration process.
Seeing Lindor dealt out of the division would be a pretty big deal for the White Sox, who have been tormented by the perennial MVP candidate during his six years in the big leagues. Though he's actually fared better against the other three teams in the Central, it's all relative, and a player the caliber of Lindor does plenty of damage against every team he plays.
He owns a career .285/.346/.488 slash line and has finished in the top 15 in the AL MVP vote in four of his six major league seasons.
The Indians have already made one eyebrow-raising move this offseason, opting to let All-Star closer Brad Hand go rather than pick up his $10 million option for the 2021 season. More surprising was that 29 other teams passed on doing the same, as the Indians placed him on waivers rather than pay his $1 million buyout. He ended up a free agent. Hand's situation was seen as a grim foreshadowing of what could await players this offseason, as teams could look to save money at every turn following a 2020 season without paying customers in the stands.
But though the Indians have been fine when shedding talent in the recent past — they had the best starting staff in baseball in 2020 despite trades of Corey Kluber, Trevor Bauer and Mike Clevinger in the last year plus — a top-heavy lineup could realistically collapse when removing a key piece like Lindor.
Though elite pitching and an MVP-type season from José Ramírez got them to the postseason this year — they finished with the same 35-25 record as the White Sox, with tiebreakers pushing them to the No. 4 playoff seed in the American League — without Lindor, the Indians' playoff chances for 2021 could take a big hit.
And that could certainly help a White Sox team looking to become the kings of the Central after missing out on a division title by one game in 2020. The White Sox are looking to make upgrades this winter, not shed talent. A Lindor trade — not to mention the possibility that Nelson Cruz, a free agent, could end up somewhere besides Minnesota — could help the White Sox start the 2021 season as AL Central favorites.
One of the things to keep an eye on this winter.