Gather ‘round, kids. It’s time for another Covering the Corner staff roundtable. This time we’re talking shop on the verge of a very important trade deadline in Guardians history — one that could, potentially, determine what direction the organization goes for the next several years.
Loaded with future talent starting to bubble to the surface, a major-league team outperforming expectations, and the firepower to acquire virtually any superstar they want. The possibilities for the Guardians are limitless if they are willing to spend.
With that in mind, we also take a look back at what they did (and didn’t do) in the offseason, how they can maximize what they have, and the potential future of a few major-leaguers. This is our biggest roundtable yet, but it’s well worth the read if I do say so myself. Here’s who we have commenting this time around:
- Matt Lyons (ML): Hey, that’s me
- Matt Schlichting (MS): Editor, social media man of mystery
- Blake Ruane (BR): Staff Writer
- Chris D. Davies (CDD): Staff Writer
- Jason Philipps (JP): Staff Writer
- Merritt Rohlfing (MR): Staff Writer
- westbrook (WB): Staff Writer
So, without further adieu, let’s start rounding and tabling.
Let’s start with a discussion on the first half. What has been the most surprising thing about the Guardians so far in 2022?
CDD: The fact that, at the All-Star break, the outfield ranks 16th in fWAR. I think most of us felt pretty good about Myles Straw and the steadying influence he would have on centerfield, but without any additions I never expected them to crawl out of the bottom third of MLB outfields. To double down on the surprises, Kwan (1.5 fWAR) being the most valuable outfielder and the combination of Oscar Gonzalez and Nolan Jones being as valuable (0.9 and 0.3 fWAR, respectively) as Straw (1.2 fWAR) is also something I never saw coming.
BR: The fact that Bryan Shaw is still on the roster. Oh wait, you meant most surprising, not least. I have to admit, I did not see “All-Star second baseman Andrés Giménez” coming. Expectations were high when he earned the starting shortstop spot coming out of spring training last year, but his first season in Cleveland did not go as planned, including a demotion to Triple-A Columbus. Giménez has really come into his own this season, ranking in the Top 5 in wRC+ and fWAR among all MLB second basemen at the break.
ML: Blake mostly stole my answer here. I did not see anything in Andrés Giménez prior to this year, my only hope for the Francisco Lindor trade was Josh Wolf panning out as a pitcher down the road. But he has continually surprised me this season and slowly turned into one of my favorite players to watch day-in and day-out. The sheer number of rookies who have come up and succeeded has also been a pleasant surprise. It’s hard to remember the last time so many came up and adjusted to major-league hitting so quickly — since at least 2013, I would say.
WB: Yeah, it’s Giménez. I know there was some optimism with him towards the end of spring training, but I really didn’t see him being a permanent solution.
MS: Mustard hasn’t won a single derby. On a serious note, I cannot believe this team is 46-44 after playing seven double-headers. SEVEN. That is a lot of innings by guys who would be replacement level at best in other systems. In Cleveland, they usually end up contributing a little bit, however briefly.
JP: Franmil Reyes’ struggles. Even with a few decent weeks lately, his 40% strikeout rate and .616 OPS stand out as horrid. That’s a bad surprise!
MR: I guess in general, what many have talked about is the outburst from the youngsters. Giménez, Naylor, Kwan (even if he’s tailed off to merely pretty good from what he was) but all these guys have been key contributors. It seems like, for the first time maybe ever, the rookies they call up all have an immediate impact. Even Oscar Gonzalez and Nolan Jones have been electrifying in introducing themselves to Guardians fans, and it’s been wonderful. The flip side I guess is just how mediocre the pitching has been. Of course, we’ve been spoiled as they’ve minted Cy Young candidates the last decade, but to go from the rotation of three or four years ago to basically average at best — and even at times being carried by the offense — is a bit jarring.
Were the Guardians right to forgo signing free agents to fill positions and “let the kids play” as they are doing? With full hindsight, who (if anyone) do you wish they would have added in the offseason?
CDD: I’m not certain a binary yes/no answer to the first question is possible. No, adding someone could have helped but I’m not sure anyone predicted this level of success from Cleveland or ineptitude from the AL Central so, yes, because we’re learning more by letting these kids play more. That said, seeing Blake’s BFF, Bryan Shaw, pitch so often and the rotation struggle more than we’re used to has been difficult and does make you wonder what a (better) veteran free agent signing would’ve done to this team. Johnny Cueto signed with the White Sox on a minor league deal and has a 3.98 FIP and 0.8 fWAR through 11 starts, better than Zach Plesac, Aaron Civale, and Konnor Pilkington (in 17, 12, and 8 starts, respectively). Relievers are a different story, but those given at least a one-year deal are generally considered a safer bet, so I’d look at someone like Mychal Givens, who got 1-year/$5 million from the Cubs (Shaw got 1-yr/$3 mil, for reference) and has posted 10.95 K/9 with an xERA of 3.50 and xFIP of 3.91 over 37 innings. His performance would certainly have been better than many of the options Cleveland has cycled through.
