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Evaluating Potential Outfield Trades for the Guardians

What can Cleveland do to reasonably improve their lineup within budget constraints?

Los Angeles Angels v Detroit Tigers - Game One Photo by Duane Burleson/Getty Images

It’s early in the offseason, but when Chris Antonetti and Mike Chernoff cite trading Cal Quantrill as the reason they could afford Scott Barlow, I can’t help but suspect that Cleveland doesn’t have a lot of money allocated from ownership to spare in pursuit of offense.

Now, maybe the Front Office meant that they are trying to conserve enough money to sign Teoscar Hernandez to a 3 year, $40 million deal. Regardless, whether or not I agree with financial austerity measures because of uncertainty over the TV deal (I do not), I want to try to approach the offseason from a similar perspective as the one I believe the Guardians’ front office shares.

So, having already looked at some of the low-budget free agents potentially available (add Nick Senzel and Kyle Lewis to that list), I want to take a look at some outfield trade targets who will potentially be available over the next couple months. I am going to evaluate potential trades on Baseball Trade Values Trade Simulator. A few comments on that: I have been of the perspective in the past that this site isn’t a valuable resource in evaluating trades, but I have changed my mind on that. Most times, the values of actual trades made by MLB teams have been close to what BTV suggests. The site has a lot of limitations; prospects are hard to value and huge contracts are hard to value, and it can’t tell you what different teams are in need of when swinging a deal. But, I do think it has value in generally matching up potential values of reasonable deals.

Finally, I recognize that there are a million different variables that will go into the Guardians’ approach to trades. For example, they may have a deal lined up for Bieber which will enable them to swing a second deal for a starting pitcher to replace him. While acknowledging that, I’ve tried to focus, below, on adding players who will not significantly increase the 2024 budget while maintaining Shane Bieber on the roster, given the lack of depth in the Guardians’ rotation, currently. This means I did not include a trade for Juan Soto, Fernando Tatis or even Anthony Santander. Antonetti and co. can feel free to surprise me by pulling one of those off.

All arbitration estimates came from MLB Trade Rumors and Steamer Projections can be found at FanGraphs.

Potential Trade #1: Guardians trade Juan Brito, 2B, and Joey Cantillo, LHSP, (19.7 Total Value) to Angels for Taylor Ward, OF (20.2 Total Value) - Ward due an estimated $4.5 million in arbitration costs for 2024.

Comments: I understand that no matter what trade I propose, there are going to be people calling me crazy for trading this or that player for the player I’m acquiring. But, I like this potential deal because it hurts, as a Guardians fan, and acquiring a player who will help should hurt. Cantillo, in my opinion, has had significant injury issues and is unlikely to help as more than a 5th starter until he shows the ability to walk fewer batters, but there is a lot of upside there. In fact, there is so much upside that I do think the Angels are getting the better of the deal here. Juan Brito is a top three hitting prospect in the Guardians’ system, but I have no confidence he can move to the outfield. I like Gabriel Arias, Brayan Rocchio, Tyler Freeman, and Jose Tena enough to move Brito and feel like one of them will emerge as an excellent partner for Gimenez in the middle-infield. And, now, I’ve added a solid 30 year-old outfielder who is projected for 118 wRC+ and 2.4 fWAR by Steamer, who has a career 118 wRC+ against LHP, and is under team control through 2026.

I should offer a caveat that the Angels rarely make sensible moves and even if they did look to rebuild they certainly won’t make this trade until Ohtani 100% rules them out.

Potential Trade #2 - Guardians trade Joey Cantillo, LHSP (5.7 Total Value) to the Cardinals for Tyler O’Neill (5.5 Total Value) - Due an estimated $5.5 million in arbitration costs for 2024

Comments: I promise I’m not going to ship Cantillo out in every proposed deal, but these first two deals acknowledge that the most valuable resource in the game of baseball is young, controllable starting pitching. The Cardinals have been busy assembling the 2020 Texas Rangers rotation, but reportedly are interested in arms that miss bats. Cantillo misses bats and has enough upside for which, if I were St. Louis, I’d deal a year of O’Neill to take a crack at helping him find some additional control. It still hurts as a Cleveland fan, but you pick up a 28 year-old, right-handed, solid outfielder projected for 106 wRC+ and 1.4 fWAR by Steamer, with a career 125 wRC+ against LHP. It fitst the picture of the Scott Barlow move, trying to compete for 2024 while letting players like Chase DeLauter, Juan Brito and Daniel Espino develop to help you for 2025 and beyond.

