Cal Quantrill seemed to have all the potential in the world of being an efficient innings-eating, back of the rotation arm for the Guardians coming into 2023. Much like the season for Cleveland, however, that was not the case, and on Tuesday, Quantrill was designated for assignment along with Michael Kelly to clear room for Daniel Espino, a highly touted pitching prospect whose injury history could make the easiest stomach queasy, and Cade Smith, a high strikeout, high walk rate reliever.
Cleveland's 40-man roster additions: pitchers Daniel Espino, Cade Smith— Zack Meisel (@ZackMeisel) November 14, 2023
Reliever Michael Kelly also designated for assignment.
Someone was going to have to go for Espino, who was Rule-5 eligible unless added to to 40-man roster, and for it to be Quantrill was a shock to all. Just two seasons ago, Quantrill posted a 3.38 ERA in 186.1 innings, a fantastic pairing on a tremendous 2022 staff. However, the injury bug bit Quantrill like it seemed to bite every Guards starting arm in 2023, and he tossed just 99.2 innings while his numbers regressed as expected.
In spite of all of this, Quantrill always found a way to outperform his expected stats significantly, and it was in large part due to his contact quality control. Quantrill found ways to consistently get weaker contact despite tip-toeing that wire because he never missed bats.
Among 85 starting pitchers who have at least 1000 batters faced since the start of 2022 per baseball savant.com, Quantrill ranked 17th in average exit velocity (87.2 mph), but everything else felt concerning, like a bomb ready to blow, but it just kept ticking and ticking.
Quantrill ranked 84th out of those 85 pitchers in strikeout rate at 15.3%. Sure, that wasn’t Cal’s game, but he was sandwiched between Zack Greinke who was dead last and Adam Wainwright who just posted one of the worst pitching seasons ever in 2023. In namesake, it’s great company, but that’s about it.
Quantrill ranked 74th in xwOBA at .337, 57th in hard hit rate at 37.0% (one spot above Jordan Lyles who is not the worst comparison to draw for Cal’s future), and 68th in expected slugging percentage, or xSLG for short, at .441. Quantrill’s expected slash line came in at .269/.329/.441. An OPS of .770 matches 2023 Fernando Tatis Jr.
Needless to say, I feel like the writing was on the wall here. With Quantrill being owed $6.6 million this season to not even be a rotational piece, a team that tends to value save where they can saw this as a prime value move. But was it the right move? Let’s look at the avenues this leads us down post-Quantrill DFA.
1. Bringing Cal back on a discount
The first avenue feels a bit naïve, but there’s at least a chance that Quantrill goes through these seven days without getting claimed or hitting free agency. Okay, now that we’ve all had that laugh, let’s at least explore what that looks like. For starters, any team that claims Quantrill claims $6.6 million owed for 2024 and his 2025 arbitration year. Could teams see that price as too much for a guy with iffy peripherals?
Secondly, Quantrill has the option to reject an outright to the minor leagues from any team who claims him, thus becoming a free agent. This is because Quantrill has at least three years of service time.
Now you’re asking yourself: Who would pick up $6.6 million just to outright him to AAA? You would be correct! It makes little sense in the grand scheme of things, and this avenue feels more like wishful thinking for a cheap depth piece than it does anything else. You will get Peyton Battenfield and Hunter Gaddis and like it.
2. Finding a trade partner within seven days
What teams would be willing to take on Quantrill’s $6.6 million? My theory is a handful. See: Jordan Lyles. Jordan Lyles made $8.5 million with the Royals in 2023 who were looking for someone to soak up innings while they fully strip down their pitching to its core. Lyles went on to post a 6.28 ERA but tossed 177.2 innings: mission successful. He’s more than earned that hall of fame innings eater badge, and I could see a similar avenue for Quantrill who is at least a better pitcher for a team better than Kansas City in need of some back-end help.
Look at a team like, say the Diamondbacks. A fringe contender — who made a World Series push defying all odds — who desperately could use innings. The D-Backs got 100+ innings from just three starters in 2023, and while Brandon Pfaadt came close to 100, he came up just shy in 18 starts. This is a fairly young rotation with its top three spots anchored down, but they also had Zach Davies toss 18 starts of 7 ERA ball this past season. Sign them up for 150 innings of Cal Quantrill stabilizing the back end of their rotation for that price.
Then there’s the teams who could use innings to stabilize a rotation on a rebuilding team. Let’s use the Pirates here. Pittsburgh does not exactly seem far off considering their division, and they also had just three starters hit that 100 inning threshold. They likely lose Rich Hill who was one of those three, and bringing in Quantrill while guys like Quinn Priester and Roansy Contreras get necessary development at the MLB level without it fully taxing the bullpen every single day would be of great benefit to them. Cincinnati is another team that could use a guy like Quantrill for this very reason.
Cleveland could get a younger non-40 man prospect for Quantrill, nothing crazy, but anything in return would make many feel better about this cost-cutting move.
3. Bigger moves are coming to the rotation
I’ll chalk this one up as the second least likely to happen on this list, especially after Antonetti’s comments about saving money due to questionable TV rights and allocating Quantrill’s $6.6 million to a place on the roster where it could have better use.
This team isn’t spending money, certainly not on a pitcher. You will get Peyton Battenfield and Hunter Gaddis and you will like it.
Sometimes, however, bigger moves come in smaller packages (lighter money bags). It’s not outside the realm of possibility to see budding prospects like Joey Cantillo and his big southpaw arm or Will Dion’s Kershaw cosplay (I kid, Dion is awesome) get some run this season. It’s certainly not ideal, all things considered, as we want this team to be contending, but expectations simply need tempered when it comes to the Dolan’s and this front office.