BR: Joc Pederson cost all of $6 million and is an All-Star for the San Francisco Giants with a career-high 135 wRC+. When you miss a lay-up like that, it’s difficult for me to say the Guardians exhausted all free agent options before deciding to “let the kids play.” I will admit that it has been refreshing to actually see the organization prioritize youth and see what their young talent can do at the big league level, with nearly a dozen players making their MLB debuts this season. But when you have one of the lowest payrolls in the league and you’re willing to essentially light $3 million on fire by giving it to Bryan Shaw, not making any moves to improve your lineup is inexcusable.
MS: It all depends on how many rings you want to win. They could have pushed harder this season, but it would have cost them players or financial assets that they are likely already committed to in the long run, if not on paper. They may also be absolute fools in which case yes I would like Joc Pederson are you crazy?
JP: The unrealistic answer is Kyle Schwarber. The kind-of unrealistic answer is Anthony Rizzo. The best answer is Joc Pederson. Maybe Joc wasn’t a good personality fit with Tito and the crew? Still, that guy can hit and he was in Dolan’s price range.
WB: Yeah, what everyone else said. A better free agency period has us in first place right now. And if you do have a small offseason budget, using 100% of it on Bryan Shaw and Luke Maile is ... the dumbest possible plan.
MR: Maybe if they’d signed someone and just kicked Reyes to the curb because they could see the future, but aside from that, we all know — and hopefully knew at the time — that the team is still in some kind of rebuild. I guess in hindsight it would have been nice to sign a true ace to lead the staff, someone like Rodon or on the cheap end Chris Archer just to get someone better than Konnor Pilkington or to replace Aaron Civale since he’s been hurt. Again though, that would involve a high level of clairvoyance that, despite their incredible talents to make great trades, the Guards’ front office just doesn’t possess.
ML: With full hindsight, I’m OK with what they did. Although, how awesome would it have been if they actually landed Matt Olson? Since they didn’t, I’ve enjoyed watching the kids play most of the time, and not clogging up the roster with late-30-something free agents allowed rookies like Steven Kwan and now Nolan Jones to shine. Although, yes, not getting Joc Pederson at $6 million is absolutely criminal.
Is Franmil Reyes going to be this bad forever?
CDD: No, I think his next team is going to get some decent production out of him. Since Terry Pluto mentioned him specifically as trade bait, I do believe his days as a Guardian are numbered. But that might be okay? His Baseball Savant percentiles are ugly to look at, and the fact that he’s in the first percentile for strikeout and whiff rates really makes him an outlier within this organization. I feel fairly confident that whatever return the team can get, combined with the ability to use the designated hitter slot for Josh Naylor, Nolan Jones, or someone else, would certainly be worth it for the Guardians.
BR: To his credit, Reyes has not been a complete disaster since returning from the injured list on June 21. He is slashing .245/.265/.468 with five home runs and 103 wRC+ since then, but obviously, we’ve really lowered the bar if that is acceptable production from a designated hitter. Bottom line, I think he hurts the Guardians’ lineup more than he helps it, and I hope the team is able to find a trade partner. I’m not expecting much in return, but moving him would at least give the team greater lineup flexibility.
MS: Yes. Not quite this bad but you either figure it out or you don’t and he’s had enough time.
JP: I would not trade him now. Buy low, not sell low. His ceiling is All-Star slugger and I think it’s worth the risk for Cleveland to hold and see if he can turn it around.
MR: He’s always been strikeout-prone behemoth, and he’s probably a bit in his own head, so he probably isn’t this bad, but he’s a very flawed hitter and that was going to be exploited. We’re working in a very low offense situation right now — league-wide OPS is its second lowest in the last decade and nearly 50 points lower than what it was in 2019 — and on top of that pitching just keeps getting batter. I guess one damning thing about Reyes, despite being an offense-only player, he’s never actually been that good offensively. Even last year, his best season, was still not as good as an injured J.D. Martinez. I do think he’ll get better, but it’ll probably be somewhere else.
ML: He’ll rebound, of course, and it’s going to put the Guardians in a tough spot. If he was stellar in the first half, it’d be easy to sell high on him, but now the Guardians would be stuck selling a little low and watching him figure everything out in another uniform. Alternatively, I think they might just end up holding onto him for this year so he does figure it out and can help them down the stretch.