Potential Trade #3 - Guardians trade Angel Martinez, IF, Cody Morris, RHP, and James Karinchak, RHRP (11.6 in Total Value) to the Cardinals for Dylan Carlson, OF (5.8 in Total Value) - Due an estimated $1.8 million in arbitration

Comments: In this trade, I have made an executive decision that Carlson likely holds more value than Baseball Trade Values estimates for him. Steamer has him estimated for 111 wRC+ and an fWAR that would average out to around 3 for a full season’s worth of at-bats. Carlson has had injury troubles and the Cardinals have a crowded outfield, but he’s only 25 years old, is under team-control through 2026 and has a career 135 wRC+ against LHP and his minor league numbers indicate that he should improve on his 86 wRC+ against RHP given time. Most importantly, Carlson is a viable centerfielder, so it wouldn’t surprise me if the Guardians actually had to give up more in this trade. Even as stated, giving up Martinez who turned it on at the end of last season and is viable at short but also may hit enough to play virtually anywhere on the diamond (except catcher), Morris who has backend of the rotation potential and backend reliever floor if healthy, and Karinchak who was demonstraed elite relief potential in the past is a good haul for St. Louis. I think this is a good deal for both teams and it keeps Kwan in left-field, gives you Laureano and Brennnan/Valera in right, and I think you can immediately bat Carlson 2nd or 3rd in the lineup and feel positively about it.

Potential Trade #4 - Guardians trade Brayan Rocchio, IF, Doug Nikhazy, LHSP, and Myles Straw, CF (8.3 in Total Value) to Giants for Austin Slater, OF (5.9 in Total Value) - Due $4 million for 2024

Comments: The Giants have said they want to add speed and defense in the outfield, so I’ve decided they are my choice to take Myles Straw off of our hands. Now, Slater is probably not a centerfielder (though Outs Above Average says he’s viable out there), but he’s fine as a right-fielder and has a career 131 against LHP. He had a 111 wRC+ in 2023 and is projected by Steamer for 104 in 2024. In this case, I am mostly looking to move the financial burden of the Straw deal and I’ve paid a hefty price because I am still a believer in Rocchio and Nikhazy has a lot to offer if he can find some command. Slater is a free agent next season, but he dramatically improves the lineup against LHP and now I can play Brennan and Laureano in center, then put up with Laureano there full-time if Valera comes up to platoon with Slater in right. Do I feel great about this trade? No, but I do feel great about knowing I will not have to see Myles Straw bat in high leverage situations ever again.

Potential Trade #5 - Guardians trade to Jhonkensy Noel, 1B/OF/DH, Juan Brito, 2B, and Sam Hentges, LHRP, (37.8 in Total Value) to Marlins for Jazz Chisholm, IF/OF (42.8 in Total Value) Due an estimated $2.8 million in arbitration costs in 2024.

Comments: These kind of trades are where things get messy. The Marlins have a lot of starting pitching, so I think a deal is possible here without giving up a young starting pitcher, but maybe not. As it is, I think Hentges has closer ceiling and dominant lefty-floor and Juan Brito looks like the kind of guy you can play at 2B, 1B or LF and rely on to be a top third of the lineup hitter in a year or two. Then, there is a lot to like in the power Noel offers and the Marlins can find him a spot to offer that, especially against LHP. I think BTV is overvaluing Chisholm given his defensive limitations, health issues and reportedly tough clubhouse presence. But, Chisholm, when healthy, should be viable at 2B, LF or possibly CF and hit in the top of your lineup. You’re dreaming on his 136 wRC+ from 2022, but relying on his 104 wRC+ projection as a floor. He has dramatic splits against LHP (61 wRC+), so you’ve got to rely on whatever magic helped Josh Naylor figure that out to work here again. He’s under control through 2026, and I’ll rely on the magic of new manager Stephen Vogt to help him fit into the Guardians’ clubhouse and thrive, while trusting that between Herrin, Cantillo and Nikhazy, they can cover the left-handed reliever’s role.

