I have been personally trying to will Joc Pederson to Cleveland for the better part of two years now, and the first time there appears to be real smoke to my imaginary fire.
According to Jon Morosi, the outfielder is “drawing interest” from the Guardians, which, on the hierarchy of vague free agent terminology, means they might have at least called Pederson’s agent to see how much it would take to get him to Cleveland for a season or two. That’s enough to get a little bit excited.
Pederson, 29, split time last season between the Chicago Cubs and eventual World Series Champion Atlanta Braves. It was his first year out of Los Angeles after making a name for himself as a solid bat over seven years with the Dodgers (including a championship there in 2020). He slashed .238/.310/.422 with 18 home runs over 137 games for a wRC+ of 94. Probably not the kind of line you want heading into an opportunity at a big payday, but he believed in himself enough to decline a mutual $10 million option with the Braves and enter the free-agent market.
That leads us to today, where he has apparently caught the interest of the desperate-for-an-outfielder Cleveland Guardians Baseball Team of Ohio. Some of the sheen may have fallen off Pederson since he was rumored to be on the way out of LA ahead of the 2020 season, but that doesn’t mean he can’t help Cleveland in 2022.
There is one major caveat with him, though: he needs to be platooned. A left-handed batter himself, Pederson has a career wRC+ of 68 against fellow southpaws, but is well above average at 123 against righties. He has no issues making hard contact against any pitcher — last season, for example, he finished an average exit velocity in the 80th percentile despite being his worst power-hitting season by far. He just gets caught chasing too dang much against lefties.
Heading into last season, he wanted to shed the dreaded “platoon bat” tag and he actually came out slightly ahead against lefties (98 wRC+) instead of righties (93). But is that the start of a new trend, or a blip? He and his agent will surely say the former, but most likely it’s the latter.
Still, it’s not hard to see how a guy who can routinely crush right-handed pitching could help the 2022 Cleveland Guardians. Currently, their outfield consists of Myles Straw, an injured Josh Naylor, and several gigantic question marks. Do Oscar Mercado and Bradley Zimmer get more shots? Do Nolan Jones or Steven Kwan get promoted? Does Franmil Reyes get to truck his way out to fly balls like he’s back in San Diego? Are Trix really just for kids, or could you greedy little monsters give the rabbit some cereal once in a while?
There are just so many questions.
The combined efforts of every possible scenario, at least according to ZiPS, equal out to a projected 1.8 fWAR in left field (Kwan and Mercado), 2.3 fWAR in the center (Straw), and 1.8 fWAR (Zimmer, Naylor, and Nolan Jones) in right. Pederson alone is projected to be worth 1.4 fWAR in 140 games.
Joc is a left fielder by trade, so maybe he’d pair over there nicely with the right-handed Mercado. Hell, if he’s determined to be a full-time player and will only sign a deal if he can bat against everybody, I say let him do it anyway. He, quite literally, cannot be worse than the other outfield options right now.
Stepping outside of the numbers, Pederson could also bring the big clubhouse-leading personality they have been searching for since Mike Napoli helped shepherd a young 2016 team to the World Series. Believe in the “soft science” of clubhouse chemistry as much or as little as you want, but Braves’ third baseman Eric Young didn’t seem to mince words when he discussed the impact of Pederson when he arrived in Atlanta last season:
Absolutely. At the time when we got him, we were a .500 team. We were treading water. We could’ve gone in either direction. He came in and brought that swag, brought that confidence, that ‘this is what the other teams think of you guys’ and last year what the Dodgers thought of us.
Unless the Guardians plan to make a big splash with someone like Nick Castellanos or Michael Conforto, the outfield market isn’t all that deep this year. But Pederson is there, and he would instantly be one their best outfielders. We know they — like every MLB team — have the money to sign him. They just have to pull the trigger.