The Guardians need at least one bat for the middle of their lineup who can play outfield. They may also want to add another bat, perhaps at DH, until Kyle Manzardo is ready. But, for now, let’s try to have realistic expectations and set our sights on one hitter, preferably a lefty masher.
As we approach the holiday season, Guardians fans of all ages, beliefs, and backgrounds will want to let it be known to those giving gifts which outfielder is at the top of their list. I’ve assembled a list of seven names below that ZiPS projects to be (generously on my part in some cases) around 120 wRC+ in 2024. Let’s take a closer look at the options together: (wRC+’s listed are the ZiPS projections for their 2023 seasons as they were updated throughout the year and the projections for their 2024 season made prior to 2023):
- Juan Soto, entering his age 25 season - 156/165 wRC+, -15 DRS, -10 OAA (3948 innings) LF, 1 DRS, -8 OAA in 2567 innings in RF, 130 wRC+ vs. LHP (free agent after 2024)
Analysis: There have been rumors, recently, that MLB will require the Padres to trim payroll, which may make Soto available. It’s hard to see the Guardians selling out for a rental player, but if there is ever one for which you’d do it, it’s Soto. He’s left-handed, he’s not a good defensive player, but he just hits every pitcher he sees.
- Randy Arozarena, entering his age 29 season - 123/121 wRC+, 8 DRS, -9 OAA in 2841 innings in LF, -5 OAA, 3 DRS in 638 innings in RF, 157 wRC+ against LHP (under team control and arbitration through 2026)
Analysis: The dream scenario for the Guardians is likely that the Rays don’t want to pay Arozarena and decide to bilk the Guardians for a few prospects who will become studs. Maybe it’s Chase DeLauter and a young pitcher (Allen or maybe it has to be Williams?) to get it done. If that’s possible, I’d consider it because Arozarena seems to be the legit, middle-of-the-order hitter who crushes lefties and can play right field that this team desperately needs. I just don’t see the Guardians surrendering that much capital to get this kind of deal done... and, given the market they are in and the restrictions ownership places on the front office, I understand it.
- Anthony Santander, entering his age 29 season - 118/118 wRC+, -9 DRS, -8 OAA in 638 innings in LF, 16 DRS, -3 OAA in 3093 innings in RF (free agent after 2024), 122 wRC+ vs. LHP.
Analysis: The oft-desired reunion with the switch-hitting Santander makes as much sense as it always has. The Orioles have a lot of upcoming outfield talent. I do wonder if a Bieber for Santander deal, straight-up, would make sense for both clubs as both are rental players and given Bieber’s health questions. Santander looks like an adequate defensive option in right field.
- Jorge Soler, entering age 32 season - 116/109 wRC+, -6 DRS, -5 OAA in 875 innings in LF, -49 DRS, -19 OAA in 3142 innings in RF, 129 wRC+ against LHP (Can opt in for one year in Miami, $12M owed if he opts in).
Analysis: Soler has found career highs in launch angle, barrel rate and hard-hit rate in 2023. He’s also been growing into a clubhouse leader role in Miami. It’s hard for me to imagine Cleveland shelling out what they’d need to in order to sign a player of Soler’s age to what would probably be something like a 3 years and $45 million deal, especially given the very questionable idea of him being a full-time left-fielder. But, it is at least a name to keep in mind.
- Mark Canha, entering age 35 season - 114/116 wRC+, -13 DRS, -7 OAA in 3340 innings in LF, 4 DRS, 2 OAA in 960 innings in RF, 111 wRC+ against LHP. (Milwaukee holds an $11M option on him)
Analysis: Hey, the Guardians reportedly really appreciated the presence of a veteran older player in Kole Calhoun in 2023. So, what if we added a veteran who is actually a good hitter in Mark Canha? Problem is that Canha is good but not great. I’m not sure he moves the needle much but I’d definitely be fine with him as the secondary addition to go along with a bigger move if the team could get him on a one-year deal. He looks to still be fine to play in right-field.
- Taylor Ward, entering age 30 season - 107/122 wRC+, -4 DRS, 2 OAA in 1018 innings in LF, -7 DRS, 1 OAA in 1592 innings in RF. 118 wRC+ against LHP (under team control and arbitration through 2026).
Analysis: Ward had a snake-bitten 2023 with weird injuries and bad luck, just like the entire Angels’ roster. But, for what it’s worth, his 2024 ZiPS projections looked very good. He’s also a solid outfielder in either corner and handles LHP well. I do think the Angels are going to be willing to trade just about anyone, so he should be available and the return should be something the Guardians could manage without depleting their talent.
- Teoscar Hernandez, entering age 31 season - 105/112 wRC+, -12 DRS, -12 OAA in 3685 innings in RF, -6 DRS, -11 OAA in 1614 innings in LF, 136 wRC+ against LHP (free agent this offseason).
Analysis: Hernandez is only on this list because he is a legitimate lefty crusher. I’m not really a believer in him defensively. He’s a DH. But, he hits lefties and is legitimately available and is apparently good friends with Jose Ramirez.
One further note: If the Angels want to cover a ton of Mike Trout’s contract, I would absolutely be in on the Guardians trying to acquire him. But, I just find that scenario all-around so unlikely, I didn’t feel like analyzing it here.
Dream Scenario: Trading for Randy Arozarena
Realistic, Great Options: Taylor Ward or Anthony Santander
Solid Veteran, Corollary Additions: Mark Canha or Teoscar Hernandez.
Prediction: It’s crazy to make an actual prediction on this, but my wild guess is that the Guardians will get a deal done for Ward or Santander (or a player they view as similar, maybe a Tyler O’Neill-type).