A Critical Offseason Roadmap

Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports


Let’s start this with a brief outlook on the Guardians. First, the Dolans bit the bullet and changed the name, entering 2022 with a new look, and an opportunity to constructively change perceptions on how they manage their team. Needless to say a large section of the fanbase (fairly or unfairly) views the current ownership with distrust and disdain. Since acquiring the team in 2001 the Dolans traded three Cy Young Award winners (which resulted in the embarrassment of both players facing off against each other in the World Series in 2009), Hall of Fame caliber superstars, and team leaders. Constantly trading your best players for prospects does not help endear yourself to your fanbase.

The Dolans also have the reputation (fairly or unfairly) of not spending much money. The Cleveland Baseball Club’s largest contract ever was the signing of Edwin Encarnacion to a 3 year $60M contract: only the Pittsburgh Pirates have signed a player to a smaller contract. The Dolans, of course, then traded Edwin before his contract was up. The combination of rarely spending significant sums of money with a barrage of players leaving the franchise every year can make for an embittered fanbase.

To be quite clear the team has done reasonably well under the Dolans. Since 2001 the Indians have tied for 10th in playoff appearances at seven. If you want to tinker with the time period you can make the franchise look even better. But I also think it’s fair to say that, while the team has done better than your average MLB team, the Dolans tenure (while impressive) does not compare to the best in the league. Which to me is important: when people complain about how the team performed the past two decades: it’s not like there are not realistic examples of teams performing much better.

Finally, we cannot discuss this offseason without the inevitable reminder: Cleveland has not won a World Series in 73 years. This is the longest active streak in Major League Baseball and the longest active streak of any major sports franchise. This team should act with a sense of urgency.

Dolan cannot change that perception in one offseason, but he can start. The Dolans should open their wallets and spend more this offseason, they should make an effort to retain key players, and make the Guardians unlike the Indians.

Arbitration-eligible (with projected salaries from MLBTR):

Austin Hedges - $3.8M

Hedges is not my first choice at catcher but the organization is not deep at this position and at $3.8M the team cannot afford to let both Hedges and Bebo go at once. Retained

Nick Wittgren -$2.8M

Wittgren is coming of his worst season and his $2.8M is not even a luxury, and I am confident we can find better production for the Major League minimum. Non-Tendered

Amed Rosario

Rosario has played well enough to earn a starting role. While a 99 OPS+ is not great, it's Herculean on the roster as it stands and $5M is a fine price to pay for a player at either shortstop or second base. Retained

Franmil Reyes - $4.4M

Reyes is our second best hitter and I will consider an extension for him. Retained

Shane Bieber - $4.8M

Bieber can put the check next to his Cy Young. I suspect he gets more than this projection. Retained

Bradley Zimmer - $1.5M

Zim has had plenty of chances to prove he's a good player and has squandered it. If he finds success elsewhere more power to him. Non-Tendered

Cal Quantrill - $2.8M

Quantrill had a solid season and is worth the price. Our starting pitching is not as deep as it was, and we cannot afford to lose any of it. Retained

Josh Naylor - $1.2M

The fact is: we need outfielders, even unproven ones. Naylor suffered an horrific accident, and can still bounce back. $1.2M is a fine price to pay to find out. Retained

Harold Ramirez - $1.6M

With the roster not exactly littered with good outfielders, Harold Ramirez seems like a no brainer. Then again, he's also not exactly a great starter yet either. He's projected to be a league average hitter, and Steamer only projects him for a 108 wRC+ which isn't great for Left Field. Then again, I anticipate Andrew McCutchen getting more than that on the open market, and his projection is the same. Retained

Contract Options

Jose Ramirez. I do not think I need to explain why Ramirez’s option will get picked up. I’ll save the discussion on Jose for later when I discuss extensions.

Roberto Perez. Bebo’s option should be declined. He has not performed in years, he’s oft injured, and on the wrong side of 30. Austin Hedges is not my ideal catcher, but Perez is not a good replacement for him either.

Payroll Update

With Jose’s option picked up, the buyout of Perez, and all of our arbitration eligible contracts settled the Payroll stands at $35,500,000. I will be using this Google Sheets spreadsheet to track total payroll. We’ll revisit this as we move forward.


Let’s get this out of the way first: I do not anticipate (nor do I think it’s realistic) for this team to pursue the top free agents in this year’s class. No Cleveland will (likely) not sign Nicholas Castellanos, Starling Marte, Chris Taylor or Khris Bryant. I would love nothing more for this team to pony up for Castellanos. I do not expect it to happen.

