As we muddle our way to the end of the 2021 season, hoping the team can finish above .500, I continue to wonder which players will have the distinction of being in the FIRST Opening Day Lineup for the Cleveland Guardians. There are a lot of positions to sort out between players currently on the roster and those free agents or trade targets who could potentially be on the roster next year. The following post is my attempt to do that sorting out based on what I think the team will most likely do, with a little bit of what I HOPE they will do mixed in.
Catcher - Roberto Perez. (I’m probably the only person who thinks he has a shot of still being with the Guardians in 2022, so I’m also probably wrong. The team will ABSOLUTELY decline his option, but renegotiate with him for another deal, like $2-3 million. I just think he makes more sense for Cleveland to sign than for any other team, and having most of the year off from injuries, he may actually be fairly refreshed for 2022. If they or Bebo decide to move on, we may see either a Lavarnway/Rene Rivera-type brought back to back-up Austin Hedges as the starter. It’s possible the team could explore a trade for catcher, but I think with Lavastida in Triple-A, they’ll more likely give a vet those reps to start off the year and bring Lavastida up if needed).
First Baseman - Bobby Bradley (I think Bradley gets first look here at least until Josh Naylor is available in mid-May)
Second Baseman – Amed Rosario (I put Amed in about four different spots, before I decided they will probably try to make it work with him at second to start off the season)
Shortstop – Andres Gimenez (With Gabriel Arias and Brayan Rocchio not far behind!)
Third Baseman - Jose Ramirez (hopefully on a nice, long extension deal)
Left Fielder – Trade Acquisition of Lourdes Gurriel from Toronto (more on that below)
Center Fielder - Myles Straw (Nice to be able to know this position is covered, even if the bat isn't quite what we might hope, he makes up for it with speed and defense)
Right Fielder – Free Agent Addition of Mark Canha (more on that below)
Designated Hitter - Franmil Reyes (Hopefully also gets a nice extension!)
Utility Infielder - Owen Miller (I believe by the end of the season he will establish himself as a decent bench bat and solid backup for all infield positions)
Utility Infielder – Yu Chang (I’ve cut Chang from this team about a dozen times, but, his glove has looked good enough that this recent hitting surge may just give him another opening day with the Guardians)
Fourth Outfielder – Bradley Zimmer, OF – I go back and forth every day on Zimmer, Ramirez, Mercado or Johnson being the 4th outfielder for 2021, so I imagine this could change before the end of this season. For now, I think Zimmer probably offers the most in this position of the four options, and works better as a platoon partner for Gurriel, though I’d expect Gurriel to get the majority of starts.
Catcher - Austin Hedges (He may be the starter if Roberto is not retained. His defense is as sensational as his offense is pitiful)
Shane Bieber (Hopefully, also with a nice extension and a healthy shoulder)
Aaron Civale (Heck, extend him, too!)
Triston McKenzie (That's MY #3 starter)
Cal Quantrill (That's a nice #4 starter, my friends. We back).
Zach Plesac (Hopefully with an offseason chance to work out some control issues he has shown)
RP – Cody Morris, RHP (The Guardians don’t typically put potential starters in the bullpen, but they may be compelled to with the amount of potential starters and dearth of relievers they have)
RP – Trade Acquisition Dylan Floro, RHP from Miami
RP – Free Agent Add: Aaron Loup, LHP
RP – Trevor Stephan, RHP – It has been great to see him make strides of late.
RP - Justin Garza, RHP – I’ve seen enough positive to give him another shot.
RP – Nick Sandlin, RHP – Hopefully, he is healthy and ready to go.
RP – James Karinchak, RHP – Hopefully, he figures out how to pitch without sticky stuff.
RP – Emmanuel Clase, RHP – The one sure thing in our bullpen. But, when it’s all said and done, bullpens are probably the easiest things to fix if you are willing to use some of your starting pitcher depth. Hopefully, the Guardians will be willing to do that, and willing to expend some resources to add some veteran depth.
J.C. Mejia, RHP – Give Mejia some Columbus reps in the bullpen, I say.
Gabriel Arias, SS – Knocking on the door of the majors, and hopefully ready to take over if Gimenez struggles.
