Looking for a reason to watch the 2021 playoffs while the Cleveland Guardians sit at home and wait for the full reveal of their new name and logo? How about following some former familiar faces?
The playoffs start tomorrow night with the Boston Red Sox facing off the New York Yankees in the AL Wild Card, and from then on we will have playoff baseball almost every day through October. A lot of that baseball, in the American League at least, will feature some faces you may or may not remember. Let’s run them down, team by team.
Boston Red Sox
Kevin Plawecki, C (2019)
Calling this an “old friend alert” might be stretching the term a little thin, considering he played in just 60 games during one of Cleveland’s most disappointing seasons of the decade. Still, as the primary backup to Roberto Pérez’s breakout offensive season, he amassed 174 plate appearances and slashed .222/.287/.342 in 2019.
Chrisitian Arroyo, 2B/3B (2020)
OK, if Kevin Plawecki was a stretch I don’t even know what to call Christian Arroyo. Cleveland took a flyer on the former top prospect prior to 2020 but it never amounted to much. He appeared in just one game as a defensive sub and never made it to the plate in a Cleveland uniform before being dealt to the Red Sox at the deadline.
The most notable thing about Arroyo is that the trade he came over in looks absolutely brutal from Cleveland’s end. The Guards sent prospect Ruben Cardenas to the Rays in exchange for Arroyo and reliever Hunter Wood, neither of which lasted past the 2020 season. Cardenas, meanwhile, absolutely slugged in High-A this season and made it to Double-A where he evened out to a 107 wRC+.
Chicago White Sox
Cesar Hernandez, 2B (2020-2021)
How in the world was Cesar Hernandez on this team in 2021? This year just felt so long, but somehow Cesar played in 96 games for Cleveland and slashed .231/.307/.431 before being sent to the division-rival White Sox. Cleveland brought back 24-year-old reliever Konnor Pilkington in the deal — he struck out over 11 batters per nine in his 38.2 innings with the Double-A Akron RubberDucks and had a 2.33 ERA.
While Hernandez proved a serviceable bat for much of his Cleveland tenure, he was well below-average in his 53 games with the White Sox, slashing just .232/.309/.299 for a 70 wRC+.
Billy Hamilton, OF (2021-ish)
Does this count? I don’t know. Billy Hamilton was with the team in spring training but the Guardians (thankfully) opted to try out some other options. The aging speedster was predictably awful at the plate for the White Sox this season in his limited playing time. I’m sure someone out there has a Cleveland jersey with his name on it.
Michael Brantley, OF (2009-2018)
Please have mercy on our sweet boy when you are booing the cheating Houston Astros this postseason. Brantley joined after the 2018 World Series and took no part in the drum-beating scandal — in fact, he was probably a victim of the Astros’ cheating ways in that year’s ALDS. That’s neither here nor there, though. If you don’t know Micheal Brantley, you’re reading the wrong blog.
Originally drafted by the Brewers and brought to Cleveland as a PTBNL in the C.C. Sabathia trade, Brantley spent the first 10 years of his major-league career in Cleveland. He lead the organization with 1195 hits in that span and had the second-lowest strikeout rate at 10.7% (I’ll give you a cookie if you can guess who was No. 1 without Googling it). His elite approach at the plate earned him three All-Star nods as well as the Silver Slugger Award in 2014 with the Guardians. This excellence has continued with Houston, including two more All-Star appearances.
Phil Maton, RHP (2019-2021)
The Guardians’ biggest deal at the 2021 deadline involved trading their weird, quirky player for the Astros’s weird, quirky player. Phil Maton and his exciting peripherals that he just couldn’t quite live up to were sent to Houston in exchange for Myles Straw, a speedy slap-hitter from a bygone era.
So far Cleveland has seemed to come out on top of the deal, but I wouldn’t doubt Maton’s ability to eventually make everything click and become an elite reliever. I’m also not mad about Cleveland finally having a real center fielder either, though.
New York Yankees
Gio Urshela, 3B (2015-2017)
Alright, everyone at the same time now: Deep breath, long exhale, and sigh.
Somehow, after several failed seasons in Cleveland and a similarly disappointing stint in Toronto, everything seemed to click for Gio Urshela when he arrived in New York in 2019. With the Guardians, he was simply a defensive wizard who couldn't hit the ball to save his life. Since joining the Yankees, however, he has become a bonafide star with back-to-back seasons of great offensive play and the same defensive prowess that earned him his initial shot. He struggled a bit this year, though he is still penciled in as the Yankees’ starting third baseman for the playoffs.
Joey Gallo, OF (2023-???)
Consider this a “new friend alert” for when Cleveland signs Joey Gallo in 2023. You saw it here first.
Corey Kluber, RHP (2011-2019)
Corey Kluber — the legendary, two-time Cy Young Award-winning pitcher that I definitely didn’t forget in this list initially — pitched 200+ innings for five straight years with Cleveland. Some might argue that his illustrious career with the Rangers, in which he didn’t allow a single run in [redacted] innings was his peak, but I would say the span of 2016 to 2018 when he dominated the regular season and carried the team on his back to the World Series was his best work.