That does not rule out big moves. Zack Meisel consistently reports the front office will aggressively look for trades to improve the team, and that trades are the team’s preferred route to improve. My personal preference would be for Max Kepler, but I do not think anyone even knows if Minnesota plans on competing or tanking next year, so I will limit myself to teams (I suspect) we know have little intention of competing.

Cleveland Trades Gabriel Arias, Tanner Burns and Joey Cantillo for Ketel Marte

I am not an expert in prospects, but the Diamondbacks need middle infielders and that’s an area I know we have players in abundance. Their best infield prospect (according to this) is a rookie. That suggests to me Marte could be had, and his financial price tag is modest, and controllable for a few more years. Sounds like the perfect fit to me. I will admit that others could probably build a smarter trade than I.

There are other trades I could imagine: Zack Meisel was asked about Jo Adell, and he would also be a player I would consider (assuming we do not have to part with many more starters), but it looks like Los Angeles would like to compete.

Next, the bullpen needs help and that’s one area where I think we should look at trades to target. I like Cole Sulser of Baltimore. He’s arbitration eligible, but also 31 years old. Baltimore is going nowhere quickly, making Cole the kind of player who (despite being under team control for a long time) the kind of player they cannot afford to keep on the roster.

Cleveland trades Logan Allen, Angel Martinez and Daniel Johnson for Cole Sulser

One thing I will mention here: I am generally opposed to trading any of our starting pitchers. As we saw in 2020 starters can go down quickly and can take time to heal. Our pitching depth is not as strong as it was even two years ago. As such, we should keep our younger starters in the fold and allow them to figure it out. Logan Allen is an exception as he’s not as high on the depth chart and has not performed well at the Major League level.

Free Agents

As stated above: I do not believe this team will dip its toe too deep into the free agent waters. That being said, there are a couple of free agents that would make sense.

Michael Conforto is probably the one I’d have the most interest in. I suspect he may sign a pillow contract, and this team needs outfielders. If we signed him the only question would be what do we do with Harold Ramirez and/or Josh Naylor (given we already traded for Ketel Marte, and Myles Straw will patrol center)? This would be a nice problem to have, but not a question I suspect the team can afford.

Brandon Belt & Anthony Rizzo are the best first basemen I think Cleveland could realistically afford. Of the two I prefer Rizzo (he’s younger, and appears a touch more durable). Yuli Gurriel may be the best bet since he will be 38, can platoon with Bobby Bradley, and is probably the cheapest of the three. Then again, Houston may opt to keep him for another season.

Overall, my preference would be to sign Rizzo, unless another cheaper player comes along I do not see many other great options.

Cleveland signs Anthony Rizzo to a 3 Year $45M contract

Next, the team will also need to sign another catcher for backup. Preferably a player who can hit the ball at least a little bit. I think Yan Gomes would be a good fit.

Cleveland signs Yan Gomes to a 1 Year $7M contract

Payroll Update

With the additions listed above, and without players making the minimum, the payroll of the team stands at $65,450,000.

Rest of the Roster

OK, the lineup is fairly set with the current lineup being:

C: Austin Hedges, 1B: Anthony Rizzo, SS: Amed Rosario, 3B: Jose Ramirez, LF: Harold Ramirez/Josh Naylor, RF: Ketel Marte, DH: Franmil Reyes.

Looking at our pre-arbitration eligible players I think we have a few things squared away.

Myles Straw will start in Center Field. Straw is a good defender and posted his best offensive stretch in his career since coming to Cleveland. He is a fine starter, especially given his salary.

Andres Gimenez will start at Second Base (or at Shortstop and move Amed Rosario to Second). He’s young, a good defender, and we have not seen enough of him yet to write him off. This completes our list of starters at:

C: Austin Hedges, 1B: Anthony Rizzo, 2B: Andres Gimenez, SS: Amed Rosario, 3B: Jose Ramirez, LF: Harold Ramirez/Josh Naylor, CF Myles Straw, RF: Ketel Marte, DH Franmil Reyes.

Our rotation is filled with players making the minimum. After Bieber & Quantrill we have Aaron Civale, Zach Plesac and Triston McKenzie. This rotation is not the equal of even the 2019 rotation, but it’s a solid foundation.

