A concern has risen with me over the last week or two, and it is regarding the slight growth of trade speculation for the Guardians’ 1st baseman, Josh Naylor. This rose from a group of posts on X which mentioned teams being interested him, sparking a vast discussion about Naylor and his future here. Much to the dismay of many fans, the confidence level for the team giving Josh his well-deserved extension this spring has reached deep lows. Even if these reports turn out to be false, it is still up in the air about whether Naylor stays here or not. But, I want him to stay here. I believe he is a cornerstone, and should be treated as such. Here is why.
Reason 1: He is the second best player on this team
It goes without saying that Josh Naylor has been second on the team, only to Jose Ramirez this year. Despite being the unluckiest player in the league for the whole month of April, he found a way to keep making hard contact and put up the best season of his young, but rocky career so far. This year, Naylor has become an amazing all-around hitter. His batting average (AVG) stayed in the upper .290s at least for most of the year and his slugging percentage (SLG) finished at an exceptional .489. Naylor’s weighted runs created plus (wRC+) reached 128 (the highest mark on the team), and he accumulated 2.5 wins above replacement according to FanGraphs (fWAR). To put this into perspective, this is the best offensive season Cleveland has seen by a first baseman since Carlos Santana went off for a .281/.397/.515 slash line and 34 homers in 2019. On the other half of the field, Naylor was excellent as well. Josh’s glove is widely under-appreciated, as he has become a nearly excellent defender. He is prolific in picking short throws from his teammates, as well as reading errant throws. Combine that with some insane flexibility and he could easily be the difference-maker in a close call at first. Naylor’s range as a first baseman is very good too, as he can make serious diving plays and save runs from being scored; this year he even posted a 5 outs above average (OAA). As a whole, Josh really has been at least the second best player on the Guardians, and that alone should guarantee that his name will be written with permanent marker on the roster for years to come.
Reason 2: His clutch factor
I think it is very safe to say that Josh Naylor has become our rock late in close games. At times, he even carried the whole team on his back and ripped victory out of certain defeat. Even during the year we got him in 2020, he immediately imprinted his name in the minds of many Cleveland fans, as he would put together an all-time performance against the Yankees in the AL Wild Card Series. During those two games Josh murdered the ball, going 5/7 with three doubles and a homer. He lit up Gerrit Cole and the Yankees’ pitching staff in game 1 for four of those hits (homer and double off Cole) and went 1/3 against Masahiro Tanaka in game 2. This would only be the beginning, though. Realistically, I only need to point to his groundbreaking performance on May 19th, 2022, when he drove in 8 RBIs from the eighth inning onwards against the Chicago White Sox. He became the first player to ever achieve such a feat since the stat became official, as he hit both a grand slam and a three run bomb to put the Guardians ahead 12-9 in a monumental comeback spearheaded by the big man. But to take things further, Naylor hit a walkoff home run against the Twins on June 29th of that year, giving the team some ground in a tight division race that ended with them taking the crown. One more big performance of his happened in the series against the Los Angeles Angels, where he would hit a go-ahead homer in the 8th inning in for each one of the three-game series. This time, Naylor was the first one in the expansion era (since 1961) to hit a go-ahead homer in the 8th inning or later for three straight games. His clutch factor is truly insane, and I can go on and on about his big-time performances. But these are the ones that stand out the most. If we get rid of this sort of clutch value, we could also be giving up a good number of wins in close games.
Reason 3: Family ties
Unless you have been living under a rock, you’ve probably heard of Josh’s younger brother. Noah “Bo” Naylor has become a very well-known name in the Guardians household. The 23-year-old catcher is a phenom in the making, displaying star talent on both sides of the field. First of all, you can’t understate how unbelievably cool it is to have two brothers on your team; two brothers who are so obviously cornerstone material. Second, you would assume Josh’s presence on this team would have some sort of influence in Bo’s decision to stay here too. And with that being said, I do not want to lose two stars just because we didn’t want to pay one of those. Heck, we could keep the both of them and even get the recently-drafted Myles (the third Naylor brother) and Denzel Clarke (their cousin) from the Oakland Athletics if a trade presents itself. But, I digress. What matters here is that we should be doing all we can to keep both Bo and Josh here in the Land.
Reason 4: He is a fan-favorite
I would guess that Josh Naylor might be the most widely-beloved player to leave since Francisco Lindor and Carlos Carrasco if the Guardians did end up trading him. I have had my own experiences with him and, behind the whole maverick persona that many baseball fans have grown akin to, he is genuinely one of the kindest players I’ve met. He would always interact with the fans with a smile and overall has such a kind-hearted attitude with them (when he’s not playing, of course; he’s a whole different animal when it’s game time). If you follow him on Instagram, you probably would have seen his service project this year when he worked at the Ronald McDonald House in Northeast Ohio, where he would donate food, help the staff, and spend plenty of time with the children there. He always gives back to the fans and those who need it, so it really isn’t hard to see how greatly appreaciated Josh is by the fandom. Dealing him would likely leave a lot of the fanbase (including me, if I’m being honest) very disheartened and betrayed, emptying a lot of seats in Progressive Field.
What else must he prove?
Sitting here and thinking about Josh Naylor, I find it hard to believe that this is only so much of the story he has written here in Cleveland. He started off as an okay get in the Mike Clevinger trade, but went on to become stapled in the minds and hearts of the Cleveland faithful. He is still very young, and is just getting his bearings after recovering from a freak accident in 2021. He has gone through a lot but has proven so much that he is a cornerstone and one of the faces of this growing Guardians franchise. Most importantly, though, he is always trying to get better. He is never satisfied and is a workhorse. He has both the tangibles and the intangibles, which makes him so valuable in today’s game. I really do believe it is absolutely necessary to lock Josh up long-term once Spring Training rolls around, because I see him being one of the biggest helps for us in a World Series push.