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Will the Guardians pull off a trade deadline blockbuster?

A trade deadline mainfesto looking at potential Cleveland trade targets

Cleveland Indians v Chicago Cubs Photo by David J. Becker/Getty Images

I want to offer Cleveland fans an extensive list of players the Guardians could theoretically target at the trade deadline. Now, you’ll see a few of these articles, but how many will you see organized around the theme of summer 2023 blockbusters? Hopefully, just one. This one.

To begin with, I’d like to offer some general assessment of what we can generally assume and believe about the Guardians’ front office’s approach to the trade deadline:

First, the team isn’t afraid to make trades. Despite some recent inactivity, Cleveland has shown a willingness to mix it up and go after upgrades in July numerous times in the past decade. They’ve also been aggressive in moving on from players who have two or fewer years of control left. So, despite the disappointment of last year’s quiet offseason and deadline, the Guardians are as likely as any team (not named Seattle or San Diego) to make a trade, even a significant one, in the coming weeks.

Second, it’s been pretty confirmed in reports from Eric Longenhagen, Ken Rosenthal, Zack Meisel, and any number of other respected baseball writers that Cleveland’s approach to trades is to set a firm value on their players and not budge from that. They are usually more listeners than callers when it comes to shopping their own players. They are prone to looking at three-team deals to help meet value demands. All of this does make them a complicated trade partner, but, again, they’ve been able to regularly get deals done.

Third, I would not expect Cleveland to do any sort of massive restructuring of the current roster (barring big injuries which might set alarm bells off, who knows, but let’s not ponder that dystopian universe). They have a legitimate shot at winning a division that fits their general approach of giving the team as many bites at the playoff apple as possible and hoping to get on a hot streak at the right time. I am confident they understand that their biggest area of need is acquiring more slugging, specifically slugging that can handle left-handed pitching. I’d be surprised if they don’t try to address that need in some manner. But, I thought they’d address it last year, and they didn’t … so, no guarantees. Just general assumptions.

Finally, I am going to laser focus on players who can play the outfield (even if they do so poorly). Cleveland may certainly target other players — for example, some more catching depth at Double-A would be great, and adding some pitchers at any level but especially in Low-A and High-A would be welcome. The Guardians also always focus simply on getting good value and figuring out position fit later, as the Juan Brito trade demonstrated.

With that said, if Cleveland gets a significant piece who can help the 2023-2024 rosters and beyond at this deadline, one would assume it will be someone who can play outfield and, especially, someone whose primary skillset revolves around hitting baseballs a long way.

On to our blockbuster categories:

Oppenheimer Group — The nuclear explosion level of trades

Juan Soto, Padres, LHH OF, 24 years old, under team control through 2024, 152 wRC+, .219 ISO

Padres general manager A.J. Preller has never met a trade he won’t consider but it would be difficult to imagine him dealing his prize acquisition, Juan Soto, one year after sealing the deal for the all-star hitter. However, if the possibility exists, I’d love for the Guardians to be in on him. I’d also be shocked if they were interested in paying the price for two playoff runs with him. But, imagine, just for a minute, Ramirez, Soto, Naylor in the middle of an order… ok, stop. On second thought... don’t do that to yourself.

Shohei Ohtani, Angels, LHH DH and Pitcher, 29 years old, under team control through 2023, 177 wRC+, .350 ISO

The Angels aren’t going to trade Shohei Ohtani. If they did, there is zero way the Guardians would pay the price to get him. But just imagining him on the Guardians is enough to show you why he should be the league MVP every year.

Luis Robert, White Sox, RHH OF, 25 years old under team control through 2027, 144 wRC+, .301 ISO

The White Sox are not a particularly wise front office, but it’s hard for me to imagine them trading their best young hitter who is signed to an affordable extension, especially to a division rival. Luis Robert certainly would solve Cleveland’s lineup woes almost instantaneously. Never mind, Luis, I’ll find someone like youuuuu.

Barbie Group – The players everyone wants

Paul Goldschmidt, Cardinals, 1B, RHH, 35 years old, under team control through 2024, 136 wRC+, .195 ISO.

I couldn’t see Cleveland taking on the amount of money it would take to get Paul Goldschmidt unless St. Louis was willing to take on Josh Bell as part of a return. Goldschmidt has been having another good year but, alarmingly, for a hitter who has had an average of 24.4 runs above average against fastballs for his career in the 10 full seasons he’s played, his average against fastballs this season is -3.3 This is the biggest of red flags for aging sluggers so you do not want Cleveland to trade for Goldschmidt. Trust me.

