With Antonetti dooming about financial constraints due to Bally's in a Hoynes article I have linked, it’s probably best to be aware of which players might help the Guardians should they decide to go looking for roster help off the list of MLB Top 50 Free Agents.
Now, to be clear, I think the most likely way the Guardians seek to upgrade their offense is in trades. I expect them to actively inquire about folks like Anthony Santander, Taylor Ward, Brent Rooker, Trent Grisham, Tyler O’Neill, Dylan Carlson, Brandon Drury, and Lane Thomas and I think the answer for their needs in the corner outfield lies in that list. They could also pursue relievers in trade, from elite options like Devin Williams to a cagey vet like Chris Martin to a reclamation project like Jose Espada from San Diego. There are so many options to consider here, and I’ll be working on a follow-up article on trade targets for next week.
For now, let’s just take a look and see if there are any names that you won’t find on FanGraphs’ list of top 50 MLB Free Agents that we might be glad found their way into Cleveland’s big league camp come February and their roster in the summer.
Randal Grichuk - Steamer 2024 Projections: 90 wRC+, -1 DRS, -7 OAA in OF in 2023, career 116 wRC+ vs LHP.
Comments: Grichuk was available for the Guardians via waiver wires in August 2023, but given the presence of Ramon Laureano and Oscar Gonzalez on their roster, it doesn’t surprise me that they didn’t bring him in. However, I could see them seeing him as a reliable upgrade against LHP. To me, signing Grichuk would be evidence of a belief in guys like Will Brennan, George Valera and Anthony Rivas and would probably be a move they’d make in combination with ditching Gonzalez OR Laureano.
Joey Gallo - Steamer 2024 Projections: 94 wRC+, -1 DRS and -1 OAA in OF in 2023, career 103 wRC+ vs. LHP
Comments: It would be funny to see Cleveland get a great year from Gallo after Minnesota failed to do so. He’s only 29 years old and has put up a 121 wRC+ year as recently as 2021. I know the old school strikeout-haters will protest, but I would not hate a small one-year deal for Gallo in Cleveland. He’s also defensively viable in the outfield.
Garrett Cooper - Steamer 2024 Projections: 100 wRC+, -4 DRS, -5 OAA in the OF in 2021, career 120 wRC+ against LHP.
Comments: I do not know if it is possible to put Cooper in LF as he hasn’t done it in two seasons and wasn’t good last time he did it. If, for some reason, it’s a viable option, he certainly looks like a guy who is a good bet to be an average league-hitter who handles lefties well, available on a cheap 1-year deal. But, I think he’s a 1B/DH-type only.
Hunter Renfroe - Steamer 2024 Projections: 104 wRC+, -9 DRS and -5 OAA in the OF in 2021, career 128 wRC+ vs. LHP
Comments: Renfroe is well-known for kind of being a lone wolf when it comes to his hitting, eschewing analytical insights for his own methods of preparation. That seems unlikely to be someone Cleveland tagets, but a 128 wRC+ against LHP is better than almost all Cleveland hitters have been able to do using analytics. The problem with the Renfroe idea, also, is that he looks to be a poor defender so there’s not a reliable floor of value should his bat not hold up. However, he’s another guy for whom I would not be opposed to a one-year deal.
Jacob Junis - Steamer 2024 Projections: 4.51 FIP, 3.74 FIP and 10.05/2.20 K/BB/9 in 2023.
Phil Maton - Steamer 2024 Projections: 4.48 FIP, 3.74 FIP and 10.09/3.41 K/BB/9 in 2023.
Victor Arano - Steamer 2024 Projections: 4.25 FIP, 3.71 FIP and 9.43/2.57 K/BB/9 in 2023.
Keynan Middleton - Steamer 2024 Projections: 4.08 FIP, 4.20 FIP and 11.37/4.09 K/BB/9 in 2023.
Jose Castillo - Steamer 2024 Projections: 4.34 FIP, 3.88 FIP and 12.10/6.05 K/BB/9 in 2023 in Triple-A.
Dylan Floro - Steamer 2024 Projections: 4.11 FIP, 2.96 FIP and 9.21/2.70 K/BB/9 in 2023.
Zack Burdi - Steamer 2024 Projections: No projections, 3.93 ERA, 10.31/5.40 K/BB/9 in 2023 in the minor leagues.
Emilio Pagan - Steamer 2024 Projections: 4.30 FIP, 3.27 FIP and 8.44/2.73 K/BB/9 in 2023.
Comments: These are all exactly what you’d expect from fringe middle-relief options. But, I think there’s a shot Cleveland could see opportunities to improve performance from almost any of these options. Some, like Arano, are coming off of injuries, so that will factor into what kind of deal they can get. The problem is that most of these players are coming from very smart organizations. Aside from Middleton, whom I believe is a legitimately good relief pitcher, I’m interested in Castillo the most, coming from the Padres, fixing his slider and making his 95.5 mph fastball play up accordingly. I would also be in on Arano if his shoulder is healthy coming from the Nationals. But should we count on any of these options to fix our bullpen woes from 2023? No, no we should not.
The funniest option would be Pagan, a popular Cleveland punching bag when he was with the Twins. The humor potential of seeing Cleveland fans root for him and of Twins fans be in anguish if he had a good season with the Guardians is immense.
I join all Guardians fans in hoping the team aims higher than the names listed above, but I think there are some guys here who could at least help add depth to the Guardians’ roster if some plans A’s, B’s and maybe even C’s fall through.