I've written many an offseason plan over the years. Some were realistic and kinda' boring. Some were bombastic and wildly outside of the Guardians regular spending habits. Others were just plain bad. With this one, I want to be bold, but also not completely insane, so no Shohei Ohtani signing here (Though wouldn't that just be the neatest thing? The sea of tears from Mets and Dodgers fans would power my unfortunate schadenfreude tendencies for the next decade). Anyway, the current Guardians have some great building blocks to start with as well as some easily identifiable holes. JRam isn't getting any younger, and they need to win now. Three-quarters of a century is long enough. I have three main goals in mind:
1. Fix the much maligned outfield/ add some thump to the lineup.
2. Add a legitimate starter to the rotation to solve that pesky pitching depth problem.
3. Consolidate some of the MI/ prospect bloat.
I'm not going to bother with full 40-man decisions or arb payments, though as of this writing they do have an open 40-man spot, so we'll keep that in mind. With all that aside, our first move will be:
Trade Brayan Rocchio, George Valera, Juan Brito, and Daniel Espino to the San Diego Padres for Juan Soto
So I plugged this into the Baseball Trade Values website to see what it thinks (it should be noted while sometimes helpful, this site can be wildly off-base in it's evaluations at times and not necessarily realistic, but it can be good for conversation starters):
The Trade Evaluator seems to think this is a massive overpay...which is kind of what I was shooting for, as in actuality this might still be an underpay. Soto is a generational talent, at times having been comped to literally Ted Williams. All of these prospects that would be going back to San Diego are arguably at their lowest value in some time (Valera and Rocchio in particular) outside of Brito. However, Soto is also only under contract for one more season before free agency and is slated to make around a cool $30 million in 2024. San Diego has pretty loudly stated they need to move Soto to shed payroll.
I feel that this hits a sweet spot of giving San Diego plenty of value back, but pieces Cleveland can afford to part with, and not nearly as much as what the Padres would ask for if Soto was under control for longer or not making as much (or not under a slash-and-burn payroll mandate). It's a huge departure to take on this much salary for one player for the Guardians, but I'm approaching this as a one-year rental (because they certainly wouldn't extend Soto) to fix the outfield problem while Chase DeLauter can marinate a bit longer at Akron and Columbus. For a bat of Soto's caliber, it's more than worth it. Next up:
Trade Joey Cantillo, Will Brennan, and Myles Straw to the St. Louis Cardinals for Tyler O'Neill
Here's what the Trade Evaluator thinks of this one:
This one feels like the value is a lot closer, Cleveland might need to send another piece back to get St. Louis to pull the trigger, but lets role with it for the purposes of this exercise. The Cardinals pitching dev has been atrocious for a while now and they need young arms. Cantillo isn't a finished product (and frankly idk if he ever will be), but let's be honest: could he be any worse than 41-year-old Adam Wainwright? Will Brennan still has some potential upside but not any that I'm interested in, frankly we don't need a second, worse version of Steven Kwan. This also offsets sending the Cardinals Straw as well, where he can be a serviceable defensive replacement and fourth outfielder (and not in Cleveland lol, I would just rather see him gone than try to see the new staff juggle his playing time).
Regarding O'Neill, he feels like the perfect Guardians acquisition. Right-handed? Check. Hits lefties well? Check. Can play above average defense in all three outfield spots? Check. Coming off of a couple down seasons and injury that diminishes his cost? Check. I actually stumped for O'Neill pretty hard in the comments of an article from Quincy a while back, his StatCast suggests a guy that was unlucky and still hits the snot out of the baseball. There was also some weirdness with his time in St. Louis last year? I don't think his manager liked him very much, for whatever reason. All of this screams of a guy that'd benefit from a scenery change, and would take some pressure off of Laureano, Rodriguez, and DeLauter this season. Finally:
Sign Shota Imanaga to a three-year, $54 million contract with an opt-out after year two
Here's the FanGraphs contract estimates for Imanaga (as well as his 2024 ZiPS projection):
This is by-far the most unrealistic part of my proposal. Cleveland hasn't signed a free agent starting pitcher in almost a decade, and it's been even longer since they gave one a multi-year deal. That said, they desperately need a veteran arm with some upside. Imanaga is basically an older Yamamoto-lite without the same name recognition (or otherworldly stats), but still a very good track record in NPB. He should be a fine 3rd or 4th starter in a rotation with the potential upside for something more akin to a number two. Having him would take the pressure off of Bibee/ Williams/ Allen to resist regression as well as somewhat alleviate the injury/ preformance concerns for McKenzie and Bieber.
Ultimately, with these moves the team could look something like this:
C B. Naylor
1B J. Naylor
Is it perfect? No. Am I too hyped about Kyle Manzardo? Probably, but he might also win Rookie of the Year. Am I totally confident in handing the fulltime shortstop job to Arias? Not really, but boy oh boy I can't quit those tools. Would Cleveland really spend almost $50 million in one offseason to fill two holes on the roster? Almost certainly not. Nonetheless, the outfield looks 100x better in this scenario and the rotation less reliant on perfect health and zero regression. If they're really serious about ending the drought, this just might do the trick.
If you've made it to the end, thanks for reading. I am ready to be roasted now lol. There's been a lot of smoke around possible trades of Bieber and Clase in the last week (and I'd be against both, unless they're getting an absolute haul back, which feels more likely for Clase at this point), so this could become outdated really fast.