Jorge Soler, Marlins, RHH OF/DH, 31 years old with an opt-out after 2023, 135 wRC+, .268 ISO.

The Marlins are competing for a playoff berth so I can’t picture them trading Jorge Soler. If for some reason, they were to lose a ton of games right after the break, I also have trouble imagining Cleveland being ok with Soler’s extremely suspect glove in right field. I guess I’m left wishing they’d have gone for Soler over Bell, and hoping Bell has the kind of second half that Soler had in the first half.

Cody Bellinger, Cubs, LHH OF, 27 years old, under team control through 2023, 129 wRC+, .199 ISO.

I’ll be surprised if the Cubs don’t trade Cody Bellinger, who has seemingly rediscovered his hitting abilities after their mysterious three-year disappearance. While I don’t think the Guardians will be interested in a rental player, imagine with me, if you will, adding .200 in ISO in centerfield for August-October. Bellinger also has above-average numbers against left-handed pitchers for his career, so he’s certainly a full-time player. I don’t think the Guardians would do it, but I’m totally in on the move if they want to surprise us.

Austin Hays, Orioles, RHH OF, 28 years old, under team control through 2025, 133 wRC+, .179 ISO.

Looks to me like Austin Hays is having a career year, so, if the Orioles were not competing for a playoff berth, he’d be an ideal candidate for them to trade. While he will probably reliably hit left-handed pitchers, I’m not sure I’d be thrilled with the Guardians giving up what it would take to acquire a player who is probably a lot closer to an average offensive outfielder.

Ryan Noda, Athletics, LHH 1B/OF, 27 years old, under team control through 2028, 130 wRC+, .175 ISO.

Ryan Noda is really the one reliable bright spot in Oakland’s lineup and they have him for a ton more years. He’s probably a first baseman but doesn’t look unplayable in a corner outfield spot. He also has even splits so far. The reason I don’t think a Noda trade is impossible is because he is 27, so his timeline doesn’t really fit the complete tank job Oakland is doing. It might make sense for them to capitalize on his trade value and get a lot of young players for him now. After failing to land Matt Olson and failing to land Sean Murphy, would Cleveland try again? Would they be ok with another left-handed hitter and someone whose defensive limitations are not insignificant? That, I cannot say.

Eloy Jiménez, White Sox, RHH DH/OF, 26 years old, under team control through 2026, 117 wRC+, .207 ISO.

I wouldn’t be surprised if the White Sox have a rough start to the second half and trade Jiménez, though they have reportedly said they will keep him. However, he is a terrible defender and can’t stay healthy, so I imagine Guardians fans would not be alone across MLB in resisting the idea of their team acquiring him. He is still a proven major-league hitter who may need a change of scenery. I would not be opposed to the idea, but I do think you’d be counting on the Cleveland locker room to get him right. As always, intradivision trades are complicated, but Cleveland and Chicago have pulled them off in the past.

Mission Impossible Group — The players Cleveland would love but are likely impossible to acquire

Jordan Walker, Cardinals, RHH DH/3B/OF, on his rookie year with St. Louis, 120 wRC+ with .164 ISO so far.

Any Cardinals fan will tell you Jordan Walker is untouchable. I don’t think that’s true simply because of his defensive issues and his struggles to lift the ball. If there was a way to pull off an impossible exchange of young players, man, that kind of right-handed pop that is potentially in Walker would be so worth pursuing. But, as the category indicates, this one is a long shot and would be very expensive.

Heston Kjerstad, Orioles, LHH, OF, in Triple-A where he has a 147 wRC+ and a .268 ISO.

Heston Kjerstad has surpassed Colton Cowser as the top outfield prospect for Baltimore and has even splits, with tremendous power and good defensive abilities. Now, Baltimore has a ton of outfield and hitting depth in the upper minors, as we will see further on this list, so I don’t think a trade to get him is out of the realm of possibility, but it’ll require a lot and maybe even a three-team deal. Baltimore needs pitching, Cleveland has pitching, so there is a potential match here at some level. Just maybe not for this particular player.

Guardians of the Galaxy Group — These guys seem very Guardians-esque in terms of their skills

Austin Slater, Giants, RHH OF, 30 years old, under team control through 2024, 124 wRC+, .144 ISO in 2022 (Suggested by user Guardians15 in the comments)

Slater is just getting back from an injury but has been hitting well for the Giants who mostly use him as a platoon-option against LHP as he has a 136 wRC+ against LHP and an 84 wRC+ against RHP for his career. The Giants are another team that has a lot of outfield depth and could use some pitching. They also tend to target pitchers who are control-first, which fits the Guardians-type. Slater can play center pretty well, also, so could do a Brennan/Slater platoon there and still try Gonzalez in right if the team wants to cut Gallagher and carry five outfielders (with Straw as the 5th). I know, now I’m getting crazy.

