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5 mock trades the Guardians could explore

Let’s imagine some realistic Cleveland trade ideas

Miami Marlins v St. Louis Cardinals Photo by Scott Kane/Getty Images

As we await the trade deadline to see what, if anything, the Guardians will do, let’s take a look at four potential deals the Guardians could pursue in the coming days.

In case you missed it, I wrote a little bit about potential targets the Guardians could go after to address their slugging needs, specifically in the outfield. In the following article, I’m going to suggest four mock trades. It’s important to remember for mock trades that none of us know exactly how teams value given players. We don’t know what their internal models say about them, we can only go off of publicly available data. So, please don’t get too worked up if you think a given mock trade is off, in favor or not in favor of Cleveland. These are just ideas to give you some food for thought to hold you over to whatever feast, famine, or snack awaits us as Guardians fans on Aug. 1.

Guardians trade LHP Joey Cantillo and IF Tyler Freeman to Cardinals for OF Dylan Carlson

I hope Guardians fans are aware of the potential of 23-year-old Joey Cantillo as a mid-rotation starter. He’s an exciting lefty whose 11.02 K/9 rate and 4.10 ERA in his first nine games with the Clippers has raised some eyebrows around baseball by gaining in velocity to the point where his fastball is sitting at around 95 mph. He pitched only 84 innings from 2021-2022, so the health history is a bit checkered, but so are most starting pitchers. Overall, In a league starved for starting pitching and during a season that has proven to Cleveland fans that there is no such thing as starting pitching depth, the team should only trade Cantillo in a deal they are confident is going to dramatically upgrade the team.

I am trying to include one of the Guardians’ different middle infielders in some of these deals. I think there are good arguments to be made for Gabriel Arias, Tyler Freeman, and Brayan Rocchio as the future middle infielders to go with Andrés Giménez, as all have their strengths. Freeman’s high contact rate and dirtbag attitude go well with the Cardinals’ hitting philosophy and can figure in at third base for them, especially if they trade Nolan Arenado (which I think is likely). Arias is also an option here, as well.

What if I told you the Guardians could trade for a switch-hitting outfielder who is above average in centerfield, projected to average 17 homers per year over the next two years, has crushed left-handed pitching during his career, and is under team control through 2026? You’d probably sign up for that. Now, I will tell you that Dylan Carlson has only a career 104 wRC+ in the majors and his ISO hasn’t topped .144 in the past two years, down from his .172 ISO in 2021.

So, while the 141 wRC+ he has managed against left-handed pitchers in his career is exciting, and, in looking at his minor league splits, it seems reasonable to project him to figure out hitting righties at a rate better than his 91 wRC+, so far, Carlson is a flawed player. He’s been benched with Tyler O’Neill returning from injury. That’s, presumably, why the Cardinals are willing to discuss his availability, as Mark Feinsand recently reported (caveat: take Feinsand rumors with the largest grain of salt).

If your perspective is that Carlson is likely to be more of the hitter he has been in 2022-2023, then I think the Cardinals would have to contribute a decent prospect to make this deal even feasible and I don’t think I’d make it, even then. If you believe he is what his projections say he is, a 3-win player with a 115 wRC+ and 17 homers per year for 2024-2025, then I think you can call this deal a fair exchange that benefits both teams. It leaves the Guardians even thinner at pitching depth for 2023 and 2024 than they are already, but also swapping Myles Straw’s (optimistically) projected 80 wRC+ in 2024-2025 for a projected 115 wRC+ in 2024-2025 and an OAA that is still comfortably above average in defensively is likely a worthwhile risk to take in my humble opinion.

While I do think the Guardians could probably move Straw at some point if they are willing to eat some of his remaining contract, he’s still a valuable bench player and can serve a useful role as pinch-runner and defensive replacement, even with the addition of a player like Carlson.

I’ll also note that should the Cardinals want to discuss Jordan Walker, Nolan Gorman, or Lars Nootbaar, I’d prefer any of those three to Carlson (close between Gorman and Carlson because of Carlson’s defense, not close with the other two). I’d prefer Carlson to Tyler O’Neill.

Guardians trade RHP Aaron Civale to Orioles for OF Heston Kjerstad, and IF/OF Connor Norby

You notice a theme here of the Guardians trading starting pitchers. I will acknowledge that this may be unrealistic because with Shane Bieber and Cal Quantrill on the 15-day injured list, and Triston McKenzie and Daniel Espino dealing with more serious injuries, a pitching-rich organization is suddenly looking very thin.

Right now, the Guardians are counting on Aaron Civale to provide them with major-league innings for the rest of the season as they manage their rookie pitcher workloads. He has a 3.80 FIP, a career low-home run rate allowed, and a curveball that leads the league in Stuff+. There’s a lot to like, here ... but Guardians’ fans also know how difficult it has been for him to stay healthy.

With two years of team control left, would it make sense to trade a currently healthy Civale for true slugging potential to a potential playoff team looking for starting pitching help and turn the focus of the team to 2024 and beyond? This question is probably why Civale’s name has come up in trade rumors recently (Usual caveat that Jon Morosi is a volume shooter when it comes to rumors and we should consider his speculations as about as wild as they come):

I think the Orioles are clearly the team to watch for if the Guardians decide to move a player like Civale. The Orioles are overflowing with position player prospects who can hit the ball a mile, and I think if he were truly made available, the Guardians could get a very good return, which is what I have mocked up in this deal. Kjerstad and Norby are both excellent hitting prospects who are proving themselves capable in Triple-A, with a 148 wRC+ and .248 ISO there for the 24-year-old Kjerstad and a 100 wRC+ and .186 ISO there for the 23-year-old Norby. For their careers, Kjerstad’s K/BB%’s are 19.1/8.9 with a .209 ISO and a 145 wRC+ and Norby’s K/BB%’s are 21.9/9.7% with a .211 ISO and a 121 wRC+. Norby is a right-handed hitter with the potential to play 2B or LF and Kjerstad is a left-handed hitter with good minor-league splits against both right- and left-handed pitchers and probably best suited for right field where he should be an above-average fielder.

