Being a Guardians fan this time of year is typically frustrating.
As an organization, the Guardians have proven to be quite adept in so many areas. Not only is the franchise one of the most successful (by wins and losses) over the last handful of years, but it also routinely has its brightest minds recruited to join other front offices. This is truly ideal, with the Guardians creating sustained success on the field that other teams would like to emulate. That sustained success has costs, though.
But not, like, actual costs. In fact, it’s usually the opposite. Because ownership can’t or won’t — either way hadn’t — provide the funds to allow the team to be a significant player in free agency. So, we fans have to appreciate the spendthrift ways of the adroit minds pulling the strings. That usually means, as teams are handing out big contracts for the Holidays, we’re left waiting for a Rule 5 stocking stuffer and hoping the front office has another Trevor Stephan on its hands.
Santa came early this year though, in the form of a $33 million deal for Josh Bell. Because of the structure of José Ramírez’s contract, Bell actually becomes the highest-paid Guardian for next season (for now), and that’s not nothing! With an opt-out in the two-year deal, it’s possible that this is just a deal for 2023, a prove-yourself contract for Bell. But even if Bell is in Cleveland for only one year, that would mean he demolished many baseballs, and that’s quite alright by me.
Now, Josh Bell is not Aaron Judge, but we can appreciate that Cleveland signed a player for one-tenth the price of Aaron Judge which will absolutely be better than one-tenth of Judge’s output. It’s a win-win. We got some movement and we get to appreciate the club making a savvy move.
In one afternoon we went from:
I understand that it’s only like 3:00 at the Winter Meetings, but I’m starving for a Guardians move, man.— La Mole (@FranmilsEyebrow) December 6, 2022
THE LAND!!!!— Joshua Bell (@JBell_19) December 6, 2022
This offseason resembles the 2017 offseason in a lot of ways. The team is coming off somewhat surprising success and looks poised to contend again next year and beyond, meaning the time is ripe for aggressive action. In 2017, as you’ll recall, the team inked Edwin Encarnación to a then-franchise record deal. The front office professionals were saying the right, professional things at the Winter Meetings ahead of the announcement, with team president Chris Antonetti saying “We’re not in a position, just to see, ‘Oh, let’s see how it goes.’”
He had to say that, but he made similar overtures last year and we all remember how that played out. But this time, it was reality. The 2017 script has been resurrected and the team made a move to offer an instant upgrade.
Bell, obviously, has to actually play to his potential, but this is generally regarded as a solid move. Buster Olney called it a “great fit”; Michael Baumann said Bell is “uniquely suited to Cleveland”; and Zack Meisel describes Bell as “a fit for the Chris Valaika Hitting School.” The only thing that will matter in a year will be the games played, but right now this feels really good.
But Cleveland should not be done after a single feel-good move. This team has obvious needs (catcher) and less-obvious needs (bolstering starting pitching, hedging bullpen bets) that it needs to address. And maybe, just maybe, it’s happening. Francona was coy about the Bell signing and then told Meisel “When the season starts, we will have a catcher catching, I promise you.”
This seems like the snowball starting to roll down the hill, and I hope it really is. So, from one Chris to another, I’m imploring the team president of baseball operations on behalf of all fans: Keep going.