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How Cleveland can get the most out of the rest of the season

The Guardians should get ambitious and find out more about who can help contend in 2022

Cleveland Indians v Toronto Blue Jays Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images

That was one hell of a trade deadline. I think I might have been traded by the Cubs?

Anyway, even though half the league switched jerseys, the changes in Cleveland were markedly less dramatic. We all anticipated Cesar Hernandez and Eddie Rosario leaving the north shore, but bringing in Myles Straw for Phil Maton and shipping Jordan Luplow to Tampa were a little less expected. Whether we could predict the move or not, though, the effect on the team’s playoff odds only dropped 0.4% per ZiPS.

The Cleveland Guardians did not have had much of a chance at the playoffs prior to the trade deadline, but the trades essentially sealed the deal. Perhaps more significant, of course, was Terry Francona deciding to step down for the remainder of the season to address health issues. I wish nothing but the best for Francona and I hope he is able to heal well and live a long and healthy life, but his departure could be the best thing for this team right now. I’ve said previously that Francona is not the right manager for this team anymore and I stand by that assessment.

Now I hope the team commits to the change and makes Francona’s departure and the trade deadline a line in the sand ... a line of Demarlocation (forgive me).

With no playoff hopes and only the future to build for, it’s time to plan for contending in 2022 and beyond. This front office is never going to go full teardown, but that should not preclude the remainder of this season from being a lab for upcoming talent.

Here are three things I’d like to see happen in the next couple months.

Figure out who has a role in 2022

Even after cutting some of the pieces that clearly had no future role with the team, I think there are still questions to be answered about several guys. For instance, Amed Rosario is a bit of a mystery. When the season opened and Andrés Giménez was manning shortstop, Rosario was maybe an outfielder or maybe a utility guy?

Since taking over as the everyday shortstop, Rosario has been pretty good, with a .300/.340/.421 slash, a 107 wRC+, and .330 wOBA. But what is he going forward? New acquisition Straw seems like the centerfielder going forward, and besides Giménez the shortstop competition for 2022 includes Gabriel Arias, Ernie Clement, and maybe even Tyler Freeman. Letting Rosario play to figure out his role in 2022 — either as a Guardian or establishing value as a trade piece — seems worthwhile.

Another question that lingers: Who is Harold Ramirez? Is he the 140 wRC+ from June or the 62 wRC+ hitter from July? Maybe he’s a platoon guy, taking at-bats versus lefties only to play up his 115 wRC+ this season (vs. 78 against righties). However, his career splits are perfectly even at 92 wRC+ regardless of the pitcher’s handedness. So, Cleveland needs to figure out how he works best, and perhaps who works best on the other side of a platoon.

Finally, is Owen Miller a Quad-A hitter? After never running a wRC+ of less than 121 at any stop in the minors, Miller has a 4 (not a typo) wRC+ in 62 PA in the majors this year. Since the last couple months are going to be painful anyway, why not see if Miller can work things out? Never one with huge pop, Miller had a .192 ISO in Triple-A and it seems like he should be able to adjust and improve upon his .071 ISO ... or not, but it seems worthwhile to know that now rather than when trying to compete again in 2022.

Stop playing guys we know won’t help compete

Bradley Zimmer is having his best big league season to date. He has 99 wRC+ and .317 wOBA. Those are good numbers, congratulations to Zimmer! Unfortunately, he’s been the beneficiary of a .410 BABIP and, despite decent run creation, his ISO is .079, the worst of his career. With Straw (basically the better version of Zimmer) taking over in centerfield, it’s time to move on. Zimmer simply can’t occupy a corner outfield spot with his hitting profile. Smart teams are sacrificing defense-first positions in order to get more offense in the lineup, so I don’t think Cleveland would be wise to go the opposite.

Trying out new things will mean some tough games, but even if the team embraces rebuilding in the second half it doesn’t have to be miserable. The most miserable thing for fans to endure has been the wretched bullpen throwing away leads late in the game, and two players have been more guilty of this than others.

The first guilty party is Bryan Shaw. After looking like a man reborn in the first couple months of the season, Shaw allowed opponents a wOBA of .348 and .398 in June and July, respectively — that’s like every opposing team having lineups full of Mitch Hanigers and Juan Sotos. Shaw will always be a part of the team’s history, but he needs to be history for the 2021 version and make way for someone like Cam Hill.

The second guilty party is James Karinchak. Let’s not mince words about him: He was cheating, he was doing so within the accepted norms of the game, but when the league started enforcing its rules on pitchers not using substances to help their grip he fell off a cliff. You can see an immediate drop in RPM in June for Karinchak that lines up well with Travis Sawchik’s findings on grip enhancers.

Corresponding to the decrease in spin is the jump in opponents’ xwOBA. Without the sticky stuff, Karinchak is not someone who should be getting high-leverage innings. However, in 2021, no one has a higher game leverage index upon entering the game than Karinchak. Moving the minimum number of innings pitched to zero, Karinchak still comes out on top with a 1.67 gmLI, above Emmanuel Clase’s 1.63 and Shaw’s 1.44. Since June 1 (close enough to the league’s crackdown), Karinchak has five losses, 13 runs allowed (all earned), and a wOBA against of .329.

He not only should not be pitching high-leverage innings, but he should also probably be figuring out how to pitch clean in Columbus.

Get aggressive with the youth

My last suggestion is already happening to a degree. On Tuesday Will Brennan (.290/.361/.407 at High-A Lake County) was promoted to Akron and Cody Morris (20 IP, 13.05 K/9, 3.15 BB/9 at Double-A) was promoted to Columbus; on July 30 Brayan Rocchio (.265/.337/.428 at High-A) and Bryan Lavastida (.303/.399/.467 at High-A) also moved up to Akron. These kinds of moves are great for development, rewarding young players for their lower-level success. This kind of reward needs to come at the highest level, too.

Nolan Jones has spent all year in Columbus, playing 75 games and logging 251 at-bats, slashing .219/.346/.418. He has some issues in his game, such as a 31.2% strikeout rate, but he’s managed above-average wRC+ and wOBA of at least .342 (what he’s hitting in Triple-A) at every stop in the minors. I don’t think the Guardians want to start his service time yet, but service time almost certainly will be handled differently after the coming offseason, so why not give him some innings in Cleveland down the stretch?

If not Jones, the team should finally figure out what Daniel Johnson has to offer. Maybe with a little confidence behind him, he could succeed. Or Cleveland should find out more about some Rule 5-eligible players such as Connor Marabell or Trenton Brooks rather than approaching the roster crunch blindly.

More than anything, I want to see the team doing something. Running out an outfield of Zimmer, Straw, and Oscar Mercado and letting Shaw and Karinchak pitch the seventh and eighth — well, you know what you’re getting. At least give us some surprises in the way the losses are going to accumulate.