Though the last iteration of Cleveland baseball under its long-standing nickname ended with an 80-82 record, the offseason ahead as it transitions (eventually) to the Cleveland Guardians seems as consequential as the 2012 offseason going into 2013 when the team was coming off a 68-94 season and firing manager Manny Acta. The farm system then was still in the midst of being built back up after several misses and the last playoff appearance was 2007 followed by a letdown season and seasons of apathy that followed. Apathy seems to be setting in ahead of this name change, which following a 60 game season, feels like a double-whammy to a baseball town that changes its feelings towards the team faster than the weather changes.

It’s likely the fight between the billionaires looking to increase wealth disparity and the players will wreak havoc on the offseason (and the patience and loyalty of the waning fans of the sport) so the Guardians may only have the rest of this month to make any important moves. There are critical roster decisions to make now and hopefully once the work stoppage ends and there seems to be this feeling that this is a critical offseason for the next several years of the franchise, so these decisions may have a bigger impact than normal.

The Jose Ramirez situation

Jose Ramirez has an $11 million option this winter that will get picked up, and a $14 million option in 2023. Cleveland has until this weekend to pick up the option, and they will. Or maybe they come to an extension agreement before then? My prediction is that they don’t reach a contract extension. It should take something in the range of at least five years/$150 million, which is equal to what Jose Altuve got in an extension at a similar age. That was also after he got a bargain contract the first time around. Ramirez probably holds out for more than five years. Ramirez won’t get traded this off-season despite what you may hear. It doesn’t make sense for them to trade him going into a new branding era and needing to have a better than mediocre season again.

But next off-season, who knows.

Roster bubble

PNameAgeBTOptionsFA EligibleContract
PLogan Allen25L02027Pre-Arb 3
RPJustin Garza27R3N/ARookie minimum
RPCam Hill27R22027Minor League
RPSam Hentges24L0N/ARookie minimum
PJ.C. Mejia24R0N/ARookie minimum
SPScott Moss26L1N/AMinor League
RPKyle Nelson25L22027Pre-Arb 1
RPBlake Parker36R02021Veteran minimum
RPBryan Shaw33R02021Veteran minimum
RPNick Wittgren30R02023Arb 2
RPAlex Young28L22026Pre-Arb 3
CNameAgeBTOptionsFA EligbleContract
CRoberto Perez32RR02023$7.5 million option ($450K buyout)
INFNameAgeBTOptions FA EligibleContract
INFYu Chang25RR02026Pre-Arb 1
OFNameAgeBTOptionsFA EligbleContract
OFDaniel Johnson26LL12027Rookie minimum
OFOscar Mercado26RR02026Pre-Arb 3
OFHarold Ramirez27RR02026Pre-Arb 3
OFBradley Zimmer28LR020245Pre-Arb 3

Until the season officially is over, Cleveland’s 40 man roster is full and both RP Nick Sandlin and OF/1B Josh Naylor need to be re-added, so they need at least two spots cleared.

Above 17 are noted that could be on some kind of bubble in 2021

LHP Logan Allen: Out of options and doesn’t currently have a clear role. The rotation seems to be filled up, though one could be traded and that might keep a spot open for Allen to battle for instead of opting for Eli Morgan to start and maintain some depth. It’s his last year of pre-arb, but he’s on the bubble.

RP Justin Garza: While Garza has options, he’s someone who could pass through waivers to make an extra roster spot to add another prospect to the 40.

RHP Cam Hill: After recovering from his offseason car accident that caused a wrist injury, Hill wasn’t able to regain his pre-TJ velocity or stuff that made him an interesting bullpen candidate. He never made it back to the majors this year and is now an expendable spot because of that.

LHP Sam Hentges: Like Allen, Hentges is out of options and doesn’t have a clear role. He seemed to find some footing in the bullpen later in the year and Cleveland seems likely to keep at least one, maybe two, of Hentges, Allen, or JC Mejia, who are all in the same situation. Hentges is on the bubble but it’s possible he hangs onto a roster spot before the other two.

RHP J.C. Mejia: Out of options and without a role like Allen and Hentges, Cleveland will likely need to make a decision between one or two of the three. 

LHP Scott Moss: Coming into 2020 and 2021 it seemed like Moss had a chance to help the big league club as a depth starter or more, especially in 2021. But injuries also hit him hard and with many arms needing to be added to the 40 man roster and his lack of health in 2021, Moss may find himself off the 40 for one of them.

LHP Kyle Nelson: Like Hill, Nelson really never regained what made him a relief prospect before 2020. He did make it to the majors for a small role early but didn’t come back after and that may make him expendable with Anthony Gose and Francisco Perez on the roster.