Nolan Jones, 3B/OF – I think the Guardians will attempt to trade Jones if the opportunity presents itself.
Eli Morgan RHP – The 6th starter to begin the year. Still think he’s probably not a reliable ML starter, but he has surprised me with some great outings this year.
Josh Naylor 1B/OF - I'm still a believer in Naylor, but I'd guess he's not ready until mid-May.
Carlos Vargas RHP - Watch out for Vargas to be in the pen by the end of 2022
Francisco Perez, LHP – Such a silly debut for Perez, entirely the Guardians’ fault. I hope he gets a legitimate shot to make next year’s bullpen.
Rule 5 Adds:
George Valera OF - Obvi
Brayan Rocchio SS - May be an even better prospect than Valera.
Tyler Freeman 2B – Amed will be keeping second-base warm for Tyler
Bryan Lavastida C - Nice to see him force his way on to the 40-man.
Joey Cantillo LHP - Interesting to see so many LHP coming for Cleveland.
Adam Scott, LHP – See above
Steven Kwan, OF – Also nice to see Kwan force the issue as he absolutely destroys Triple-A pitching.
Four names concern me here in terms of leaving them unprotected in the Rule 5 – Konnor Pilkington, Richard Palacios, Jhonkensy Noel, and Jose Tena. Pilkington doesn’t quite have the body of work where I think a team is LIKELY to select him, but I primarily did not protect him as a placeholder, in a sense. I am predicting the Guardians trade a starting pitcher to the Blue Jays for Lourdes Gurriel – it could be Pilkington, Scott, Morris, Battenfield, Logan T. Allen, or Morgan. Whichever the Blue Jays prefer, I’m fine with it. But, for the sake of convenience, I’ve adjusted the 40-man to have Gurriel on it, and that means either trading a Rule-5 eligible guy or leaving one unprotected (Logan T and Battenfield don’t need to be protected this season, just to clarify). Palacios is kind of a 2B/OF tweener and hasn’t hit enough to really be at risk in Rule 5, I think… but it’s still a possibility. Noel has insane numbers, and has shown the ability to play third, so I know many are worried that he will be selected. I think the amount of teams that have roster crunches make it unlikely that a guy whose most likely outcome is as a first baseman will be selected as a 20 year old who hasn’t played outside of High-A, but I am certainly not opposed to the Guardians rostering him. Perhaps trades will create a spot for him. Tena is a shortstop, so that’s a premium position that makes it more likely he’ll be picked in the Rule 5, but, again, hard to imagine someone putting a 20-year-old shortstop who hasn’t played over A-ball on their active roster, especially given that every team is facing this roster crunch to some degree.
So, that's 40 players everyone, 21 position players and 19 pitchers. I want to be clear – this is an attempt to guess at the Opening Day 40, but I realize some of these players may have to be dealt to acquire Floro and Gurriel. I can’t really guess which players will be dealt, but depending on when they ARE dealt, it may open up spots for players like Hentges, Noel, Johnson, Clement, etc. to stick on the roster. But, given this plan, let’s look at what has to happen to folks currently on the roster:
Oscar Mercado – Trade or DFA – Mercado HAS crushed LHP this year, which makes me wonder if he might get one more chance.
Harold Ramirez - Trade or DFA – Harold looked like a lock earlier in the year, but has fallen apart since July. Still a player to keep an eye on over the next three weeks.
Daniel Johnson – Trade or DFA – If Johnson didn’t look so below-average in the field, I’d give him the nod over Zimmer. As it is, I think he’s the kind of guy who may get traded this November in a small deal.
Ernie Clement – Trade or DFA – I could see Clement taking the spot I gave Chang on the roster. I think I prefer Chang, even with all of his flaws, because Chang can probably hit a little more than Clement can. But, Clement’s glove looks great. I wonder if Clement could get through waivers and stick with the team.
Wilson Ramos – Release – Sad ending to a nice, little career for the Buffalo.
Nick Wittgren – Release – Love the guy, but he looks washed.
Logan S. Allen - Trade or DFA – Also a great person, but I don’t see it.
