An uneventful offseason for the Guardians could feature a small move later this month when the market has bottomed out. If it does, which free agents might they target?
After a period of time where Shane Bieber rumors were constant, it seems that those talks have either fallen apart of quieted. ESPN’s Jeff Passan described a Bieber trade as unlikely in an article yesterday. Perhaps the Guardians realized that they weren’t getting much more than Estevan Florial-types in return offers, and opted to trade Cody Morris instead, as the always excellent Willie Hood suggested on Twitter.
Thinking out loud...Dealing away Cody Morris for a toolsy OF option w/ power, defense, & speed achieved what this org would have wanted to achieve w/ a Bieber trade. That was dealing Bieber & potentially filling an OF spot w/ a controllable asset. https://t.co/NYVrJPjgBa— Willie Hood (@WillHoo99) January 3, 2024
In any case, Bieber is the team’s best projected starter in 2024 and the team is thin on starting pitcher depth, so it seems like a good idea to keep him around if the team is willing to do so, financially.
With that said, I think every Guardians fan, by now, is aware that the team is very unlikely to make any significant free agent move. The Guardians’ beat reporters have been repeating that mantra ad nauseum this offseason, clearly indicating that their team sources are consistent on the team wanting to keep payroll near 2023 levels. However, with the Bally Sports’ hearing on January 10th, if the Guardians get good news on the expectations of what Bally will pay them in their TV deal for 2023, I think it’s possible the Guardians may go after someone at the lowest end of the free agent markets. Additionally, it’s possible the front office can go to Paul Dolan and say, “Look, the trade market isn’t as robust as we had hoped. Do we have the flexibility with Daddy Blitzer on board to spend $8-10M on a one-year deal?” and maybe, just maybe, they can get the ok.
Of course, the Guardians will undoubtedly bring a few more folks into camp on minor-league deals, some of whom will certainly have a shot at helping the major league roster. Below, I have attempted to look at the lower levels of the free agent markets and identify some names who might be of potential interest to Cleveland. I have three main assumptions: 1. I don’t think the Guardians will pay for a centerfielder with money committed already to Straw and with Florial in house, 2. I think they want an outfielder with some power potential and starting pitcher depth, and 3. I lean toward them wanting a left-handed platoon bat to split time with Laureano in right field and push Will Brennan and George Valera to depth options. However, the lineup is very left-handed heavy, so I have also listed right-handed platoon options in case that’s the direction in which they go, which would push Laureano to a center-field platoon with Florial.
I would like to note that the Guardians may also be high on David Fry’s potential and versatility, in which case, I think minor-league deals will 100% be the only moves. Because adding one of these players on a major league deal for sure pushes Fry off the 26-man, unless the team can find a taker for Myles Straw or make the difficult (untenable to ownership?) decision to cut Straw.
As of today, I THINK the Guardians’ outfield is: Steven Kwan in LF, Florial and Straw in CF, Ramon Laureano and Will Brennan in right-field. However, it could also be Kwan - LF, Florial and Straw - CF, Laureano full-time in RF with Fry coming off the bench. Brennan, I think would get the chance to beat Florial out for CF in spring training.
Joc Pederson LH 31.7 years old (MLB Trade Rumors Estimate: $15.8M)
Analysis: Before you remind me, yes, I know Pederson slammed Guardians ownership among others for not spending on free agents while it was rumored the team was checking on him in the 2022 offseason. I doubt either Pederson or the Guardians hold any animosity about the tweet Pederson made at the time. I can’t see the Guardians coming up to more than $10 million, but if Pederson falls that low, a 125 career wRC+ against RHP would pair very nicely with Ramon Laureano’s 120 career wRC+ vs. LHP. However, the less said about Pederson’s fielding, the better.
Joey Gallo LH 30.1 years old (MLB Trade Rumors Estimate: $14M)
Analysis: I don’t think Gallo will get $14 million, but I do think he may get around $10 million because home runs are king. For his career, Gallo has been a good outfielder, but the past two years haven’t been great for him there, so he may have taken a step back. He should be around average in right-field, and he actually has above average splits against both LHP and RHP. Sometimes hitters find an extra gear when asked to platoon, however, so maybe he could slightly increase his 111 wRC+ vs RHP? His 104 wRC+ with 21 homers in 332 plate appearances in 2023 would be an amazing outcome for Will Brennan, so taking the fairly sure option of Gallo, should he fall into the Guardians’ price range, would be very attractive to me.
