Before the Boston Red Sox traded Mookie Betts, Francisco Lindor was the MLB superstar featured most prominently in trade rumors. The Cleveland Indians explored the market for their shortstop earlier in the winter, ultimately deciding to keep him for the start of the 2020 season.

Lindor, 26, is under team control for two more years before he can hit free agency. The two sides have discussed a potential contract extension, but there is skepticism that Cleveland can afford to pay the best shortstop in baseball what he’s worth.

“He’s everything that you’d want a player to be,” Indians president Chris Antonetti told reporters earlier this week. “We’d love for Francisco to be here long-term. I think Francisco shares that desire. We have, and our ownership has made meaningful efforts to try to do that, and so has Francisco. He and his representative continue to express to us publicly and privately that he’d like to stay in Cleveland.

“Now, how do we make that happen is where it gets difficult. It’s a really hard situation. It’s not because of a lack of desire on our part or on Francisco’s part. But more when you look at the economics of baseball and the realities of building championship teams in a small market, it gets really tough. The interest is there. The desire is there, on both sides, to try to get something done. Whether or not that’s possible, we just don’t know.”

An extension probably isn’t possible, considering Cleveland’s financial limitations. Lindor will make $17.5 million this season, and he could earn close to $25 million in 2021. He might get contract offers north of $300 million in free agency.

If the Indians want to ensure that they don’t lose Lindor for nothing, it makes much more sense to deal him before the July 31 trade deadline instead of during next offseason. As Boston just found out, Cleveland won’t get nearly the same type of value for a star player that is only a year away from hitting the open market.

“Executives with other teams say that the potential return will drop precipitously once you get to Aug. 1 if he’s still on your team,” ESPN’s Buster Olney said on his “Baseball Tonight” podcast, regarding Lindor’s trade value. “If Lindor’s traded [after July 31], he would only impact one pennant race versus two. So I do think at some point this summer he gets moved.”

Francisco Lindor Cleveland Indians
Francisco Lindor #12 of the Cleveland Indians runs during the second inning of a game against the Boston Red Sox on May 29, 2019 at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts. Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images

Being in the playoff race won’t necessarily stop the Indians from trading their best player.

Cleveland was in a similar position last season with Trevor Bauer. The pitcher was a year and a half away from becoming a free agent. The Indians traded him to the Cincinnati Reds on July 31 when the team was three games out of first place in the AL Central and 2.5 games atop the AL Wild-Card race.

The Indians traded Corey Kluber to the Texas Rangers in December. No Cleveland player has more than $35.25 million left on their contract.

Lindor was second in the 2015 AL Rookie of the Year voting and has made the All-Star team in each season since. He’s hitting .288/.347.493 in his five-year career with two Gold Glove awards.

Lindor is averaging 34 home runs and 20 stolen bases with .514 slugging percentage over the last three seasons.