I think if the Orioles really offered up something like this deal (maybe it has to be a little less with Civale’s velo down in his latest start?), the Guardians would probably take it. But, crucially, it does require the Guardians system to finish developing position player prospects, and that is, of course, no sure thing. It also requires the Orioles not to send all their prospects to the Angels for Ohtani, first.

Guardians trade IF Brayan Rocchio and LHP Doug Nikhazy to Nationals for OF Lane Thomas

So, maybe the Guardians like Will Brennan, George Valera, Steven Kwan, and Myles Straw but think they could use an upgrade over the instability of Oscar Gonzalez’s hitting profile to help their outfield in hitting southpaws. Lane Thomas is a pretty clearly available target in that category with a career 106 wRC+ but 144 wRC+ with a .223 ISO against lefties in his career. He’s a slightly below-average defender in right field, but a notable improvement there over what Gonzalez has shown so far with the glove.

Now, I can hear prospect experts yelling about this trade, and I fully acknowledge that I wanted to make it Angel Martinez and Doug Nikhazy. However, Rocchio has yet to find his power against Triple-A pitching, and, while he is still young for the level, it’s somewhat unusual that it hasn’t really shown up yet. There is a real possibility that he is a slap-hitting switch-hitter who may end up at second base defensively and produce more closely to league average offensively than the bigger dreams of something like Lindor-lite.

In this scenario, we would discover that the rest of MLB isn’t as high on our shortstop prospects as we are. Nikhazy isn’t a nothing addition with his 11.26 K/9 this year, but it remains to be seen if he’ll be able to harness his control with a 6.51 BB/9 to be more than a back-of-the-rotation starter. All in all, this deal reflects the assumption that the market for Lane Thomas will be lively and Cleveland will have to overpay to get the proven offensive production he provides. This is an unlikely scenario, so, if this deal happens, it may have to be something like Martinez and Tanner Burns, instead.

I just suspect Cleveland will be outbid for Thomas’s services.

Guardians trade RHP Nick Sandlin and IF Gabriel Arias to Yankees for OF Everson Pereira

In this deal, I am going off the assumption that the Yankees could use bullpen help and would acquire a player who seems to be really hitting his stride. It hurts to trade Nick Sandlin, but it should hurt to acquire a player like Everson Pereira. In this trade, the Guardians would be counting on straightening James Karinchak’s issues out. Meanwhile, Arias continues to hit the ball hard and take walks while carrying a sub-optimal strikeout rate. That’s the kind of hitter the Yankees love, and, unfortunately, will probably optimize and use at third base for a long while (a position at which Arias is obviously blocked in Cleveland).

The Guardians look toward 2024 and beyond with the addition of Pereira who has a real shot at playing above-average CF in the bigs and hitting 20 homers. In his minor league career where he has just reached Triple-A, the right-handed hitting Pereira has a 142 wRC+, a K/BB% of 27.8/10.3, and an ISO of .251, At only 22 years old, there is still some finishing work to be done (which is admittedly scary given the Guardians’ issues developing young hitters) and I wouldn’t expect him in the majors until mid-2024. This deal revolves around my real belief in Pereira as a future center fielder with real home run power. The deal also allows the team to continue to see if Myles Straw can be more of an 80-90 wRC+ guy with gold-glove defense for a little while, before surrendering to the likely reality of who he has been for 2022-2023.

I suspect that Yankees fans who find this piece will hate this deal, but getting bullpen help isn’t cheap and Arias should have at the very least utility player floor. It’s possible that the Yankees might even prefer Karinchak, or may want Enyel De Los Santos, and all of those are options I’d consider for a player like Pereira (please want Karinchak, Yanks).

Guardians trade SS Amed Rosario to Giants for C Onil Perez

I was tempted to say “for cash considerations here”, but, instead, I assumed Cleveland covers the rest of Amed Rosario’s contract in order to get a decent catching prospect to help their organizational depth at the position. The Giants are among the worst teams in the league in both offensive production at shortstop and in hitting left-handed pitchers. Rosario helps them in both of those areas and provides an easy platoon option for the aging Brandon Crawford as the Giants push for an NL wildcard berth. It also gives Rosario, whom the organization clearly respects, a great landing spot for the rest of his contract season. Crucially, this trade gives the Guardians a clear chance to take a look at whatever young shortstops who remain after the deadline (Arias, Tyler Freeman, or Rocchio) to see who has a leg-up for the position of being Giménez’s double-play partner in 2024 and beyond.

In summary, I have tried in these trades to err on the side of overpaying for players. I’m sure there are Orioles, Yankees, Cardinals, Nationals, and Giants fans who will disagree with my assessment and that’s fine. But, I suspect I’ll also take a beating from some Guardians fans in the comments below, and that’s fine. If the Guardians can swing one of these deals using players who are a notch below those who I’ve recommended here, then, more power to them!

I also freely acknowledge that it may not be realistic or wise to trade any starting pitching given the current state of the organization’s arms. However, I think any true upgrade in terms of controllable outfield slugging will likely require taking a risk and trading a starting pitcher at some level.

All right, I’m ready to hear your responses and counter-proposals and to accept the fact that, after spilling several thousand words on the possibilities the past two weeks, there probably won’t be a single Guardians trade made come Aug. 1.