Blake Parker – Release – Who knows? May come back in a minor-league deal, has had a nice little season, but shouldn’t be relied on to repeat it.
Bryan Shaw – Release – I loved the Shaw renaissance in April-May, but we don’t need a return in 2022.
Alex Young – Release – I liked the idea of taking a look. But, we’re done here.
Cam Hill – DFA – Didn’t come back strong from the wrist injury.
Scott Moss – DFA – Not working out.
Kyle Nelson – DFA – See above.
Sam Hentges – DFA – Hopefully he gets through waivers and heads back to the minors.
Ryan Lavarnway – DFA – Lavarnway is the first player in major league history to take 10 seasons to get to his 162nd game in the bigs, as heard on the Effectively Wild podcast.
Other notes: Wow, I wish Oscar Gonzalez would get a look at the major league level before 2021 is over. I don’t think a player with his K/BB rate is a viable major league starter, but Gonzalez has crushed LHP in the minors. Sure seems like he has a shot at being that short-side of the platoon in Cleveland if given the chance. Instead, it looks like he most likely will sign a minor-league deal elsewhere, probably to compete for a DH job in the market that is likely to be there for those players when the universal DH becomes a reality. Also, Andruw Monasterio has put up a great season between Double-A and Triple-A, but I suspect he will sign elsewhere as a minor-league free agent after the year.
Possible Free Agent Adds: Age - ZiPS for 2022, (Numbers for 2021):
Michael Conforto (LH) – 28 – 3.3 fWAR, .360 wOBA (0.5, 100) - Maybe he looks for a 1-year pillow deal? Heck, I'd give him a 3-4 year deal, myself.
AJ Pollock (RH) – 34 – 0.8, .319 (2.2, .370) - I've always loved Pollock, but 34 is pretty old.
Mark Canha (LH) – 33 – 1.6, .333 (2.5, .349) - Seems like a very Guardians player.
Starling Marte (RH) – 33 – 1.5, .312 (4.5, .384) - How long have I wanted Starling Marte in our lineup? At least three years, actually. Thanks for asking. What a year he is having! Hard to imagine Cleveland ponying up what it will take to sign him at 33.
Tommy Pham (RH) – 34 – 1.3, .325 (1.6, .331) Will DelGua's dream of Tommy Pham in Cleveland PHINALLY come true??
Possible Trade Targets: Age - ZiPS for 2022, (Numbers for 2021) Years of Team Control left:
Jesse Winker, Cincinnati (LH) – 28 – 1.2 fWAR, .357 wOBA (3.6, .408) 2022-2023 - Rumored the team pursued him this deadline. This would be buying HIGH, which is unlikely, I suppose. But, man... tempting.
Mitch Haniger, Seattle (RH) – 31 – 1.8, .335 (2.1, .340) 2022 - A rental at this point, seems unlikely, but if they did it, they could look at him as holding down the spot until the messianic arrival of Valera?
Teoscar Hernandez, Toronto (RH) – 29 – 1.6, .347 (2.8, .360) 2022-2023 at $4.5M AAV. If you’re trading for Hernandez, you’re buying high. But, Toronto could use the pitching help, of which Cleveland has an abundance (however, as we have seen in 2021, that abundance can become a scarcity very quickly). Would Toronto move a hitter to gain a guy like Plesac, Morris, Logan T. Allen or (don’t shoot me) Quantrill? Obviously, if you move Quantrill, you’re getting more than Hernandez back – maybe a relief pitcher or a non-Rule 5-eligible decent prospect. I’m not saying I would do that, but that 120-130 wRC+ WOULD look very nice in the middle of our lineup.
Lourdes Gurriel, Toronto (RH) – 28 – 1.6 fWAR, .332 (0.8, .325) 2022-2024 at $3.1M AAV. Gurriel is a player who can turn a below average position into an average position, a C- into a B or B+ if you will. Not exciting, but seemingly the kind of player the Guardians will likely target if their past activity is any indicator.
Austin Meadows, Tampa Bay (LH) – 27- 1.7, .323 (1.5, .334) 2022-2024 - Trading Meadows just seems like such a Rays thing to do this off-season, and Cleveland loves to trade with the Rays. But, of course, buyer beware.