Looking ahead, what kind of deal or deals will the Guardians make at the trade deadline?
CDD: As much as we hear about the logjam of prospects on the 40-man, I honestly don’t expect much from the team at the deadline, mostly because of who is “available.” The Guardians aren’t going to trade away anyone, roster crunch or not, for a rental like Andrew “Afraid of Vaccines” Benintendi or Trey Mancini. Likewise, the starting pitching that is being speculated about ... woof. So, if the team does make a July deal — and I’m not counting on it — I think it will be for someone few people are speculating about. I wouldn’t get too hung up on Sean Murphy or Bryan Reynolds even.
BR: I’m not expecting much. Reyes and Rosario are probably the most likely trade candidates, but I don’t see a contending club viewing either of them as the missing piece. I really don’t expect the Guardians to be aggressive buyers, either. Yes, they are in contention in the AL Central, but I don’t think they are a World Series contender. So it wouldn’t make sense for the front office to go all in on trying to win now. Better to hold on to their chips for now and wait until they have a better hand.
MS: I still anticipate a glut of prospects or young position players to move this season. In classic Guardians fashion, I doubt it will appear to help the team very much at first. Remember how angry some people were about the Mike Clevinger deal? And I just hung the biggest name from that trade (at the time) out to dry. It all takes time and it’s chaos every step of the way.
JP: Minor deals and no huge prospects getting sold off. The window for our ring starts in ‘23.
WB: Reyes is probably the safest name to mention here. I wish I had more insight at the moment. Tom Hamilton seems to think some 40-man cleanup is coming. But even there, I don’t really know what to specifically say.
MR: Probably get some reliever that throws 100 in a hoodwinking for Rosario, and figure out a way to offload Reyes to the Pirates for a middle infielder. Is it flashy? No, of course not. But over the years you get used to their moves. Anyway, they’re so loaded with talent on the farm, if they need a boost they’ll probably just promote. It’s worked so far.
ML: I’ve been beating the Bryan Reynolds drum since last offseason, and I still hope they do it. I know Juan Soto is out there and technically obtainable, but I like the idea of maintaining some of the process that the Guardians have used to get to this point. They are loaded with prospects, and I have confidence in them to know which ones are going to pan out.
The Guardians outfield is suddenly loaded with at least above-average players. What should they do in the second half to maximize it?
CDD: [redacted] around and find out if these are really above-average players. Tyler Naquin posted 2.0 fWAR his rookie season and a cumulative 0.1 fWAR for the rest of his duration in Cleveland. He’s still getting big league playing time, but no one’s clamoring for him to come back. So, with that in mind, I think the team should let Kwan and Jones and Gonzalez, etc. play and find out how the chess game goes and who makes the best adjustments: the prospects or the rest of the league.
BR: Stay the course. Steven Kwan is going to be in either left or right field every game. Myles Straw is your everyday center fielder (and I believe he is a better hitter than what we have seen for most of this season). Nolan Jones is getting his opportunity to show what he can do against big league pitching, and Oscar Gonzalez will do the same whenever he returns from injury. I have no issue with any of those four continuing to get regular at-bats.
MS: Will Brennan. He’s the best fourth outfielder option right now as he can play any of the three spots capably. I do not think Kwan-Straw-Jones can really be improved upon at the moment, especially since Straw’s BABIP is still sixty points below career norms. He’s having his best defensive season ever, by the way.
JP: Let them play. Need to find more out because it’s Valera Time soon.
MR: Looks like we’re all at least mostly in agreement. Kwan is going to stick around for a while, hopefully having a Michael Brantley+ kind of career arc as he gets stronger, and even with his struggles at the plate Straw is still a rock in center. Right field is really the only question mark right now, and worst case the answer seems to be a platoon with Nolan Jones and Oscar Gonzalez when he comes back, or else Jones asserts himself as a full-time player. It’ll certainly get odd as guts like Brennan or Valera or whoever else on the farm mature to find their place, but that’s a future problem. For now, let’s see if Kwan and Jones specifically fit in full-time, and pretty much just hope Straw finds his bat. Good thing with him, it’s not like it’s some backbreaking contract. Even a team in Cleveland’s money situation can afford to eat that, or at least trade it to, I don’t know, the Pirates?
ML: Trade Franmil Reyes, move Josh Naylor to DH, and let Nolan Jones continue his transformation into Jim Thome with a stint at first base. Kwan and Straw are very similar players, but I think they have two-thirds of the outfield locked up. Now you need a big power bat in the right field to really seal it. Even if they don’t trade Reyes, I’d be OK leaving Jones out there. Or trade for Bryan Reynolds. Just saying.