Lane Thomas, Nationals, RHH OF, 27 years old, under team control through 2025, 127 wRC+, .200 ISO

Your classic Brandon Guyer move, with Lane Thomas being an exceptional hitter against left-handed pitchers at 143 wRC+ for his career. He’s not a great fielder, but passable in right field, so if you wanted more reliable slugging against righties from a less risky profile than Gonzalez, Thomas is a great option. Depending on the market, I don’t think the return cost to acquire him will be exorbitant.

Dylan Carlson, Cardinals, SH OF, 24 years old, under team control through 2026, 100 wRC+, .133 ISO.

Dylan Carlson is an interesting case, as he is also probably a Guyer move, with a career 140 wRC+ against southpaws. However, he has the prospect pedigree where one can still hope for more from him at his age, as he hit right-handed pitching much better in the minors than he has so far in the majors. He can hold his own defensively in the outfield corners and even plays center reasonably well. If we can dare risk believing that the Guardians' change of scenery and hitting coaching could help a hitter, Carlson would certainly be an interesting candidate who should be available for the price of a pitcher that St. Louis would like (not named Tanner Bibee or Gavin Williams, for sure).

Lars Nootbaar, Cardinals, LHH, OF, 25 years old, under team control through 2027. 108 wRC+ (but with a .348 xwOBA), .123 ISO.

Lars Nootbaar has an elite name and elite splits for a left-handed hitter (113 vs LHP and 115 vs. RHP for his career). He’s also an above-average outfielder. He burst onto the scene last season, putting up a 20-25 home run pace and a 125 wRC+. This season, his barrel rate has declined about 4% and so have the home runs. He’s certainly an above-average hitter who can play a good outfield. Is that enough to motivate Cleveland to move real assets to him? The reason it’s at least worth considering is the even splits, in my humble opinion. Will Brennan doesn’t look from minor or major league stats to be a viable everyday option against lefties. But, I’m not sure if St. Louis will be particularly open to trading Nootbar.

T.J. Hopkins, Reds, RHH, OF, 26 years old, on a rookie deal, 140 wRC+, 210 ISO in Triple-A.

T.J. Hopkins looks thoroughly blocked in Cincinnati and probably needs to get traded to find an opportunity. He has reliably mashed left-handed pitching in the minors and looks capable of handling right field. There will be bumps in the road, but I do think Hopkins as a right-handed platoon option in right field is a small move that could pay some dividends. However, do I think he is better than Gonzalez? Personally, I do not. Both players swing at too many bad pitches. But if the Guardians, for some reason, prefer Hopkins’ hitting profile I could see them getting him in a small deal.

Trey Cabbage, Angels, RHH, 26 years old, still in the minors, 114 wRC+, .294 ISO.

Another player who has been blocked from a major-league opportunity, Trey Cabbage would make for some great t-shirt opportunities. He hits lefties well and offers some real power and some real swing-and-miss. He plays some outfield, but not particularly well. This is one of those players you could see the Guardians exchange a usable relief arm like James Karinchak to acquire.

Transformers: Rise of the Beasts Group – Prospects who are probably not going to help much in 2023 but could transform into something useful in 2024 and beyond

Colton Cowser, Orioles, OF, LHH, 23 years old, 153 wRC+, .207 ISO in Triple-A.

Cowser is a good, young player, but I think if I were Baltimore, he’s the one I’d look to trade if I have to do so. He hasn’t hit lefties well in the minors, but he’s still good enough all around to picture at the top of a major-league order if everything pans out. He’s not my favorite Baltimore prospect, but he’s enough to make me interested if the Guardians feel the price is right.

Hudson Haskin, Orioles, OF, RHH, 24 years old, 110 wRC+, .195 ISO in Triple-A.

One of the amazing collection of Baltimore outfielders, Hudson Haskins is an interesting player with starter upside, but probably fits better as a fourth or fifth outfielder. There are questions about how well his power will project in the majors, so his value is buoyed by great speed and good defense. Seems like he would be a small part of a larger deal if the Guardians were to acquire him.

Coby Mayo, Orioles, 3B, RHH, 21 years old, 180 wRC+, .302 ISO in Double-A.