Ketel Marte, Arizona (SH) – 28 – 3.1, .342 (1.5, .392) 2022-2024 - Hard to argue that Marte would be an ideal addition, especially if his offensive prowess he's shown this year is ideal. He also, of course, would be the most expensive to acquire on this list, aside from POSSIBLY Winker.
Adolis Garcia, Texas (RH) – 28 - -0.8, .284 (1.7, .325) 2026 - Meisel reported the team was sniffing around Garcia, a late bloomer. Impossible to know if his solid season is a fluke, though).
Potential Free Agent Relievers – Age – xERA and FIP for 2021 (ZiPS for 2022):
Ian Kennedy, RHP – 37 – 3.79 xERA, 4.38 FIP (4.36 FIP, 0.3 fWAR). – Kennedy is doing some closing this year, but he seems like a likely non-roster invite for someone next year, which is the Guardian’s main market of interest.
Hector Neris, RHP – 32 – 2.81, 3.72 (4.26, 0.3) – Neris PROBABLY gets a major league deal for 2022, but you’d figure it will be a fairly inexpensive one.
Corey Knebel, RHP- 30 – 3.55, 3.49 (3.3, 0.7) – Knebel, to me, seems like the exact kind of reliever the Guardians should target on a 2-3 year deal, for $7-8 million a year. But, they don’t do that for relievers, and I get it – their value is way too volatile. But, if there’s ever a year to spring for one, this seems like that year.
Mychal Givens, RHP – 31 - 4.34, 4.42 (4.22, 0.4) – Similar to Neris, I’d think he gets a cheap, major-league deal.
Adam Ottavino, RHP – 36 – 3.53, 3.29 (3.57, 0.6) – Older but still has great numbers. I’d think he’d be in the same ballpark as what Knebel would get, but with more risk as an older arm.
Jake Diekman, LHP – 35 – 4.13, 3.95 (3.85, 0.4) – Just on the verge of minor-league invite territory, I’d think Diekman gets a cheap, major league deal. Worth considering for the Guardians.
Archie Bradley, LHP – 29 – 4.19, 4.60 (3.82, 0.7) – ZiPS sees this season as a bit of an outlier for Bradley. Maybe the Guardians could scoop him up on a cheaper deal and get a couple decent years out of him?
Blake Parker, RHP – 36 – 4.31, 4.21 (4.16, 0.3) – The numbers would seem to indicate that Parker has gotten lucky this year, and, to my untrained eye, that seems accurate. He is, again, at the minor-league invite level, I think, but I wouldn’t be shocked to see that opportunity come with Cleveland, again.
Bryan Shaw, RHP – 33 – 4.22, 4.18 (4.58, 0.1) – I do not want to see Shaw come back, not because I don’t love the guy, but because our coaching staff just can’t seem to not overuse him. Aside from that, he is definitely not a bad minor-league invite option.
Brad Boxberger, RHP – 33 – 3.13, 3.58 (5.44, -0.3) – MAN, ZiPS did not believe in Boxberger. So, gotta wonder if this year is a huge outlier. Otherwise, he seems like he is in the Neris/Givens category.
Ryan Tepera, RHP – 34 – 2.49, 2.73 (4.55, 0.1) – Another illustration of the volatility of relievers. Do you buy into the amazing year Tepera is having, or do you assume regression will hit in 2022? I feel like some team will buy into him being in the Ottavino-sphere.
Craig Stammen, RHP – 37 – 3.55, 3.58 (3.66, 0.6) – Stammen should get a major league deal, and, if you can get him for one year, he is the kind of vet who is as good a bet as any to get you some consistent outs.
Aaron Loup, LHP – 34 – 3.11, 2.44 (4.06, 0.2) – I’ve long been on the Loup-to-Cleveland train. He’s a solid lefty who can get right-handers out at a solid enough rate to be a good bullpen piece, for me.
