Cleveland sports fans should be used to practicing the art of patience. “Maybe next year” has been a phrase we have become all too familiar with for decades. This remains true today as the inaugural Guardians season gets underway. The fanbase is filled with apathy due to the name change, lockout, and lack of external upgrades. What if I told you there was a lot to be optimistic about internally?
By no means is this excusing ownership of their neglect by refusing to dish out significant money to improve the roster. I have just personally found a way to support my favorite team without voicing my disdain for ownership every chance I get. There is always a method to this front office’s madness. This organization has so many great up and coming prospects that they actually need to see them play on the field before deciding which assets they want to deal in a trade for a major league bat.
The monumental extension of Jose Ramirez went a long way with the fanbase that has only seen their favorite stars traded before the big pay day comes. There is also the less talked about extension of Emmanuel Clase that the organization chose to do to avoid his arbitration years. The question is: who will the team surround these guys with? This organization is loaded with pitchers and middle infielders. The problem is there are only two middle infield sports to fill. As were seeing play out in real time, playing middle infielders in the outfield is not always the best plan.
We are currently seeing phase 1 play out. They are giving the guys with no more minor league options the chance to prove they still have something to contribute at the major league level. These guys include Oscar Mercado, Bobby Bradley and Yu Chang. Bradley Zimmer has already been traded to Toronto after the opening day loss to the Kansas City Royals. This is typically the MO of the organization. We saw it play out in 2021. Ben Gamel and Jake Bauers opened the season on the roster. They were both designated for assignment long before the All-Star Break.
The guys waiting for their opportunity is the exciting part. Gabriel Arias turned heads in Spring Training with his explosive bat. Nolan Jones is a former #1 overall prospect rehabbing from ankle surgery. Tyler Freeman is also a former #1 overall prospect rehabbing from left shoulder surgery. These are the next guys just waiting to prove they have what it takes to help lead this team to the promise land. Looking more towards 2023 guys like George Valera, the most talked about OF prospect since Grady Sizemore. Then you have Brayan Rocchio, thought to be the SS of the future by many. We haven’t even talked about pitching yet. As is always the case with this organization, there is always future stars working their way through the minors. Guys like Daniel Espino, Gavin Williams, Logan T. Allen, Peyton Battenfield are rising through the minor league system quickly.
Now I understand that the common fan makes up more of the fan base than some may think. These exciting young prospects are not what puts most fans in the stands. Guys like Jose Ramirez, Shane Bieber, Franmil Reyes sell tickets. That is another reason it was so imperative to lock Jose Ramirez up for likely the rest of his career. Many fans are, rightfully so, annoyed by the low payroll. The team was in on Jesse Winker and Matt Olson until those deals went sideways at the last minute. I know second place does not matter to fans, but I think in terms of this team it is significant. This confirms that there is financial flexibility to add the right pieces. Just who could those pieces be?
Sports fanatics want immediate gratification. We don’t want to wait for the team to “retool”, and find that right time where the young studs are ready then the veteran players come in to supplement those guys. Cleveland’s front office believes in opening long championship windows, not going all in for success for just a couple of years. Nothing is ever guaranteed in a 6-month, 162 game baseball season. The team who spends the most does not always win the World Series. The team is 753-601 since 2013 under Terry Francona. They have made the playoffs 6 of the last 9 seasons, including the league’s best record in 2017 when they went 102-60. Long story short, they know how to contend with a low payroll.
This team has the opportunity to be good for the next 5-10 years. The Dolans would not have handed Jose Ramirez the largest contract in franchise history if they did not have a plan to surround him with pieces that can make this team a contender for years to come. This does not mean there won’t be peaks and valleys. This is the youngest roster in baseball. I still believe this season will be better than most are predicting. No doubt the division has gotten better. If this team can stay healthy, and they can get significant impact from the bottom of the lineup. Guys like Gimenez, Kwan, Chang, eventually the next wave of top prospects that come up this team will be dangerous. Be patient. 162 games make for a LONG season. Keep the faith Cleveland baseball fans. This is your daily reminder to enjoy the ride. Watching this team blossom into one of the top teams in the game will be fun!