Who is the next rookie to debut and why?
CDD: I thought it would be Peyton Battenfield back in May, but he’s struggled mightily since then, so take my suggestion with as large a grain of salt as you need. With 274 MLB plate appearances to his name, we have a pretty good idea of what Ernie Clement is, and that is a worse version of Owen Miller. So, the next rookie to debut should be Tyler Freeman so we can see what he has to offer at the expense of Ernie Clement.
BR: Tough call. Everyone wants to see Bo Naylor and George Valera, but I don’t see either of them in Cleveland until next season at the earliest. The same goes for Tyler Freeman, as long as Rosario and Giménez are healthy and holding down the middle infield spots. If it’s a pitcher, the Guardians are likely going to need to clear a spot on the 40-man roster. But with the overabundance of doubleheaders and the volatile nature of their bullpen, the club could very well need to tap into their minor league pitching reserves at some point in the second half. I could see Peyton Battenfield getting called up to make a spot start.
MS: Will Brennan, because everyone thinks Bo Naylor will die if he touches MLB clay too soon.
JP: Not Valera, Bo Naylor, or Freeman. Peyton Battenfield or future ace Thomas Ponticelli?!?
WB: I know it’s not going to be Naylor or Valera. Probably a non-prospect pitcher who gets DFA’d a week later.
MR: Next? Yeah, as said above, some sixth starter to fill in for a doubleheader or something like that. Of note? I think the dream is Bo Naylor. Catching just needs to stop being a total black hole of offense. It’s like watching a National League team, but without any hope of “strategy” saving you from seeing the bad hitter bat a third time.
ML: Will Brennan is practically punching a hole through the door to the majors, so he’s my pick. He’s dominated Double-A and Triple-A pitching this year, proved he can draw walks at every level, and I think he can be a doubles monster in the majors. If Jones does get moved to first base in the future (and the Guardians refuse to answer my phone calls and trade for Bryan Reynolds), Brennan is next in line to receive a promotion.
Amed Rosario — long-term Guardian or trade him? If he’s being traded, when?
MS: If you’re going to move away from Amed Rosario as your shortstop you cannot afford to be wrong about The Guy Who Is Next. Rosario (despite what some will scream) is at least an average defender at shortstop and a league-average hitter with some untapped power. He was also the No. 1 prospect in the Mets system and No. 3 overall in MLB according to some as recent as 2017. The Guards might have to turn suitors away, but if the guy who slides into his place can’t cut it, oof.
BR: I’d trade him. I don’t think his value at the deadline this season is going to be that much different from his value in the winter, so I’d probably hold on to him and shop him in the offseason. There’s no rush, either. Gabriel Arias and Tyler Freeman aren’t knocking down the door at Columbus. Rosario’s career numbers — .274/.310/.404 with a 94 wRC+ — are decent, but he is not by any means irreplaceable. There is certainly some risk in letting a reliably average bat walk out the door, but when you have talented shortstops like Arias and Freeman waiting in the wings, you should do what Cleveland has done all season: Bet on yourself. Trust your system and give the kids a chance.
JP: Rest assured the front office is shopping Rosario pretty hard. They’d absolutely move him for the right deal. I’m not sure even an offer with an average return is out there though. I’d hold him and not just give him away for peanuts.
WB: I would definitely keep him for the rest of this season and then decide.
MR: Hopefully they move him very soon. He’s an electrifying player at times and has had months where he seems to be basically Ty Cobb at the plate and it kicks ass. The cold spells are dreadful though, and that glove, woof. Perhaps I was being uncharitable calling him “Rock Hands” on the podcast recently, but going from Francisco Lindor to this is kind of tough. With all the talent in the pipeline, plus the actual shortstop playing right next to him, I can’t see a firm, long-term role for Rosario. Other teams aren’t idiots, they see what I see, but it sure would be nice to get a more long-term face in the lineup.
ML: Look, I’ve enjoyed his hot streaks, but 100% trade. Some other team out there is going to see his recent hitting bonanza and overpay for him, and I think that’s a trade you have to take with the kind of middle-of-the-diamond talent you have coming up in the minors. Just show other teams his .341/.368/.492 slash since the beginning of June and tell them to pay no attention to the rest of his career behind the curtain. Maybe then we can end the insanity and finally let Andrés Giménez be the everyday shortstop.
CDD: I like Amed, and sometimes I feel like a pariah for it. But I truly think that replacing his performance will be hard. How many of these prospects are going to put up the same numbers? Amed is on pace for ~3 fWAR this year. So, I’d like to see him stick around, at least for this season. But if that’s not the case, I just want something consistent. Either keep him or commit to finding out who the next shortstop is going to be.