The Bullpen is the tough part. Emmanuel Clase is the closer and we just acquired Cole Sulser, but after that there’s a lot of question marks. If there’s a part of the roster where I would advocate saving money and throwing stuff at the wall to see what sticks it’s the bullpen. James Karinchak is still talented, and I hope he can find a new sticky substance and get past...I mean I hope he learns to grip the ball naturally. Nick Sandlin, Sam Hentges, Anthony Gose and Trevor Stephan will round up the ‘Pen. For everyone demanding Cleveland play the kids, well here’s their chance to shine.

If the team succeeds we can find good relievers before the deadline.

Finally, the Bench will be rounded out by: Oscar Mercado, Bobby Bradley, and Yan Gomes. Mercado is a capable defender, which is nice given that Naylor, Marte and Ramirez are not good fielders. Bradley is hopefully a decent bat off the bench, and Gomes is our backup catcher.

I debated what to do with the infield. Personally, I would go with Owen Miller (although there are not many great options). Yu Chang has not shown enough to guarantee a roster spot, and Ernie Clement is simply not a good baseball player. Owen Miller is young, has a good minor league track record, and could earn his way to a starting role with strong play.

Payroll Update

Final one for the day, with the pre-arbitration players the final payroll is $72,866,500. This does not include the minor leagues and the rest of the 40 man, which will inch this number up a bit (I think to around $75M). I do not think this team will go much above or below that number.


OK. This is where the rubber meets the road in my mind. I suspect there is only so much the Dolans will spend this season. If the Dolans will only spend so much, that leaves extensions as their best chance to impress upon the fanbase how the Guardians will differ from the Indians. Most people yearn for a Jose Ramirez extension...I strongly suspect this is unlikely. Terry Pluto has suggested a Lindor size extension is impossible. Pluto floated a potential $120M extension over 5 seasons (basically $30M a year for three years after Jose’s two options). I doubt this gets it done. Anthony Rendon signed for over $200M and is scheduled to make nearly $40M the last four years of his contract. My guess is Jose would take a $150M extension, on top of his two remaining options. This is basically taking Rendon’s average salary over the course of his deal, and tacking it onto the two options Cleveland holds for a total value of $175M.

Will the Guardians offer that much? I suspect not. Jose Ramirez is better than Anthony Rendon, and may demand more.

That leaves some of the other players. Shane Bieber is the obvious next choice; a Bieber extension makes a little more sense than Jose because he’s newly arbitration eligible and thus a fine candidate for a Corey Kluber-esque extension. That kind of deal does not signal a change from the past, but at least promises a familiar face past 2023.

Franmil Reyes & Aaron Civale are the next two logical choices. If the Guardians wanted to make a high risk, high reward, move they could also target Myles Straw. Overall I think the Guardians should pick two or three of these players and push hard to get them to sign longer than normal extensions.

Cleveland signs Shane Bieber to a 6 Year, $125M Extension

My reasoning here is Blake Snell signed a 5 year extension as a pre-arbitration deal. This deal pays Shane the $50M for his three arbitration years, and adds on a 3 year $75M extension after that.

Cleveland signs Aaron Civale to a 3 Year, $30M Extension with Options

My reasoning here is Carlos Carrasco signed a similar extension after similar service time. Civale is not quite as good as Cookie, but he’s been healthier (no Tommy John).

Cleveland signs Franmil Reyes to a 4 year, $30M Extension with Options

My comparison here is Michael Brantley who signed a $25M extension at the same point in his career.

If the Guardians can get Jose Ramirez to sign an extension I would cut two or all three of these extensions to instead…

Cleveland signs Jose Ramirez to a 7 Year, $175M Extension

Again, I do not believe Jose will take this kind of offer, but that’s the lower end of what I expect Jose would accept at this time. I hope I am wrong.

Final Roster:


Catcher: Austin Hedges

First Base: Anthony Rizzo

Second Base: Andres Gimenez

Third Base: Jose Ramirez

Shortstop: Amed Rosario

Right Field: Ketel Marte

Center Field: Myles Straw

Left Field: Harold Ramirez

Designated Hitter: Franmil Reyes

Starting Rotation:

Shane Bieber

Aaron Civale

Cal Quantrill
Zach Plesac

Triston McKenzie


Emmanuel Clase

Cole Sulser

James Karinchak

Anthony Gose

Nick Sandlin

Sam Hentges

Trevor Stephan


Yan Gomes

Bobby Bradley

Josh Naylor

Owen Miller

Oscar Mercado

Final Payroll: $72,886,500 not including the remainder of the 40 man, and the minors

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