Coby Mayo’s primary position is third base, but he should be able to adequately play a corner outfield spot if needed. He’s another Orioles’ hitter with stupid power and shows again why Cleveland needs to be seeing if there’s a deal to be had with these guys. Mayo being valued higher because of his position makes him probably not the most likely target of the Orioles group, however.

Connor Norby, Orioles, 2B, RHH, 23 years old, 190 wRC+, .398 ISO in Double-A, 94 wRC+, .170 ISO in Triple-A.

A little more skeptical that Connor Norby can move to an outfield spot, but maybe left field (switching Steven Kwan to center)? He is one of those undersized guys who can flat-out hit from whom Cleveland has built their whole personality. Important also to note that neither Mayo nor Norby are Rule-5 eligible until the fall of 2024.

Dominic Canzone, Diamondbacks, OF, LHH, 25 years old, 147 wRC+, .280 ISO in Triple-A

Dominic Canzone is just sadly blocked in Arizona but he is absolutely killing the ball in their farm. Questions remain about his defense but that hasn’t stopped Cleveland from playing some offensive upside guys in the outfield grass before. The issue is that Canzone is unlikely to be much better than around average against southpaws given his numbers in the minors. However, he should be able to hold his own, so I’d definitely explore whether Cleveland has a pitcher, starting or relief, whom Arizona would be willing to trade him to acquire.

Christian Encarnacion-Strand, Reds, 1B/OF, RHH, 23 years old, 141, .286 ISO in Triple-A.

Christian Encarnacion-Strand is also blocked at his best position, first base, in Cincinnati, so the team has given him brief looks at outfield. I do wonder if there is a way to swing a starting pitcher trade to Cincinnati where they will offer him as a return just as they got him as a return for trading Tyler Mahle. If so, I’d be very interested in adding this right-handed power bat and figuring out the best defensive options to get him in the lineup later.

Everson Pereira, Yankees, OF, RHH, 22 years old, 143 wRC+, .255 ISO in Double-A.

Everson Pereira is having an interesting year for the Yankees, as he recently got called up to Triple-A and has put up a 244 wRC+ in 19 games. He is showing some exciting development and the ability to maintain solid plate discipline while getting to his power. If the Guardians were to acquire a player like this, they would be betting on their hitting development system to finish him and get him in the bigs to provide power in a corner spot. There are certainly reasons to doubt that they can do that, but, if they can’t, they should probably fire their hitting development team. I’m a big fan of Pereira, and I also think the Yankees are a good trade partner because they should be willing to potentially overpay for a Bieber, but there is certainly risk here, and there would have to be other pieces involved, maybe right-handed starter Will Warren and a lower level hitter? I think there’s reason to watch for signs of the Yankees and Guardians talking.

Fast X Group – Derivative choices who may or may not be marginal improvements over whatever you have on hand

Brent Rooker, Athletics, OF/DH, RHH, 28 years old, under team control through 2027. 133 wRC+, .248 ISO.

The one thing I can say about Brent Rooker is that he seems to be a good option against lefties. Other than that, he had a scorching hot April, a bad May, and a bad June, and has turned things around recently. He is not a good outfielder but looks serviceable in left. So … would the Guardians move Kwan to centerfield, do a Brennan/Rooker platoon in left, and get Gonzalez a run in right field, with Straw as a late-inning pinch-runner and defensive replacement? Would that be an improvement? I’m not sure. But, Rooker as a 28-year-old is certainly available and shouldn’t be overly expensive to acquire.

Tyler O’Neill, Cardinals, OF, RHH, 28 years old, under team control through 2024. 101 wRC+, .165 ISO in 2022, rehabbing in Triple-A currently.

Well, I could certainly interest you in 2021 Tyler O’Neill, who put up a 144 wRC+ with a .274 ISO, but that year certainly looks like the outlier. He has a 122 wRC+ against left-handed pitchers for his career and has been an above-average outfielder in the corner spots, and is playable in centerfield. I am sure the Cardinals would trade him and also sure his cost won’t be prohibitive. Is this the kind of move the Guardians could make to have a floor option in case Gonzalez and/or George Valera don’t pan out, and a solid platoon option for Brennan at the least? If O’Neill is healthy, I could see it, and I wouldn’t mind the play for his upside, but I’m sure this move would get an eye roll from most Guardians fans.

