The good news for baseball fans is the lockout is over! Players have now reported to Spring Training after a 99-day owner-imposed lockout. The inaugural season of the Cleveland Guardians is underway in Goodyear. Big moves were supposed to happen to excite fans about the name change. I wish I were writing this article to elaborate on some new big name headed to Goodyear. Instead, the Guardians and their 17 middle infielders will take the field Friday at 4pm to take on the Cincinnati Reds in their first Spring Training game. Wait, what? Yes, you read that right. There are currently 17 middle infielders on the Guardians 40-man roster. Chris Antonetti wanted to make sure he protected all the young talent that was eligible for the Rule 5 draft before the lockout began. The Rule 5 draft has since been cancelled. The Guardians currently have more players with no major league experience on the roster than any other team in the majors. What is their plan to get this roster ready for opening day?
Once the lockout ended, many fans expected a flurry of activity to begin. Over 300+ free agents still had to be signed, trades needed to be completed. With the Guardians’ roster situation, it was not far fetched to believe Chris Antonetti and company would be busy. There is only one problem with this theory. The Guardians’ typically act very slowly. They wait for the dust to settle, and the big money to be spent. Well, with the first spring training game being tomorrow many fans, including myself, expected the Guardians to make a more substantial move than just signing C Luke Maile to a $900K major league deal.
The lack of signings/trade activity has not been from lack of effort. According to sources, the Guardians had offers in on both Matt Olson and Jesse Winker before they were dealt to the Braves and Mariners respectively. There could be multiple reasons for why Antonetti did not ultimately pull the trigger on either of these deals. In the case of Matt Olson it was just simply the prospect package Oakland wanted in return. Atlanta ended up sending over their #1, #2, #6, and #14 top prospects in exchange for Olson. The Cleveland equivalent of that deal would have had the Guardians sending George Valera, Daniel Espino, Gavin Williams, and Bryan Lavastida to Oakland. In my opinion, George Valera is simply an untouchable prospect due to Cleveland’s lack of depth in the outfield. With Jesse Winker, the Guardians were said to be in the running until the last minute. The deal breaker: Cincinnati wanted Eugenio Suarez’s $35M contract attached to the deal. This just would not have made sense for Cleveland to take on this dead weight deal. Especially when we already have Jose Ramirez at 3B.
The Dolans’ have also taken a lot of heat from fans frustrated by the inactivity of the team thus far. The Guardians currently have the #28th ranked payroll at $35.4M currently on their books. One would think the payroll has nowhere to go but up. In early spring training interviews, Tito and Antonetti have both implied there are still moves to be made, and they are exploring internal extensions (Jose Ramirez, Shane Bieber, possibly even Franmil Reyes). In a typical offseason the team usually prefers to settle their arbitration cases before spending any money externally. However, with the unique circumstances surrounding the lockout, these cases are sure to carry into the season. So just where does the team go from here?
I still believe the team will be most active in the trade market. As mentioned previously, they have 17 middle infielders on the roster. They added all this talent to provide flexibility for future trades. There is no way they can go into the season with the current roster structure. Some of these prospects are going to be unloaded for major league talent. Some names to watch out for include: Austin Meadows, Ramon Laureano (currently serving a PED suspension), Josh Bell, Jeff McNeil, Sean Murphy, Luke Voit. Now that the bigger name free agents are beginning to come off the marker., expect this second tier trade market to begin gaining some traction. Some more unrealistic, but super dreamy trade options include: Bryan Reynolds, Cedric Mullins, and Andrew Benintendi. As far as free agents go, the Guardians have also been linked to Joc Pederson (has since signed with San Francisco), and Trevor Story. Yes Trevor Story.
The Trevor Story connection was definitely a head scratcher. Paul Hoynsie in a recent article even mentioned Trevor Story being a name to keep an eye on. It remains to be seen how Trevor Story makes sense for this team. He is a big name on the market that was expected to get a very handsome multi-year deal. Some speculation of late says Story could possibly take a 1-2 year deal to try to rebuild his value after a so-so 2021 campaign in Colorado. If that is the case, the Guardians could most definitely be players for Story. This suspicion was further confirmed when Terry Francona told reporters that Amed Rosario has been informed he could be playing a lot of LF for the club. Could Story be the big name Antonetti has his sights set on to plug the gap until Brayan Rocchio is ready in 2023? Again, payroll has nowhere to go but up. Antonetti has mentioned multiple times this offseason that the payroll would be increasing.
The team is also said to want to play some of the prospects at these holes they currently have. Richie Palacios and Steven Kwan should be getting a long look out in LF. Gabriel Arias and Andres Gimenez will be battling it out at 2B. Gabriel Arias is also capable of playing 3B. This is interesting because the majority of rumors surrounding the team in the last week has been a frenzy of crazed national reporters, and fans making insane trade proposals for Jose Ramirez. All indications from the front office are that Jose Ramirez is not going anywhere, not yet at least. Expect the team to sign a veteran to mesh with the young talent the team currently has. Some names to watch include: Tommy Pham and Michael Conforto.
In summary, calm yourselves Guardians fans. Antonetti is very patient and methodical. He will never panic and make a move just to make it. The team has the young talent to make any trade happen, and they have flexibility with the current payroll. I am 99.9% sure the Guardians make a few moves before the regular season gets underway April 7th in Kansas City. Everything from Antonetti and Francona thus far indicates they are nowhere near finished setting this roster. It is not a bad thing to give some of these prospects a chance to showcase their skills. Mix that with some veteran talent, and an already solid pitching staff, and this adds up to a very competitive season. Do not miss the beauty of the forest because you’re diverted by the ugliness of some of its trees. Enjoy the ride, and the speculation on what Antonetti could be thinking. After all, Antonetti has a VERY good track record of making trades. Let’s be patient, enjoy baseball being back, and play ball!
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