The 2021 season didn’t go how anyone in Cleveland wanted, but the beautiful thing about baseball is that it happens every year. Well, hopefully.
Assuming the impending CBA negotiations don’t prompt an extended lockout, the offseason calendar is now set for the Cleveland Guardians and all of baseball. The Guardians will look to build on a disappointing, injury-plagued season with a new name and maybe a new outfielder or two under their belt.
Here’s what we can look forward to in a perfect, non-lockout world.
Nov. 3: Free agent filing date
Every player who is was eligible to be a free agent this offseason made it official this morning. Blake Parker, Bryan Shaw, and Wilson Ramos are it for Cleveland. A big reason they operated with such a low budget last season (hovering around $50 million) was that most of their players were in arbitration or still in team-controlled years. Thus, they don’t have many outgoing free agents.
Teams will have five days to negotiate with these potential free agents before ...
Nov. 7: Start of free agency/contract options/qualifying offer deadline
Five days after the World Series — also known as this Sunday — the floodgates will open for free agents to sign where they please. With the looming CBA expiration on the horizon, teams may be slow to sign some big names. So don’t expect much right away.
This is also the date that teams have to make decisions on options. José Ramírez’s $11 million option is a slam dunk, and he still has another, equally affordable one, in 2023. They may pick up the 2022 option then extend him, too, who knows?
The other decision is Roberto Pérez, but he is less assured of a spot on the 2022 team. Pérez hasn’t been able to replicate his breakout 2019 offensive season, and he’ll be entering his age-33 season next year after a rough couple of years, injury-wise. The Guardians place a sky-high value on a catcher who can handle a staff and frame well — two things that Pérez clearly excels at. But Austin Hedges has emerged as a catcher who can do the same thing and also not hit at half the price. If anything, we may see Roberto’s contract declined then brought back on a cheaper deal if he can’t find another home in free agency.
This busy day is also the time for teams to offer a qualifying offer to outgoing free agents. The value of the qualifying offer this year sits at $18.4 million. If a team wishes to extend it to a player hitting free agency, that player can either accept it to return or decline and become a free agent. If they decline, the team they sign with will be required to send back a draft pick to their old team. I’m 99.999% sure Cleveland wouldn’t dare offer one to Bryan Shaw, but don’t let Terry Francona anywhere near the big red “QUALIFYING OFFER” button just to be safe.
Nov. 7: Gold Glove Award winners announced
You know the deal here. Catch ball real good, you get an award. José Ramírez and Myles Straw are both finalists at third base and center field, respectively. Neither are all that likely to win, but Straw feels like he might get more hardware in the future and you should never count out the GOAT.
Nov. 9 - Nov. 11: GM Meetings
These are usually the boring offseason meetings where general managers get together and discuss off-field policy and don’t make many trades.
Nov. 11: Silver Slugger Award winners announced
José Ramírez is the sole Cleveland representative here, which should not come as a surprise. He finished seventh in the American League with a 137 wRC+ and 11th in home runs with 36. It’ll be a close race between him and Rafael Devers, who finished with 38 home runs and a 134 wRC+.
Nov. 15: Rookie of Year Award winners announced
Emmanuel Clase deserves to be mentioned here, but he’s unlikely to win.
Nov. 16: Manager of Year Award winners announced
DeMarlo Hale isn’t winning anything here, sorry.
Nov. 17: Cy Young Award winners announced
For the first time in at least half a decade, no Cleveland pitchers are even on the radar here. Cal Quantrill turned in a solid season, but only half of that was as a starter. Injuries cut short the rest of the vaunted Cleveland rotation.
Nov. 18: MVP Award winners announced
Once again, José Ramírez is the only noteworthy Cleveland player here, but he isn’t expected to win as long as Shohei Ohtani exists.
Nov. 19: Rule 5 protection deadline
If the Guardians don’t already have everything in order before this date, Nov. 19 is going to be a busy, busy day. This is the deadline for teams to put qualified prospects on the 40-man roster if they want them to be protected from December’s Rule 5 draft. Not all players who are eligible to be selected in the Rule 5 draft require protection — some may still be too low in the minors to make sense for another team to pick. And, frankly, if Cleveland doesn’t clear out some roster spots before this date they are going to have some highly touted prospects exposed.
Most notable among those who could be selected include Richie Palacios (who is currently tearing up the AZL), Oscar Gonzalez, Tyler Freeman, Will Benson, Joey Cantillo, Juan Hillman, Brayan Rocchio, Aaron Braco, Jose Tena, George Valera, and Jhonkensy Noel.
If I was a betting man, I’d say George Valera and Tyler Freeman are added for sure. Oscar Gonzalez is potentially the most interesting choice as he has all the power in the world but looks like he’ll be a strikeout machine in the majors. The 23-year-old outfielder hit 18 home runs in his 72 Triple-A games but walked just 3.6% to a 24.9% strikeout rate. He’s the perfect candidate to be left unprotected and selected by another team willing to take the risk for 30+ home run potential.
By the time Nov. 19 rolls around (again, assuming nothing changes), the Guardians will have 39 players on their 40-man roster with at least two guys that absolutely need to be protected, and several more that probably should be.
Dec. 1: Non-tender deadline
This is the date that teams are required to tender contracts to arbitration-eligible players. They don’t have to have exact figures yet, just super totally promise that they’re going to have something concrete or face arbitration court in February. The other option is to non-tender a player, effectively releasing them.
Cleveland has nine players eligible for arbitration next year, estimated by MLB Trade Rumors to make a combined $28 million. Austin Hedges, Amed Rosario, Franmil Reyes, Shane Bieber, Cal Quantrill, and Josh Naylor all look like surefire picks to be tendered. Nick Wittgren, Bradley Zimmer, and Harold Ramirez are much less guaranteed.
Dec. 1: CBA expiration date
Everything after Dec. 1 should be considered tentative because that’s when the current CBA expires and everything could hit the fan. If nothing is decided before 11:59 p.m. ET, a lengthy lockout by the owners could ensue, potentially delaying the Winter Meetings, spring training, and maybe even the regular season.
Dec. 6 - Dec. 9: Winter Meetings
Assuming we avoid the work stoppage apocalypse, the Winter Meetings will occur in Orlando, Florida starting on Dec. 6. This is where business gets done and trades and rumors fly. GMs, agents, and reporters will all be in the same set of buildings for three days, so get ready for constant news and updates.
If CBA negotiations came down to the wire and teams were waiting to sign free agents and make big moves, this year’s Winter Meetings could be one of the busiest of all time.
Dec. 9: Rule 5 Draft
The Guardians will probably have a full roster by the time this rolls around — in other words, they won’t be making any selections. The thing worth watching for Cleveland fans will be which prospects, if any, they lose.
Jan. 14: Arbitration figures deadline
Players that were tendered an arbitration contract must be given final figures on Jan. 14 if the two sides have not already worked something out. The two sides can still work out a deal up until their court date if they want to avoid a messy back-and-forth about why the player is either worthless or the next MVP. It’s a process that Cleveland likes to avoid and they are pretty good at doing so.
Jan. 31 - Feb. 18: Arbitration hearings scheduled
If the two sides still can’t decide on a number, they’ll be given a court date to battle it out over a couple of million dollars.
Feb. 26: Spring training opener against Reds
Finally, if all goes well, the Cleveland Guardians will open their 2022 spring training against the Reds. Probably with Michael Conforto in the lineup and José Ramírez enjoying his brand new five-year contract extension. I’ll also have a Guardians hat. Everybody wins.