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The Guardians’ shortstop conundrum

Amed Rosario seems to be the shortstop of the foreseeable future

Detroit Tigers v Cleveland Guardians Photo by Ron Schwane/Getty Images

Earlier this month in a game against the White Sox, the Guardians’ infield consisted of Gabriel Arias, Andrés Giménez, Brayan Rocchio, and Amed Rosario.

What do they all have in common? They’re all shortstops.

Unfortunately for Cleveland — an organization that has been collecting middle infield prospects like a doomsday prepper stockpiles bottled water — the rules of baseball dictate that only one player on the field can occupy the shortstop position at a time.

This has resulted in a top prospect like Tyler Freeman seeing the field only twice in the last 10 days, leading the Athletic’s Zack Meisel to ask manager Terry Francona for an explanation.

Here was his response:

It’s hard. It’s hard. And that frustrates me a little bit, because it’s a kid that we think can help us and you’re worried about his development also, and that bothers me at times. I just haven’t figured out a way to do that yet. Normally, these things have a way of taking care of themselves, but until it does, I do think about that a lot.

This may be a controversial take but I believe the Guardians organization wants to win this season. Fans might cite the fact that Amed Rosario has started at shortstop for 39 of the 48 games they’ve played so far this season as evidence to the contrary. But I bet if you were to ask Francona or president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti why Rosario continues to see the bulk of the playing time at shortstop, they would tell you that it’s because they believe Rosario is the shortstop who gives them the best chance of winning.

That said, Rosario has not played well this season. His 69 wRC+ ranks 19th out of 20 qualified shortstops across Major League Baseball, and he ranks dead last (20th) in FanGraphs WAR (-0.4) among that same group. Defensively, Rosario has been a disaster. According to Baseball Savant, he also ranks dead last in outs above average (-8) among all MLB shortstops.

So why is Rosario getting so much play in spite of his poor performance? Well, I have to imagine the Guardians are expecting him to rebound, demonstrating a willingness to give Rosario the benefit of the doubt after he posted nearly identical slash lines in 2021 and 2022.

Beyond that, as talented as Arias, Freeman, and Rocchio may be, all of them are unproven at the big-league level. With Rosario, you know what you’re getting. If Cleveland was in rebuild mode, this would be a lot less complicated. The club could bench, trade, or DFA Rosario and throw one of their young shortstops into the deep end and see if he can swim.

But the Guardians want to have their cake and eat it too, trying to walk the tightrope of rebuilding and contending at the same time. This is one of the pitfalls of that approach. For a contending club, a veteran shortstop with a history of consistent league-average production is tough to walk away from. A rebuilding club would be using this season to find their shortstop of the future.

Rosario is not the Guardians’ shortstop of the future. But the Guardians believe he is their best shortstop at present, preferring to gamble on the known rather than the unknown. In other words, the younger shortstops may all have a higher ceiling than Rosario, but the organization has seen his floor and believe it to be higher than theirs. It’s the risk-averse choice, but it’s a choice.

The sunk-cost fallacy may also be a factor here. If you’re unfamiliar, the sunk-cost fallacy is demonstrated when a person adheres to a course of action because they have already heavily invested in it, even when it is clear that abandoning it would be more beneficial. In this instance, the Guardians are already on the hook to pay Rosario $7.8 million this season, which is the fourth-highest salary on the team. Not exactly a drop in the bucket. So from their perspective, they may believe it’s better to pay him that money to pay rather than pay him not to play.

If Cleveland were to trade Rosario, it would simply be to clear the logjam at shortstop. They’re not going to get anything of value in return, not with Rosario’s current struggles and only four months left on his contract. Trading him would signal a shift in the front office’s strategy and as much as fans would be elated at that, I don’t see it happening any time soon.