Potential Relief Trade Targets - Age - xERA, FIP in 2021 (2022 ZiPS) Years of Team Control:
Tanner Scott, Baltimore, LHP – 27 – 4.43, 3.98 (3.69, 0.9) – FA in 2025 – Splits are pretty even, seems like a good guy to target if you’re looking for a lefty arm.
Richard Bleier, Miami, LHP – 34 – 3.08, 3.11 (4.05, 0.2) – FA in 2023 – A rental, not worth trading much for, but the kind of guy who can add some decent depth.
Dylan Floro, Miami, RHP – 31 – 3.61, 2.75 (3.83, 0.4) – FA in 2024 – Looks like a solid vet option for a few years of cheap control. Might be the kind of player the Guardians could acquire while exchanging a Rule-5 eligible player for Floro and some more lottery-ticket-level prospects.
Chris Stratton, Pittsburgh, RHP – 31 – 3.87, 3.90 (4.70, 0.7) - FA in 2024 – The peripherals don’t look great, but, again, not a bad veteran option with cheap team control who wouldn’t cost much to acquire.
Brett Martin, Texas, RHP – 26 – 3.58, 3.76 (4.10, 0.6) – FA in 2026 – The Rangers are so weird about trades, but, if I were there GM, I’d look to deal this kind of arm for a big return this offseason. You’d have to overpay, but Martin’s a solid arm to eat up some 7th innings.
Tyler Kinley, Colorado, RHP – 30 – 3.93, 4.51 (5.36, -0.2) – FA in 2025 – The kind of guy who would likely benefit from getting out of Colorado. But, the Rockies are insane and don’t trade players they should.
Daniel Bard, Colorado, RHP – 36 – 4.49, 4.41 (4.62, 0.1) – FA in 2023 – Again, the Rockies are dumb so they probably won’t trade this guy. But, if they did, seems like the kind of guy who could add depth to a bullpen.
Drew Steckenrider, Seattle, LHP – 30 – 3.13, 3.25 (4.32, 0.2) – FA in 2024 – Meanwhile, Jerry DiPoto in Seattle WILL trade guys, and coming off a great year, Steckenrider seems like a great guy to deal. Not sure he is a great bet to be a late-inning guy, but the Guardians would know better than I would about that.
My preferences of outfielders to acquire would be 1. Jesse Winker, 2. Ketel Marte, and 3. Michael Conforto. Put any of those three in our lineup and our outlook improves immensely. For relievers, my preferences are: 1. Knebel, 2. Ottavino or 3. Bradley, all free-agents, and I find it pretty unlikely that the Guardians are in the market for the top-tier free agent relievers; it would go against their history, and, honestly, probably common sense. Relief arms are too volatile for significant investment.
I suspect the team may invite a first baseman to camp on a minor league deal (Perhaps they’d even look at a major league signing of C.J. Cron and moving on from Bradley in a trade? I’ve been a huge Cron fan for a while, now) and a veteran starting pitcher, or two (the Brad Peacock-type), as well as the usual parade of minor-league invite relievers.
For the fun of it, let's say the team trades for Lourdes Gurriel from Toronto and signs Mark Canha for a 1-2 year deal with a team option, let him help out while we wait for Valera. I went with Canha because he will likely be cheaper than Conforto, and I’m hoping those savings would allow the team to extend 1-2 players (Extension priorities for me: 1. Jose, 2. Civale, 3. Reyes, 4. Bieber). So, my projected first-ever Opening Day lineup for the Cleveland Guardians would be:
1. Myles Straw, CF (RH)
2. Mark Canha, RF (LH)
3. Jose Ramirez, 3B (SH)
4. Franmil Reyes, DH (RH)
5. Bobby Bradley, 1B (LH)
6. Lourdes Gurriel, LF (RH)
7. Amed Rosario, 2B (RH)
8. Roberto Perez, C (RH)
9. Andres Gimenez, SS (LH)
I think a strong rotation and bullpen can get that lineup into the thick of the division race with the White Sox, with hopefully reinforcements coming from those players we protected on the roster from the Rule-5 as the year goes along.
All right, there it is! Tell me what I missed, what I got wrong, and what I need to fix ahead of version 3.0 of this effort which will come out at the conclusion of the season