Tommy Pham RH 35.8 years old (MLB Trade Rumors Estimate: $8.3M)
Analysis: I would be very interested to know what the Guardians think of Tommy Pham, who is a fiery personality, and one that works real well in some locker rooms and not in others. He is still an above-average hitter and has a 129 wRC+ vs. LHP and a 111 wRC+ vs RHP for his career. Honestly, if the Guardians signed Tommy Pham to play right-field and be a veteran presence and platooned Florial and Laureano in center, I would not complain. Do I think it’s the right move? Probably not. I also don’t think they’ll pay even $8 million for his services. But, if they somehow signed him, I’d definitely understand the logic and it would fit in the traditions of signing Rajai Davis and Austin Jackson.
Randall Grichuk RH 32.3 years old (MLB Trade Rumors Estimate: $8M)
Analysis: Grichuk had a 100 wRC+ last year, has a career 155 wRC+ vs LHP and is a good right fielder defensively. I don't see the Guardians signing him for near $8 million, but if he slips to a $5-6 million deal, that seems possible. Again, you're looking at a Florial/Laureano platoon in CF, Brennan and Grichuk in RF and Straw somehow offloaded... it seems unrealistic.
Will Myers RH 33 years old (MLB Trade Rumors Estimate: $5.9M)
Analysis: Myers has a career 116 wRC+ vs LHP and seems to be viable in LF defensively. He had such an awful 2023, though, I'll be surprised if he gets a major league deal and he should probably only be given a chance to show something in Spring Training rather than handed a roster spot.
A.J. Pollock RH 36 years old (MLB Trade Rumors Estimate: $12.8M)
Analysis: I think Pollock is washed and would be surprised if he gets a major league deal, let alone close to this estimate. He does have a career 121 wRC+ vs LHP, but I would be shocked and upset if the Guardians signed him to the big league roster.
Robbie Grossman SH 34.2 years old (MLB Trade Rumors Estimate: $7M)
Analysis: Grossman is still a decent hitter but not especially playable in the outfield. He has a career 126 wRC+ vs LHP which should at least get him a minor-league deal somewhere. Wouldn't be opposed to that in Cleveland, even if as Laureano/Fry insurance.
Likely Minor-League Deals:
Carlos Carrasco RHP 36.8 years old
Analysis: The Guardians already snagged the best, most obvious minor league deal candidate in Jamie Barria. But, the next best candidate is a reunion with beloved former Guardian and all-around good guy, Carlos Carrasco. He may not have anything left in the tank but why not bring him home to find out in February and March?
Jesse Winker LH 30.3 years old
Analysis: Things went as bad as possible for Winker in 2023. He's not a good fielder and he had a 65 wRC+. But he's still only 30 and has a career 130 wRC+ vs RHP. If he can be had on a minor-league deal, I'd love to see him in camp to push Brennan and Valera. And, hey, if 2021 Winker somehow returns (ala Palpatine), I'd put up with some bad defense from that kind of platoon bat in RF with Laureano.
Corey Dickerson LH 34.6 years old
Analysis: Dickerson has a career 117 wRC+ vs LHP, but he's almost certainly washed. He'd be a Kole Calhoun-type signing on a minor-league to push the younger guys in camp.
Tyler Naquin LH 32.7 years old
Analysis: Basically, he's out there, he can tell glory stories of past Cleveland teams to the young guys, but he was cut by the White Sox and is probably done for as a major leaguer, sadly.
Kyle Lewis RH 28.4 years old
Analysis: Lewis has reverse splits (112 wRC+ vs RHP/85 wRC+ vs LHP) but has been absolutely lost at the plate, period, for two seasons. He's also constantly hurt. I don't see the harm in a minor-league deal, of course, but he seems like a very long shot to make any sort of major league impact at this point.
Conclusion: I am sure the Guardians will add some minor-league deals before Spring Training starts. I suspect that these minor-league folks may be it for additions. If I was forced to try to predict the future, my inclination would be that they go with the guys currently on their 40-man as Spring Training opens. If I could pick someone from the list above, I'd choose Gallo or Pham, players I think will be good values and provide defensive and intangible value as well as above average hitting. If I had to predict, I do think a vet to push Brennan and Valera makes sense and I could see Jesse Winker, someone they once tried to acquire in a trade with the Reds, being that guy brought in on a minor-league deal.
One way or another, we should have a good sense of the Guardians’ roster plans (if we don’t, already) by the end of January.