Entering the 2021 season, one of the biggest questions facing the Cleveland Guardians was the matter of who would replace Francisco Lindor at shortstop. Amed Rosario seems to have made himself the short-term answer to that question, but long-term? I’m not so sure.
Rosario started the season alternating between shortstop and center field. Andrés Giménez had seized the starting shortstop spot during spring training, so the club experimented with Rosario in center field, banking on his 98th percentile sprint speed helping ease into the new position. Before Giménez was optioned to Triple-A Columbus on May 18, Rosario had played games 14 games in center field and 15 games at shortstop. Since then, he has been the Guardians’ everyday shortstop, only occasionally ceding the spot to Owen Miller, Yu Chang, or Ernie Clement.
But how much longer will his hold on the position last?
The truth is that Rosario doesn’t do anything exceptionally well at the plate. He leads the team in batting average (.272) — though that is not something I would celebrate, personally — but has benefitted from a .332 BABIP and ranks in the bottom six percent of the league in barrel percentage. Rosario has survived mostly on singles. In fact, he leads the team with 71 singles. To his credit, he is second on the team in doubles (17) and first in triples (4). He is fifth among his teammates in on-base percentage (.318), but he rarely walks, ranking near the bottom of the Cleveland roster with a career-high 5.7% walk percentage.
Make no mistake, Rosario is one of the most productive players in the Guardians lineup. But that says more about the lineup than it does about Rosario. Looking beyond the context of Cleveland paints a more accurate picture of his performance. He ranks 16th among all qualified MLB shortstops in wRC+ (93), 16th in wOBA (.309), and 13th in WAR (1.7).
Put simply: Cleveland can do better. You could even make the argument they need to do better. Fortunately for the Guardians — and unfortunately for Rosario — they have a pair of options waiting about 140 miles from Cleveland that might be able to give them better production.
Giménez, after struggling with the big league club at the start of the year, has rediscovered his stroke, slashing .284/.340/.497 and producing 118 wRC+ at the plate with the Clippers. He might have even been called up to replace Cesar Hernandez at second base if not for the fact that he is in the process of establishing permanent residency in the United States, which ruled out a road trip to Toronto with the team. Giménez slotting in at second base might buy Rosario more time at shortstop, but Gabriel Arias would like to say, “Not so fast.”
The 21-year-old Arias, a top-five prospect in Cleveland’s minor league system, is also in Columbus, where he has slashed .280/.357/.451 and posted a 115 wRC+ through 72 games.
The club’s recent acquisition of Myles Straw also complicates Rosario’s future with the club. With Giménez and Arias both knocking at the door, center field might have been a safety valve for Rosario. But the Guardians have made it clear Straw is their primary center fielder going forward and he is under contract through 2025. Not to mention the club has a glut of soft-hitting center fielders to choose from already, Bradley Zimmer and Oscar Mercado chief among them.
There’s no way of knowing if there was a market for Rosario at the trade deadline, or how hard the front office shopped him, if at all. If a call-up of Giménez and Arias was imminent, they likely could have found a place to simply off-load him, much like they did with the other Rosario. So it’s likely that Rosario will remain the team’s shortstop through the end of the 2021 season.
But beyond that? Rosario is under contract through 2023 and is arbitration-eligible each of the next two seasons. It’s no secret how Cleveland feels about the arbitration process, and it’s unlikely they’ll be willing to spend more than Rosario’s current $2.5 million salary for his league-average bat when they have top talent waiting in the wings.
So try to enjoy these next two months of Amed Rosario in a Cleveland uniform, because an offseason trade may be what awaits him at season’s end.