The Guardians scored one run in three games, and found themselves only one game ahead of the Minnesota Twins this weekend. Granted, few expected Cleveland to compete for the AL Central in 2022. Joe Posnanski ranked the Guardians last in his review (for example), and the Plain Dealer writers and Zack Meisel were all skeptical that we could compete with the White Sox, and likely the Twins. Against those odds the Guardians over performed, but more importantly the White Sox & Twins underperformed. Combined Cleveland found itself in the hunt at the deadline, but chose to stand pat.
Since then Zach Plesac & Aaron Civale succumbed to injury and our offense has struggled to produce enough runs, even when our healthy pitchers manage to succeed. We are without ⅖ of our rotation headed into September, and our offense is stone cold. Needless to say: standing pat was understandable, but it was a mistake.
The Alternate History
Here is my proposed scenario: the Guardians trade for catcher Christian Vazquez & starter Tyler Mahle. Since the trade to Houston Christian Vazquez has hit competently batting:
.340/.380/.340 (OPS+ 110) in 50 PAs. Mahle has not pitched quite as well (and also spent time on the IL) but has gotten good results in 3 games, with a 2.51 ERA. Neither are stellar, but both are competent replacements.
Who would these two replace? In the case of Vazquez he’d replace Austin Hedges who, despite some fanfare, has hit .217 (.588 OPS) in the month of August. Mahle would slot into the rotation now and likely replace whomever the Guardians call up to replace Aaron Civale (with Cody Morris getting the first crack at the rotation).
Would This Matter?
The short answer is we can never know for sure, but the long answer to me is pretty simple. This team has a chance to make the postseason in 2022, we could win the division for the first time in four years. That is not nothing, and we are currently locked into a battle with the Twins, and not much separates the two teams. Any incremental advantage which could be gained should have been made (especially when the cost is so low). This team’s catchers have hit poorly all season, and our starters have struggled compared to past seasons.
One additional thought: Christian Vazquez made the postseason three times in his career with Boston, including a World Series run in 2018. He’s been through the rigors of an important September in a way few others have on this roster. I typically place little stock in this, but if we’re going to look for any kind of advantage we can: Vazquez is both a better hitter than Hedges, but he also could mentor the younger players in how to handle the pressure.
Money & Prospects are Not the Only Resource
Maybe none of this will matter. I am hopeful that Jose will get on a tear in the month of September, our pitching will keep showing up, and this young team can play like they did right after the All-Star break. If they do that: they win the division. Our competition this month is not so strong that we cannot pull it out. But this brings up one resource beyond cash and prospects: time.
Time is also an important resource. This may be Terry Francona’s last season at the helm of a Cleveland baseball club. Jose Ramirez is not getting any younger, Shane Bieber will likely get traded some time in the next two years. If we miss the playoffs in 2022 we will have squandered the time we will never get back for those three men. I think that is worth more than the prospects we would have given to Cincinnati and Boston. It’s not like Austin Hedges is going to be a key cog in our future plans, and frankly: neither was Zach Plesac. I hope that this front office will not squander future opportunities to improve the club.