Potential Trade #6 - Guardians trade Daniel Espino, RHSP (16.2 in Total Value) to Nationals for Lane Thomas, OF (10.5 in Total Value) - Due an estimated $7 million in arbitration costs

Comments: I can’t really see the Guardians selling low on an injured Espino, but, if they did, I imagine it would look something like this. Look, Thomas has a career 138 wRC+ against LHP. The one thing he does reliably is crush lefties. He had a 109 wRC+ in 2023, but is only projected for 99 by Steamer for 2024. He can generally hack it in the outfield, being average to slightly below average in every spot, and he’s under control through 2025, so he lets you continue to develop your outfield prospects and hugely raise your floor against LHP. The risk you run is Espino turning out to be Jacob DeGrom, injury risks and all. I don’t know if that’s a risk you’d want to run as Guardians Front Office and fans, but I do think the Nationals would run with it, for what it’s worth. I have slightly overpaid in this trade because I think Espino’s current injury dings his value and the rumors were that the Nationals see Thomas as a full-time starter in value. Personally, I would NOT make this deal, but something like it is what I think it would take to get it done.

Potential Trade #7 - Guardians trade Angel Martinez, IF, and Xzavion Curry, RHP (Total Value - 11.4) to Oakland Athletics for Brent Rooker, OF (Total Value - 11.8) - on a rookie contract for 2023.

Comments: I will note that BTV is high on Martinez, as he’s a better value than Tena or Arias, and I’m not sure that’s exactly how the league views him. But, for what it’s worth, I agree with their assessment. In this trade, BTV is skeptical that Rooker’s 127 wRC+ of 2023 is reflective of his true talent and sees him more as the 104 wRC+ Steamer projects for him in 2024 and the waiver claim he was for the Athletics. Does that reflect how all of MLB sees Rooker? I don’t know, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the Guardians had to include, say, a George Valera in this deal, which I, personally, would happily do. The Athletics need a lot in their farm and on the major league roster, and the Guardians could use to free up some logjams. I believe Rooker will continue to crush lefties for his career, as a 29 year-old the Athletics should cash in on his value now, and I’ve followed Rooker on Twitter and he seems like a smart, analytically-inclined player who I think can hold down right-field for three years, and he’s under team control through 2027. I’d love this deal, but I’m a Rooker truther and have been since he was in the Twins’ minor league system, so your mileage may vary. I also really like Martinez, though, and see Curry as useful depth in the rotation and bullpen, so the deal does hurt appropriately, and would even more so were the Guardians to include a Valera. Perhaps they could get away including Oscar Gonzalez or Johnathan Rodriguez instead of Valera, which would make it much more palatable.

Potential Trade #8 - Guardians trade Logan Allen, LHP, and Chase DeLauter, OF (Total Value 42.3) to Rays for Randy Arozarena, OF (Total Value 38.6) - Due an estimated $9 million for 2024.

Comments: If you want a proven middle of the order hitter under team control through 2026, it’s going to cost you, and this deal reflects that fact. I know commenters here have rightly lectured me about trading DeLauter, but there are risks with every prospects, and DeLauter has an odd swing that has yet to show its ability in the majors. Allen is exciting, but also looks like a back of the rotation starter when his fastball is forced into usage. The Rays are still getting some very useful, cheap pieces here with immense all-star potential in DeLauter, so, given the $9 million price tag for Arozarena, I do think they’d consider a deal like this. My primary concern would be that given the lack of quality options in the free agent market for outfielders, the Rays might be able to get a huge overpay in making Arozarena and his projected 123 wRC+ available, rather than the slight overpay BTV projects in my deal, above. Maybe it requires including a Rocchio or even an Espino in this deal. Still, it’s hard for me not to visualize a top four of the Guardians’ lineup of Kwan, Ramirez, Arozarena and Josh Naylor and push the accept button on even that kind of deal. Additionally, though Arozarena’s defensive numbers are lackluster, his play in the WBC tells me that he can step up his fielding work when it counts. His $9 million price tag is as high as I was willing to imagine the Guardians going this offseason, but that career 157 wRC+ against RHP and his playoff bonafides help ease the sting JUST enough for the Dolans and co.

Well, there you have it, some deals to ponder, love/hate, debate and dream on for your holiday weekend. None of them are particularly likely to happen, but I am allowing myself to continue to hope until Spring Training starts, at least, that the Guardians will try to get a deal done to help this lackluster outfield offense in 2024.