His first year in New York hasn’t been his best, but he also threw a perfect game against his former team (the Rangers). That’s not bad, either.
Tampa Bay Rays
Yandy Diaz, 1B/3B (2017-2018)
Yandy Diaz will always be the one that got away. The man who could hit a ball a bazillion miles per hour but couldn’t find the right angle was eventually traded to the Rays for Jake Bauers and potentially to offset some salary from Carlos Santana. It wasn’t a great deal, to be frank. Bauers was a complete bust in Cleveland and, while Santana was a solid player in 2020, he could have been had without including Diaz if the Guardians were willing to pony up the money.
Diaz hasn’t turned into an absolute superstar by any means, but he’s been an above-average hitter in each of his three seasons with the Rays.
Joey Wendle, 3B (MiLB)
There was once a time when the Guardians traded Joey Wendle to the A’s for Brandon Moss and we all had a good laugh about it. It looked like Cleveland traded some no-name prospect for a power-hitting outfielder that was going to help the 2015 team get back to the playoffs. Moss, like the rest of that team, was a massive disappointment and eventually traded at the deadline for minor-league pitcher Rob Kaminsky.
Wendle, meanwhile, has been a solid contributor for the A’s and Rays throughout his six-year MLB career. He hit a career-high 11 home runs in 2021 and will likely factor into their first-round matchup later this week.
Francisco Mejia, C, (MiLB)
Trading Francisco Mejia when he was on the cusp of his debut and looked like he had a legit bat always smelled kind of fishy. After five years in the majors, I think we know why Cleveland was OK trading him for a couple of relievers (albeit, one very good reliever in Brad Hand).
While he made some strides in 2021, Mejia has been atrocious at times as a catcher, and the bat that helped him record a hit in 50-straight games in the minors has never fully developed. This season, his first with the Rays, has been by far his best, though. He slashed .260/.322/.416 with six home runs and has not looked quite as bad in his handful of games behind the plate.
J.P. Feyereisen, RHP (MiLB)
Would I have liked J.P. Feyereisen to catch on in Cleveland? Absolutely. He was one of the first lower-level prospects that caught my eye when I first joined Covering the Corner and started looking critically at the lowest levels on a daily basis. But I will also never doubt the brilliance of getting Andrew Miller from the Yankees at the 2016 deadline — it just so happens that Feyereisen was part of that deal.
Feyereisen never debuted with the Yankees, but instead got his first shot in 2020 with the Brewers. He found his way onto the Rays in 2021 where he carried a 2.45 ERA in 36.2 innings. Walks are still an issue for the 28-year-old, but he’s proven that he can at least stick around in a major-league bullpen.
Eddie Rosario, OF (2021)
Eddie Rosario killed Cleveland when he was in Minnesota, but he just couldn’t find the same magic when he called Progressive Field home. Signed on a one-year, $8 million deal in the offseason, the outfielder played in an injury-shortened 78 games for the Guardians, slashing .254/.296/.389 with seven home runs.
Rosario has been a force for the Braves, though, with a .271/.330/.573 slash and already matching his home run total in just 33 games.
It was weird rooting for Eddie Rosario after hating him destroying my favorite team for so many years, so at least now I can go back to despising him.
Los Angeles Dodgers
If that name doesn’t sound familiar, don’t worry. This isn’t some obscure shortstop that Cleveland brought in for spring training or anything. But August’s name should ring a bell to anyone that read quality baseball and/or Cleveland writing in the early 2010’s as his work was found on FanGraphs, as an MLB beat writer covering the Guardians, and more. August joined the Brewers front office in 2016 and they’ve only had one losing season since. Coincidence? I mean, probably, but I’m sure August helped.
San Francisco Giants
Dominic Leone, RHP (2020)
Pick a random reliever. Odds are he pitched out of the 2020 Cleveland bullpen. Dominic Leone was one of them as he appeared in just 12 games but made a name for himself that year. It was a name full of many swear words, though, as he allowed a yikes-worthy nine earned runs in 9.2 innings.
St. Louis Cardinals
Andrew Miller, LHP (2016-2018)
Thanks to the wonders of random alphabetical ordering, we get to finish this list on a high note.
I will always look back on the Andrew Miller Saga fondly. From his dramatic arrival that was almost accompanied by a new catcher from Milwaukee, to his domination in the 2016 postseason, to his sudden and shocking decline — everything about Andrew Miller was exciting, must-watch entertainment. Not even Emmanuel Clase and his 102 mph cutters have me as excited for a relief appearance as 2016 and 2017 Andrew Miller did.
Miller had a bit of a renaissance in 2020 with a 2.77 ERA in 13 innings, but he sunk back to a 4.75 ERA through 36 innings this season. He hasn’t been the consistent dominating force he was for a season and a half in Cleveland, but outside of a few blow-ups, he’s helped St. Louis sneak into the Wild Card game. I’ll still be rooting for him.
Did I miss anyone? Feel free to loudly shout them at me in the comments.