The Major League Baseball trade deadline has come and gone with no shortage of activity across the league. Many players saw their lives change in the blink of an eye. The biggest name moved was superstar Juan Soto, who heads to the San Diego Padres with teammate Josh Bell in exchange for Luke Voit, and a major haul of top prospects. Almost every team in contention was busy bolstering their rosters for the stretch run. Chris Antonetti was not one of those executives. The only move the Guardians made was trading Sandy Leon to the Minnesota Twins for AAA right-handed pitcher Ian Hamilton. What makes this inactivity so much more puzzling is the AL Central is wide open this season.
It is no secret the Guardians have the youngest team in baseball and are contending a year ahead of schedule. Many (including myself) were frustrated in the offseason when the front office was inactive after the lockout. The goal of the 2022 season was clear: Evaluate all the young talent this organization had in order to know what they had in these guys before they put them on the trading block. This season, we have seen 12 guys make their major league debuts. Many of them have contributed to the team’s surprising ascent up the standings into second place, just one game back of first place Minnesota in the weak American League Central.
Contending while evaluating talent can be difficult, but it is not something this organization is not used to. Every season since 2016, the team has made a trade on deadline day. This season should have been no different considering how winnable the division is, and the impending 40-man roster crunch the organization has again this offseason. Once again, multiple players will need to be added to the 40-man roster or risk being taken in the Rule 5 Draft for absolutely nothing. Why would the front office wait until the offseason to make moves with this surplus of prospects, as opposed to waiting until the offseason when they have little to no leverage?
This is not to say the front office did not try to make any moves. One report had them interested in Juan Soto, but those talks went nowhere once Washington insisted that top prospect right-handed pitcher Daniel Espino be included in the deal. It is not Espino alone that made Antonetti unwilling to make a deal for Soto. Instead, it most likely was the total package it would have required to acquire Soto. Using the completed trade with San Diego as a comparison, the trade package from Cleveland would have looked something like: Triston McKenzie, Daniel Espino, George Valera, Nolan Jones and another lower level minor league prospect. That is the type of trade that could cripple the farm system, which is never what Cleveland is looking to do.
Juan Soto aside, there were plenty of opportunities to make moves for guys that would not have killed the depth in the minor leagues. Over the past few days, the Guardians were linked to Willson Contreras and Ian Happ of the Cubs, Pablo Lopez of the Marlins, Sean Murphy of the Oakland A’s and Tyler Mahle and Luis Castillo of the Reds just to name a few. In the end, the front office could not pull the trigger on any of these deals. When Chris Antonetti spoke after the deadline, and later confirmed by manager Terry Francona, there were many discussions internally on deals that could be made. At the end of the day, Tito and the front office were concerned about upsetting the chemistry of this young team.
I personally think not bringing in reinforcements could have a negative effect on team morale. These kids have worked their tails off getting to within one game of a playoff spot. Not seeing any new bodies walk through the door could send them the message the organization does not think they can make the playoffs this season.
On the bright side, this team remains right in the thick of the playoff race in the American League. Tito is going to have tough decisions to make when it comes to dividing playing time amongst all these young players who play the same positions. Oscar Gonzalez was activated off the injured list to add to the log jam in right field with Nolan Jones and Will Benson. It is notable that to make room for Gonzalez, the team optioned struggling DH Franmil Reyes to AAA Columbus to work on his swing. The move was not announced until right after the trade deadline expired, making many believe the team tried up until the last moment to trade Reyes. Now that Reyes is gone, the offense looks like a lineup ready to make an October run. The bullpen is starting to rebound nicely with Nick Sandlin and James Karinchak finally pitching like the guys we saw last season. The biggest question mark remains the starting rotation. Hopefully they can get healthy and find some consistency, so Bryan Shaw does not have to start every fifth day.
Since the decision was to stand pat at the deadline, then I say bring up Tyler Freeman (which the team did Wednesday morning), Bo Naylor, Cody Morris (when healthy), and Peyton Battenfield. Let’s let all the kids ride us right into October baseball where anything can happen. Like they always say, sometimes the best trades are the ones you don’t make.
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