It’s no secret that Guardians fans have been hoping for the team to acquire Sean Murphy, especially since they were rumored to be pursuing him in a trade last July. But, the Atlanta Braves landed the Wright State product in a deal, and the Cleveland faithful are again left to wonder what might have been.
What does this mean for the Guardians in 2022 and beyond? Here are some takeaways.
The Oakland and Cleveland front offices don’t have a lot of chemistry at the moment
The Guardians were rumored to be hotly pursuing Matt Olson in March, they were rumored to be fervently interested in Sean Murphy in both the summer and offseason, and in both cases, they lost out to the Atlanta Braves.
The Athletics acquired two good pitching prospects who are major-league ready, an outfield prospect on the rise, and an exciting young pitcher who has topped out at High-A (plus a backup major-league catcher in what was assumedly a somewhat money-related move). Could Cleveland have matched this deal exactly? It’s impossible to say, as Cleveland’s best pitching prospects are mostly at the Double-A levels and not quite major-league ready. But, what we can say is that from all publicly available evaluation tools, Cleveland seems to have the firepower in prospect ammunition to have topped the deal the Athletics got from the Braves and Brewers if they wanted to do so. We are left to conclude that either Oakland doesn’t have as high an evaluation of Cleveland prospects, or Cleveland was not as high on Murphy as previously thought or some combination of the two factors.
In any case, I’m not going to be buying into any Athletics-Guardians potential trade matchups in the future unless they show me otherwise.
The Guardians believe in Bo Naylor
Unless the Guardians have a shocking deal for Gabriel Moreno up their sleeves, it sure seems like the team believes that Naylor’s breakout year in Akron and Columbus is a portent of great things to come for the 22-year-old catcher.
While I don’t think it was impossible to play both Murphy and Naylor on the same roster, I’m not surprised that a team that believes in a young, controllable catcher they have on hand wasn’t willing to expend significant resources for three years of another, young catcher. While this is frustrating for 2023, it should be encouraging to think that the team has developed a catching prospect of whom they think so highly and we can even allow ourselves excitedly (and ambitiously) to imagine him putting up a 20-20 season for the Guardians in the near future.
No matter how many shortstops, starting pitchers, and outfielders they have stockpiled, the Guardians are not going to move prospects unless they feel the return value is right
It’s pretty clear that the Guardians set values on their own players that they don’t move from very often, if at all. Obviously, I’m not in any of these war rooms for trade discussions, but I do wonder whether teams brought up Nolan Jones in potential deals after he put up a 147 wRC+ in Double-A as a 21-year-old. Maybe all other teams saw the warning signs in a strikeout rate of almost 30% and poor splits against LHP, but, maybe, just maybe, the Guardians could have turned a top prospect into a major league piece who could have helped in the summer of 2019 or in 2020 and beyond. Juan Brito may be great, sure, but they’ve been in need of outfield help and additional slugging on the big-league team for quite a while.
I bring this up to state the obvious — not every prospect, even highly-rated ones, is going to pan out. The Guardians are building a successful team with mostly homegrown talent, and, as long as their current financial model endures, that is their path to success. But, they have to be careful not to place all their eggs in the prospect basket. One would hope they will be aggressive for any remaining catchers who might be available in a trade and for any starting pitchers who can fill a No. 3 spot in a rotation with more upside than Quantrill can this offseason, but Guardians fans cannot be blamed for doubting that Chris Antonetti will pull the trigger on any trade involving multiple top Cleveland prospects at this point until he shows us otherwise.
It’s a small consolation prize that Sean Murphy didn’t end up with AL rivals Minnesota, Houston, Boston, or Tampa Bay, but he also didn’t end up in Cleveland and the Guardians are still left with a question mark at the starting catcher position. With the Twins signing Christian Vazquez tonight, the available options are rapidly dwindling, so I do expect the Guardians to make their move for a catcher soon. The question is whether that move will be enough to justify the Murphy deal they couldn’t make (perhaps, through no fault of their own, to be fair) and whether the highly-rated prospects Cleveland continues to stockpile will justify the number of potential deals for which the Guardians were unwilling to include any of them with their on-field performances both in 2023 and beyond.