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More bats the Guardians could add before Opening Day

A Jim Bowden rumor produces some food for thought

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As we all emerge from the dearth of baseball news over the holidays, there isn’t a lot to analyze at the moment. So, desperate times call for desperate measures, namely, reading Jim Bowden articles where Bowden shares what he is hearing about what teams are still looking to do before the season starts.

In his piece for the Athletic, Bowden says the Guardians “are still looking to add a complementary bat” and “would love to add an impact bat in a trade but don’t see that happening given the market - at least at this point.” Who knows where Bowden is getting this information, whether he has a source with the team, a source with another team in trade talks with the Guardians, sources with agents of players to whom the Guardians are talking, or whether he’s just speculating. But it’s all we’ve got right now, so let’s talk about it.

I was somewhat surprised to hear the Guardians are looking to add a bat, because my impression was that the Josh Bell and Mike Zunino signings were probably it for major league offensive additions until July 2023. I was under the impression that players like Gabriel Arias, Tyler Freeman, Will Brennan, and Will Benson were going to get the chance to claim major league bench/right-handed platoon option (in the case of the former two) spots on the 26-man in the spring.

However, I am fully aware that the Guardians could certainly use at least another proven option to hit left-handed pitching. Tyler Freeman put up an .814 OPS and .621 OPS against LHP in 2021 and 2022, respectively, while Arias’s OPS’s against lefties in those two years were .757 and .707. While we can hope that they will both be solid major league hitters who are right-handed and so will handle southpaws well, I would absolutely support acquiring a player who can spell Josh Naylor at first base or designated hitter against LHP as well as fill in at some other positions.

Even with the vast majority of free agents signed and several expected trade targets moved, there are still some options the Guardians might be considering to fortify the lineup in 2023. Let’s take a look at a few below:

Option 1: Chad Pinder, right-handed hitter, IF/OF, free agent, 31 years old in the 2023 season
Career 114 wRC+ against LHP

The Guardians have been rumored to have an interest in trading for Chad Pinder in the past, so there’s at least a hint that there might be something here. Pinder has played all infield and outfield positions at the major league level and been average to above average at most of them (he should not be played at second base or shortstop, to be clear).

Pinder can play right field against LHP, letting Oscar Gonzalez DH and Josh Naylor come off the bench, but can also fill in as needed at first base, third base, or left field. Adding Pinder would allow the Guardians to field a lineup with seven hitters who all have wRC+ at 100 or above against LHP in their career which should help improve their numbers against lefties for the coming season.

Option 2: Robbie Grossman, switch-hitter, OF, free agent, 33 years old in 2023
Career 122 wRC+ against LHP

Robbie Grossman had a rough 2022, putting up an 82 wRC+, overall, but he still managed a 157 wRC+ against LHP. The numbers seem to indicate that you shouldn’t count on Grossman for anything except being a professional lefty masher — which is exactly the kind of “complementary” bat Cleveland could use.

Grossman’s career defensive numbers are not good in left or center field, but they are solid in right field, but he has never played first, so he would likely only play right field or designated hitter against left-handed pitching, but that actually fits the roster very well, since Josh Bell can play first base. Neither Grossman nor Pinder should cost much, and I wonder if Grossman might even fall to the level of a minor-league deal with an invite to spring training when it’s all said and done. If so, he could see an opportunity to make the Guardians in the spring if he wants it.

Option 3: Darin Ruf, right-handed hitter, 1B/OF, New York Mets, 36 years old in 2023 (club option in 2024)
Career 143 wRC+ against LHP

Darin Ruf didn’t have a great 2022, with only an 89 wRC+, overall, but he still put up a 116 wRC+ against LHP. However, he faded down the stretch quite a bit, leading some to wonder if age has caught up to Ruf.

The Correa signing is still up in the air, but one would guess the Mets are still looking to free up some roster space. Does the $3 million Ruf is owed mean much to Steve Cohen? Assuredly not, but the Mets would certainly listen to the right offer for Ruf — perhaps a depth relief arm they like would get the deal done?

Ruf’s career defensive numbers indicate that he should never be played in the outfield, however, so he’s a first base/designated hitter option, and having three of those players on the Guardians’ roster doesn’t seem to fit the team’s goal of maintaining some roster flexibility.

Option 4: Austin Slater, right-handed hitter, OF, San Francisco Giants, 30 years old in 2023, under team control through 2024
Career 132 wRC+ against LHP

A bit of a late bloomer, Austin Slater has established himself as a certified lefty masher who can competently play any outfield spot (which is saying something given the tricky nature of the Giants’ home field).

The Giants have added Michael Conforto and Mitch Haniger, so the outfield is a little crowded at the moment. Slater would cost noticeably more to acquire in prospects than Ruf would, being younger and more versatile, but perhaps the Giants would be interested in a young, depth starting pitcher and one of Cleveland’s excellent middle infielders (infielders not named Andrés Giménez or Brayan Rocchio) to ease the sting of losing Carlos Correa?

Slater would bring the added bonus of being an option to play centerfield competently if Myles Straw struggles at the plate continue in 2023. I don’t think the Giants are looking to move Slater, but they certainly want to improve their roster and have a fair amount of other outfield talent on hand, so I wonder if a deal is there for the right taker.

Slater was also trying to help journalists figure out what MLB is doing to the ball before MLB’s goons came after him, so I’d like to see him stick it in the league’s eye by making the World Series in a Guardians uniform.

Option 5: Garrett Cooper, right-handed hitter, 1B/OF, Miami Marlins, free agent in 2024, 32 years old in 2023
Career 113 wRC+ against LHP

The nice thing about Garrett Cooper is that he is not only a solid hitter against left-handed pitching, but he is also a solid hitter overall. He is an above-average defender at first base and has been not terrible in corner outfield spots in past seasons as well. Cooper would be a great choice to spell Josh Naylor at first base or DH and possibly fill in for Kwan in left or Brennan and Gonzalez in right on certain occasions.

However, due to Cooper’s lack of outfield prowess, I don’t think he fits the current roster as well as Pinder, Grossman, or Slater would. I do think the Marlins would likely trade him seeing as he is in his last year of arbitration and they are always looking to save money, but given that he’s one of the few hitters in Miami projected to be above league average, the asking price is probably more than what the Guardians would deem fair.

Other Possibilities: OF Andrew McCutchen, 3B/OF Brian Anderson, and IF Donovan Solano
Andrew McCutchen has amazing career numbers against left-handed pitching (154 wRC+), but is in an offensive decline at age 36 and can’t play first. Brian Anderson and Donovan Solano are both in the 90 wRC+ range for their careers against LHP and neither are probably capable of filling in at right field if that flexibility is important. Between the three, McCutchen on a one-year deal would be of most interest to me.

Bottom Line: I would still guess the Guardians are more likely to enter spring training with the major league roster as it currently is than to make another move. However, if, as rumored by Bowden, they do want to continue to upgrade the lineup in a complementary fashion, it would not surprise me to see them sign a Chad Pinder or Robbie Grossman to an inexpensive one-year deal. Having done the research for this article, I now have visions of Austin Slater dancing in my head, but it’s probably best to keep my feet on the ground and be content with the upgrades that either Pinder or Grossman would provide if a move is made.