RHP Blake Parker: Parker had a solid year as a veteran innings-eater and stop-gap option but is a free agent and is one guaranteed roster spot opened here.

RHP Bryan Shaw: Early on Shaw was good, a little lucky, but got the job done. He got a little shaky as the work piled up on his arm again. As a free agent, he’ll be off the roster to make space for someone else but maybe Cleveland will consider another minor league reunion with him near spring training. Whenever that is.

RHP Nick Wittgren: The right-hander is in his second year of arbitration and is projected to get $2.8 million. It seems unlikely Cleveland is going to commit over $2 million to Wittgren after he struggled mightily in 2021.

LHP Alex Young: Arizona designated Young, a Westlake, OH native for assignment and Cleveland picked him up. He never really pitched in more than anything other than a mop-up role and those outings weren’t pretty either. He seems like a lock to be let go.

C Roberto Perez: He broke out in 2019 after finally taking control of the starting backstop role, but he was hurt most of 2020 and this year and didn’t hit well when healthy either year. It doesn’t look like Cleveland will commit to $7.5 million to Perez, but they probably won’t rule out a reunion for less money, if he’s interested. He’ll probably test his options on the open market and may feel too slighted to return on a lesser deal, but that might depend on his market and whenever baseball’s offseason truly begins for free agents.

INF Yu Chang: Is out of options and gained some footing at the end of the year but Cleveland has so many infield option so who knows who they decide they can hang onto.

OF Daniel Johnson:  He has an option left, which gives him a good chance to return in 2022, but Cleveland has never seemed interested in giving him regular playing time or making him part of their future. Who knows if he’ll even get that chance in 2022 if he comes back. He might just ride the shuttle again as depth. But the rest of the outfielders on the bubble don’t have options so that probably keeps him around for now.

OF Oscar Mercado: Out of options and unable to regain what made him so good in 2019 the last two seasons, his future in Cleveland seems unclear.  It’s possible Cleveland could outright at least two outfielders off the 40 man roster to clear spots.

OF Harold Ramirez: He had his moments in 2021, but Ramirez was inconsistent and isn’t really a great defender and is a backup outfielder at best. One of those types will be on the roster next year, but which? He’s also out of options.

OF Bradley Zimmer: It seemed for a few weeks Zimmer was starting to claim a roster spot going into 2022. But he couldn’t sustain hitting his moonshots. He still gets on base, runs well, and plays good defense. He’s out of options as well and is going to turn 29. The good news is he’s still in his final year of pre-arb instead of hitting ARB so maybe that makes him a better option to keep for now. It does help him that he’s left-handed and Cleveland is bound to keep one of the previous three. Although, does Johnson’s being left-handed hurt that for Zimmer.

Predicted players designated for assignment from the 40 man roster

  • LHP Logan Allen
  • RHP Cam Hill
  • LHP Scott Moss
  • OF Oscar Mercado
  • LHP Kyle Nelson
  • LHP Alex Young

ARB-Eligible Tenders

  • SS Amed Rosario $5M- tendered
  • RHP Shane Bieber $4.8M- tendered
  • OF Franmil Reyes $4.4M- tendered
  • C Austin Hedges $3.8M- tendered
  • RHP Cal Quantrill $2.8M- tendered
  • OF Bradley Zimmer, $1.5M- tendered
  • OF/1B Josh Naylor $1.2M- tendered
  • OF Harold Ramirez $1.6M- non-tendered

ARB-Eligible Non-Tenders

  • RHP Nick Wittgren $2.8M- non-tendered

Free agents

  • RHP Bryan Shaw
  • RHP Blake Parker

Declined options

  • C Roberto Perez

That is 10 players dropped from the 40 man roster, taking it down from 40 to 30, re-adding Sandlin and Naylor brings it to 32, leaving eight spots to add prospects

Rule 5 eligible prospects to add

I won’t add all the names of the prospects who are Rule 5 eligible this winter because it’s a long list, but you can look at the entire list on our depth charts page.

40 man roster protection predictions

  • OF George Valera
  • SS Brayan Rocchio
  • SS Tyler Freeman
  • C Bryan Lavastida
  • RHP Cody Morris
  • INF/OF Richie Palacios
  • LHP Konnor Pilkington
  • OF Steven Kwan

That fills the eight spots left on the 40 man roster created by the moves listed above so the roster would be full at this point.

Notables left off the list

OF Will Benson

He looked like he was a candidate to be added in June or July, but faded after. Someone could give him a shot in the R5 since he’s a former first rounder.

