The Cleveland Guardians have an outfield offensive production problem. According to the team beat writers and play-by-play announcer Jim Rosenhaus, the team acknowledges it too. What are they going to do to fix it? This isn’t about what I think they SHOULD do, or what fans WANT the team to do, it is trying to predict what they WILL do based on past behavior. We all want them to double the payroll and get a top free agent. Or be the ones to trade for Juan Soto and give him an extension. It’s just not what they do.
Chris Antonetti became President of Baseball Operations at the end of the 2015 season. Mike Chernoff was also promoted to General Manager. The 2015 Indians finished 81-80, in 3rd place in the AL Central, and had purged the contracts of Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn at the trade deadline. Sounds a little familiar.
The 2016 Indians did not start off as the World Series bound juggernaut that many want to remember. The opening day lineup had Juan Uribe at third base, Marlon Byrd in left field, and Collin Cowgill in right. Jose Ramirez was not in the lineup. He started the next game in left field. Michael Brantley missed most of the season with a shoulder injury. They took over the division lead in early June.
Uribe signed a 1 year, 4 million dollar deal right before Spring Training. Marlon Byrd was a minor league signing with an invite to Spring Training. Antonetti also signed more memorable names Mike Napoli and Rajai Davis to 1 year deals in the offseason. Twitter wasn’t nearly as popular then but looking back at the reaction, those signings didn’t inspire much excitement.
Let’s focus on Antonetti’s major league signings.
2016 Mike Napoli 1 year, 7 million
2016 Rajai Davis 1 year, 5.25 million
2016 Juan Uribe 1 year, 4 million
2017 Edwin Encarnacion 3 year, 60 million
2018 Yonder Alonso 2 year, 16 million
2020 Cesar Hernandez 1 year, 6.35 million
2021 Cesar Hernandez 1 year, 5 million
2021 Eddie Rosario 1 year, 8 million
2023 Josh Bell 2 years, 32 million
2023 Mike Zunino 1 year, 6 million
The outliers here are Edwin and Bell. Edwin was signed after a trip to the World Series and Josh Bell was signed after losing in game 5 of the ALDS to the Yankees. Everyone else was signed for less than 10 million a year. Yonder Alonso was traded after the first season and Josh Bell at the trade deadline. Edwin was traded after the 2018 season as part of a deal to bring back Carlos Santana.
Outside of Edwin, the common theme is these signings are all basically 1 year deals for less than 10 million dollars.
Then during the season, at the trade deadline, they either sell their free agent or make a trade to upgrade a need.
Traded for Andrew Miller, Brandon Guyer, Coco Crisp in 2016
Traded for Jay Bruce and Joe Smith in 2017
Traded for Josh Donaldson and Leonys Martin in 2018
Traded for Franmil Reyes, Yasiel Puig, Brad Hand, and Adam Cimber in 2019
Traded for Josh Naylor, Austin Hedges, Cal Quantrill, Owen Miller, Gabriel Arias in 2020
Traded away Eddie Rosario and Cesar Hernadez and traded for Myles Straw in 2021
Traded away Josh Bell in 2023
The outfield free agent market hasn’t moved much. Only 3 players have changed teams and 2 went to the Royals. Garrett Hampson and Hunter Renfroe. Dominoes likely won’t start to fall until the top free agents Cody Bellinger and Teoscar Hernandez sign. Nearly half of the MLB is impacted by the TV contract uncertainty with the Bally Sports bankruptcy situation. The next hearing is scheduled for January 10th. The signings of Napoli, Edwin, Eddie Rosario, and the Lindor trade all happened after the New Year.
So who’s available that fits the profile of 1-2 year deal, for less than 10 million a year, and would be tradeable if the team ends up not being contenders in 2024?
Using both Fangraphs and Spotrac projections we have Tommy Pham, Joey Gallo, Adam Duvall, Whit Merrifield, Randal Grichuk, Michael Brantley, Eddie Rosario, David Peralta, and Robbie Grossman.
While he can hit home runs, Joey Gallo doesn’t fit the team’s offensive profile with his .177 batting average last year.
Michael Brantley would be a nice return story but he just can’t stay healthy and is likely better off at DH.
They probably won’t bring back Eddie Rosario.
David Peralta was barely better than Will Brennan last season.
Robbie Grossman is best platoon hitting against lefty pitching and the Guardians have Ramon Laureano for that.
This leaves us with Pham, Duvall, Merrifield, and Grichuk.
Fangraphs projections for next season has
Pham with 18 HRs, .739 on base percentage plus slugging, and 102 weight runs created + (100 is average)
Duvall with 25 HRs, .700 OPS, and 87 wRC+
Merrifield with 10 HRs, .681 OPS and 85 wRC+
Grichuk with 17 HRs, .761 OPS, and 90 wRC+
For reference, Will Brennan had an OPS of .655 and Steven Kwan an OPS of .710 last season.
They may end up trading Shane Bieber for a longer term solution but recent rumors have them also including Emmanual Clase to get the value they want. A stop gap 1 year deal also makes sense if they believe in younger players like Will Brennan, George Valera, or Chase DeLauter.
Also don’t be surprised if someone on a minor league deal starts the season with the team. Marlon Byrd, Austin Jackson, Melky Cabrera, Rajai Davis’s second stint, Mike Freeman, Carlos Gonzalez, Tyler Clippard, Blake Parker, and Enyel De Los Santos all were Spring Training invites.
This is who Chris Antonetti is. This is what we should expect from the Guardians each offseason until the pattern changes.