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The 2022 Guardians are still tough to figure out

Buying and selling trends from the first month of the season

Cleveland Guardians v Oakland Athletics Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

After one month of baseball, overall I have to say the Cleveland Guardians look better than what I expected. There’s more boom in the boom-or-bust profile of this team, as evidenced in sweeps of the White Sox and A’s … but that bust, such as in the Yankees and Angels series was rough. Is this what the season is going to be? If I had to guess, I’d say yes. This looks like a streaky team to me, but what else is this team? Here’s what I’m buying and selling going forward.

Buy: Letting the young kids play

Perhaps the most radical departure from the norm for Cleveland in 2022 is that young players are actually getting a chance to live or die at the big league level.

Gone are the days of Yandy Diaz languishing, of begging into the Twitter void for an extended look at Daniel Johnson (we don’t bat 1.000 either). Instead, Steven Kwan started from Opening Day and did nothing less than earn Rookie of the Month.

I don’t know what exactly happened here. A good theory is that the front office used its leverage and told Terry Francona he had to relinquish roster control in order to return as manager. But perhaps the lack of investment this offseason simply forced this change, because it’s not like there was a better option internally than Kwan (though lord knows Bradley Zimmer was considered for a long time). Either way, I’m buying this being the way forward this year.

We’re going to see if Kwan can keep not missing, if Josh Naylor is the first baseman of the future, if Owen Miller can hit like he did at every minor league stop. After the nonexistent offseason, this — and the extensions for José Ramírez, Myles Straw, and Emmanuel Clase — was exactly what we as fans needed. It makes the season more interesting, makes the games worth watching and attending, and I’m happy to buy into this going forward.

Sell: The Amed Rosario Left Field Experience

I don’t exactly know how this works with buying letting the kids play, but I don’t think Amed Rosario’s return to the lineup means Andrés Giménez gets all the playing time at shortstop. Even if Tito gave up some roster control, I believe the lineup is still his (or mostly his) and I’m pretty sure he loves him some Amed.

Now, I’m not an Amed hater. I’m disappointed by his 56 wRC+ and .211/.259/.263 line, but I don’t think that’s going to last either. Rosario has shown his ability to at least a league-average bat and glove, and his .262 BABIP and expected stats (.262 XBA, .374 XSLG, .299 XWOBA) all point to regression toward that mean.

Would I rather see Andrés getting everyday reps at shortstop? Yes! Absolutely! But I don’t think that is what will happen; however, if the reason for that is to give Amed a chance to boost his value for a midseason trade, I don’t think a little delay is the worst thing either. So I’m selling seeing Amed play much in left field and resigning myself to not seeing the best shortstop on the current roster actually playing shortstop.

Buy: Peyton Battenfield

Down in Columbus, there’s no hotter pitcher than Peyton Battenfield. He’s made five starts and posted a 2-1 record with a 2.52 ERA, allowing eight runs (seven earned) over 25 innings. Most impressively, he’s averaging 6.9 strikeouts per nine, 3.6 walks per nine, and 0.7 home runs per nine innings, and is holding opponents to a .239/.291/.304 slash line.

This is the 24-year-old Battenfield’s first taste of Triple-A competition, and he’s thriving, which should not be a big surprise based on his success at Double-A last year. Between Akron and Montgomery (Tampa’s affiliate), Battenfield pitched 72 innings with a 3.00 ERA, 10.3 strikeouts per 9, and 1.8 walks per 9. Those Double-A numbers are inline with Battenfield’s minors career averages and also his college stats, and I think a few more innings under his belt brings this year’s closer to that level.

Do those extra innings come at Columbus though? I’m not just buying Battenfield being a good acquisition (as part of the Jordan Luplow trade), I’m also buying him as the next man up, because …

Sell: Aaron Civale figuring it out in Cleveland

As I touched on last week, Aaron Civale has some issues right now. The amount of blue in the image below sums that up, but the couple spots of red also show why there’s reason to believe in him still. Nonetheless, and going against me buying giving young players a chance to play at the big league level, I think Civale needs a break to figure it out.

Aaron Civale’s 2022 MLB Percentile Rankings from Baseball Savant.

There’s no more stressful position in baseball than pitcher. As a pitcher you initiate and control all the action in the game; everything that happens begins with the pitcher. I can’t imagine any worse position to try and work through struggles from, so I’d let Civale go down to work through mechanical issues, simplify his pitch offerings, to simply get a break from facing major league hitters.

I believe in Civale, but to continue my comparison to Triston McKenzie from last week’s article, I think he would benefit from a demotion. Since being called up in 2019, Civale has only been in the minors on a rehab assignment, whereas McKenzie has bounced up and down a few times since his 2020 debut. If Civale can keep a good mindset and use a demotion as a challenge, I believe he can come back and be a good middle-of-the-rotation arm. But right now he is not, and Cleveland can’t keep competing when he’s giving up at least four runs per start. So I’m selling him keeping his roster spot too much longer.