INF Aaron Bracho 

Too disappointing of a season at age 20 in High-A to be added or for anyone to add to their own roster.

LHP Joey Cantillo

Obviously didn’t pitch in 2020 and missed most of 2021. Could be added to be safe, but right now he probably falls just behind Pilkington in order to be added. Someone they could add if they clear more space.

OF Oscar Gonzalez

Had a breakout year but we’ve seen players hit 30 homers in the minors in Cleveland before and have no ML impact. Did they let Richie Shaffer get away? The list of Cleveland minor leaguers who have hit 30 homers who have gone on to major league success is about Jesus Aguilar and Bobby Bradley, but that’s it. No. He’s a minor league free agent as well.

LHP Juan Hillman

Listing Hillman as a notable left-off because he’s also a minor league free agent.

INF Jose Fermin

Two straight years Fermin wasn’t taken by anyone in R5 and probably will continue to be the case despite a good late season run.

INF Andruw Monasterio

Came back to Cleveland on a minor league deal after being a minor league FA after 2020. Had the best season of his pro career. Might sign elsewhere or be picked in R5 given his solid year.

INF Jhonkensy Noel

Bad teams will look to add talent any way they can but it’s awfully hard to see a team stash a right handed hitting 1B who hasn’t played above High-A yet at age 20. Small risk of being picked keeps him off.

RHP Aaron Pinto

In a year with less big decisions to be made, he’s someone who might have been worth adding as relievers go in R5 drafts all the time. Has a shot to be a solid MR arm but no room for him here.

OF Alexfri Planez

Going to be 20 and had a tough year at Low-A. No ream is going to risk a spot on him yet despite his immense tools.

RHP Jerson Ramirez

Supposedly, Ramirez’s elbow injury isn’t TJ related, so that’s good. A team might have been more inclined to stash him if he had TJ or had a serious arm injury. He could make it through the system soon, if healthy so we’ll see if any team has the room and sees the path for him to be ready quickly.

LHP Adam Scott

Easy candidate to be picked if left unprotected. Has two above-average pitches, has good control and is left-handed, and throws up to 94. Someone Cleveland could create additional room for.

INF Jose Tena

If any High-A player is being taken from Cleveland in R5 it would be Tena. But with his approach and age/experience, the odds are still very low. But never say never. If he is not added to the 40 seeing him traded wouldn’t be a shock. They already have tons of infielders anyway. If they’re going to add him to the 40, they’d have to make room for him by removing 1-2 of them at an upper level.

Offseason targets

Free agents

OF/INF Chris Taylor (Age 31, 3.1 fWAR in 2021)

This one is probably a long shot because there are some projections that think Taylor is going to get 4 years/$72 million this winter, which will be way too rich for the Guardians payroll, even with  potential minority owner. Still, Taylor plays all over the field, hits for some power, strikes out some, but has enough of a bat and versatility to play a valuable role. The Dodgers let Enrique Hernandez leave after being a core part of their team as a versatile bat and he had postseason success with Boston this year. It’s hard to think the Dodgers won’t try to bring Taylor back, especially if they want up seeing Corey Seager go. He’d be a great fit for Cleveland if not for his likely cost and the Dodgers probable interest in brignginh him back at almost any cost.

OF Mark Canha (Age 32, 2.1 fWAR in 2021)

Since his breakout in 2019, Canha has seen his slugging percentage and wOBA drop each year. Still, he hit 17 homers in 2021 and stole 12 bases while posting an OBP of .358. He actually hit better vs. RHP last year than LHP but the splits were both above a wRC+ of 100. He should be able to get on base, but who knows where the power has gone and he’s not exactly a good outfielder, so he’s an useful player but has his flaws.

OF Corey Dickerson (Age 32, 0.8 fWAR in 2021)

His career low in wRC+ is 95, which he hit both his rookie year in 2013, and in 2020. He hasn’t slugged well the last two years, similar to Canha, but from the left side. But he stills gets on base and doesn’t strike out much. There may still be some pop in the bat in a platoon role and defensively he’s still capable. He should be a real buy low option.

OF Joc Pederson (Age 29, 0.6 fWAR in 2021) (If Atlanta turns down their half of his $10 million mutual option)

Pederson signed with the Cubs because they were going to give him a shot to play everyday and weren’t going to platoon him only against right handers. It didn’t go great against either side, really (98 wRC+ vs LHP, 93 wRC+ vs RHP) but he still hit some homers. He’s had back to back subpar years, is just two years removed from a 36 homer season and will only be 30. There has to be better years left in the tank and he might come at a decent price. He’d probably like to come back to Atlanta and maybe they’d like to bring him back since things went fairly well there between the two sides. But he’s worth considering.