Ryan Mountcastle, Orioles, RHH 1B, under control through 2026, 84 wRC+ with a .194 ISO

Ryan Mountcastle is having an extremely unlucky year and spent most of June on the injured list with vertigo and has yet to rejoin the Orioles. One wonders if Baltimore would prefer to trade him and keep some of their younger prospects. I’m not sure I’d want Cleveland to be interested, given, again, that it would require them to move Josh Naylor to the outfield. Mountcastle does have interesting slugging ability and a career 118 wRC+ vs. lefties. He’s probably Gonzalez who plays first base, though, and it seems like the Guardians already have too many of those types of hitting profiles on the roster.

Elemental Group – Names who are interesting but Cleveland and the mix is like fire and water

Jo Adell, Angels, OF, RHH, 24 years old, rookie contract, 117 wRC+, .309 ISO at Triple-A

Just when Jo Adell finally was getting a regular shot at playing time with Mike Trout out, he has developed oblique soreness. In any case, I have trouble imagining the Angels trading Adell, or the Guardians fixing his swing-and-miss issues, or taking on the risk associated with the cost it would take to acquire a now potentially injuried, high-variance player. But, man is that power from the right-side tempting.

Michael Busch, Dodgers, OF, LHH, 25 years old, rookie contract, 142 wRC+, .257 ISO at Triple-A.

Michael Busch has been getting some time with the Dodgers and trying to find his footing in MLB. He is likely a left-fielder, and he’s a left-handed hitter. Left-handed doesn’t necessarily fit the Guardians’ needs, but he has been good against left-handed pitchers for his minor league career. The power he consistently displays makes him an interesting option with the Dodgers needing pitching and having a deep enough system to satisfy the Guardians’ demands, especially if the deal included a third team. However, the Guardians and Dodgers seem to have zero chemistry for trades, so I doubt anything happens between the two clubs.

I wouldn’t 100% rule out the possibility of the Guardians swinging a trade for a starting pitcher to help with the innings limits on their young pitchers, but I’m at about 95% certain they won’t. The names who are most interesting and most likely to move, Eduardo Rodriguez, Marcus Stroman, Lucas Giolito, and James Paxon, are all only under team control through the rest of this season and two of them play for division rivals. Seems extremely unlikely that the Guardians acquire any of those four. It does show, of course, that if Cleveland wants to trade a pitcher with some control like Bieber or Civale or a young gun like Allen or Cantillo, the return should be very good. Again. not saying the team should do that, just assessing the market.

I think the Guardians will make at least one trade before the deadline. Bold, I know. I think Gabriel Arias, Karinchak, and Gonzalez are clearly, from their usage, pieces the team would be glad to deal. I suspect they’d also be willing to discuss any of their young middle-infield prospects and probably feel some level of pressure to cash in at least one of those long-held chips to reallocate resources into another needed area. I think the Guardians will target a Lane Thomas/Tyler O’Neill/Trey Cabbage type to give them another platoon option for Brennan in a corner.

The big question is whether or not the Guardians will trade Shane Bieber. I would certainly support trading him now if a Tyler Mahle-2022-type return is out there and making do with the rotation that remains, but I think the Guardians will prefer to give Bieber a chance to rebuild some of his diminishing value for the rest of this season before they more aggressively shop him this fall. I also doubt they trade any of their starting pitching depth, either in the majors or minors, with Cal Quantrill, Triston McKenzie, and Daniel Espino all shelved already, and trading Bieber probably sends a message that the team is punting on 2023, even if they aren’t. You can try to manage that message, but if they want to win the division, trading even one of their starters right now leaves them pretty thin. My guess is that Bieber won’t be moved unless the Baltimore Orioles are looking at him right now and thinking, “I can fix him.”

Predictions-aside, if I were the Guardians, I’d prioritize working on solving the slugging issue for future years by exploring deals not only Bieber but, alternatively, even Aaron Civale, Logan Allen, or Joey Cantillo — trading whichever one gets the team what they need in terms of young, controllable slugging if another team is willing to play ball. If Cleveland’s approach is to take a bite at the playoff apple every year, I think they have 2-3 teeth to bite that apple in their current lineup when it comes to legitimate sluggers. They need to add at least one other option and I’d prioritize that aggressively in negotiations, in my humble opinion.

To me, an exciting (and within the realm of possibility) deadline would involve the Guardians acquiring Dylan Carlson or Lars Nootbaar as major leaguers, or Heston Kjerstad, Dominic Canzone, or Everson Pereira as minor leaguers. All would offer significant slugging upside.

Overall, I’d expect Cleveland to make moves mostly focused on shoring up areas where depth is needed in the minors, and maybe adding a right-handed platoon bat that can play outfield if the right deal arises. I would not be at all surprised not to see any major league help acquired by Cleveland at this deadline, but I would be disappointed.