C Manny Pina (Age 34, 1.5 fWAR in 2021)

While Pina only hit .189 in 2021, his OPS was .732 and had a wRC+ of 95. For Cleveland, that would be a giant upgrade offensively. Pina walks, hit some homers, was a positive framer and threw out 27% of runners. He’d be a good stopgap pair with Austin Hedges for a year until Cleveland decides if/when Bryan Lavastida or Bo Naylor are ready. Pina may look to sign somewhere he’s guaranteed more than a timeshare but he’s an interesting option.

C Yan Gomes (Age 34, 1.6 fWAR in 2021)

Could Cleveland consider a reunion with Yan Gomes? There were some dicey things in the past in the clubhouse that give pause to whether a reunion would be considered, but he’s had back to back solid offensive years and still throws out runners well. Framing hasn’t been his strong suit in a while but still, he has familiarity with some coaches here. 

It’s possible if Cleveland declines Roberto Perez’s option that they could work out a deal for less than the $7.5 million he would have been owed in 2022.

RHP Dellin Betances (Age 34, 0 fWAR in 2021)

This is a guess at a minor league deal. Betances has had wicked stuff in the past and hasn’t been healthy in a while. Perhaps Cleveland does a minor league rehab special here. They aren’t known for signing major league contracts with relievers so this might be the route they go to add some possible bullpen help.

RHP Kirby Yates (Age 34, didn’t pitch in 2021)

Yates had Tommy john in March of 2021 so Cleveland could be interested in a make good deal with Yates, who was one of the best relievers in baseball in 2019.

RHP David Robertson (Age 36, 0.1 fWAR in 2021)

After not pitching in two years, Robertson signed a minor league deal with the Rays after he pitched in the Olympics for Team USA. He was only up for 12 innings but was fairly respectable with a 32 K% and just an 8 BB%. He might get a major league deal somewhere with his history, but maybe not.

Trade targets

OF Bryan Reynolds (Age 26, 5.5 fWAR in 2021, FA in 2026)

It was rumored that Cleveland inquired about Reynolds at the trading deadline. Maybe now that they have Myles Straw they are content and the Pirates may not be interested in trading him. But there was interest before and the Pirates system is good and their best prospects won’t be really helping them win until about 2023-2024. He’s got some time left to help them so it would take a lot, but Cleveland has the pieces to at least make this a conversation again.

RHP David Bednar (Age 27, 1.2 fWAR in 2021, FA in 2027)

While the Pirates have some incentive to hang onto Reynolds, it seems like they shouldn’t have as much reason to hang onto Bednar. He’s 27 and just came off a career year. If the Pirates aren’t going to be ready for primetime until 2023 or 2024, who knows what things will look like for Bednar then. He did just finally find his footing in the majors, but a team who is still looking to build for the future might consider trading a 27 year old closer. He’d be a good option for Cleveland to protect the back end of the bullpen with club control in case of James Karinchak’s issues and no other true reliable options.

OF Ian Happ (Age 27, 1.3 fWAR in 2021, FA in 2024)

Happ has had a wRC+ over 100 every year of his career. He’s a bit of a three true outcome player but his OBP and SLG have always been more than productive. He’s a little like Chris Taylor and can play the infield at outfield. If the Cubs have more incentive to tear things down, he’d be a good bet to bring back a solid package for them and if you didn’t hear, the Cubs now have a former Cleveland exec calling the shots now so maybe there’s a match. Because of Happ’s versatility and age he wouldn’t really block anyone and can be used in a variety of ways. He’s not a ‘big name’ acquisition but a consistently productive bat that can help in the OF or INF.

OF Austin Meadows (Age 26, 2021 fWAR 2.0, FA in 2025)

There are some Rays bloggers and content creators who know the team and system very well that think that Meadows may be on the block this winter. He’s ARB 1 eligible but has three years of control left. He had a down 2020, but it’s easy to overlook that and he’s been an above average run creator every year of his career besides that. He has power, walks, and though his batted ball data isn’t too special, he’s a solid player. He’s projected to earn $4.3 in ARB this winter. If Cleveland is serious about adding payroll this winter externally, and the Rays are interested in dealing, this could be a match with how much trade history these two teams have. Cleveland hasn’t typically traded for players who are heading into ARB. I don’t think they’ve done that over the winter since trading for Brandon Moss. That didn’t work out great, so who knows. But it’s a name to at least keep an ear out for that’s interesting and would be an upgrade in this outfield.

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