Guardians President of Baseball Operations confirmed what seemed to be pretty obvious Saturday when he said that he wasn’t aware of the organization, or any, maybe, adding as many prospects to its 40 man roster ahead of a Rule 5 protection deadline like Cleveland did Friday when it added 11 prospects.
“Not only is it a lot of players for us, it’s among the highest total that’s ever been added at least in recent history, the last 10 or 15 years,” Antonetti said on Saturday. “More than anything, we view it as a sign of organizational health. All of our acquisition channels contributed to this group – high draft picks and low, guys from trades and Latin America. I think it’s a sign of the organizational health we have and how strongly we feel about the talent base within the organization.”
Adding 11 was a big task as the team came into the day with 36 players on its 40 man roster, so in order to add 11, they had to drop seven.
These moves were long deliberated by fans, writers, the team, and probably other teams as they waited to see who Cleveland would choose to leave off that might be of interest to them come Rule 5 draft time. Or other teams were trying to take advantage by swinging a trade, although that never happened for Cleveland. But they did trade for a player that needed to be added to the 40 man roster from Tampa Bay. So let’s look at who the Cleveland Guardians added to the 40 man roster.
OF George Valera
This was a no-doubt addition. He hit 19 homers in his age 20 season between High-A Lake County and Double-A Akron and finally played in more than 50 games for the first time in his career. He is arguably the team’s best outfield prospect since Grady Sizemore, perhaps even better than Clint Frazier (who was also let go by the Yankees) or Bradley Zimmer. This was an easy choice.
SS Brayan Rocchio
Another no brainer, the switch hitting shortstop hit 15 homers between High-A Lake County and Double-A Akron, flashing brilliant defense while stealing 21 bases and maintaining a high average. He might be the best shortstop prospect in the organization right now, which says a lot given the quality and depth it has at this position. However, his timeline and space to make it to the majors is anyone’s guess.
C Bryan Lavastida
Lavastida hit .289/.380/.457 in High-A, Double-A and a short stint at Triple-A with nine homers and 51 RBI, and a 129 wRC+. He’s got some room to grow defensively, but he made real strides behind the plate and the bat took off. A very obvious decision. He should start 2022 at Triple-A Columbus and could make his debut next year if a need arises, although Cleveland would probably hope he doesn’t need to do so just yet. There’s some chance he sees time at first base, and who knows where else. They got a look at him at second base in Instructs.
RHP Cody Morris
Despite missing half the year with a shoulder issue, Morris posted a 1.62 ERA in 61 innings with 93 strikeouts and 20 walks between Double and Triple-A. His fastball velocity dipped at the end of the season back to around 91-94 after being 93-98 when he came back. He has starters stuff but durability questions are there with Tommy John in college and that Cleveland has brought him along slowly since drafting him in 2018. He should have a chance to start in 2022 in the Columbus rotation but maybe his future is in the bullpen. Either way, another team would have grabbed him and this made all the sense in the world.
SS Tyler Freeman
He only played 41 games but hit .323/.372/.470 before a shoulder injury shut him down again. But his position, ability to hit and overall make up and proximity to the majors made him a really easy addition. He’s on track to be healthy and ready to go as of now for spring training 2022, whenever it opens.
OF Steven Kwan
Though he only played in 77 games, Kwan hit .328/.407/.527 with 12 homers, a big increase in pop for him. He ended the year in Triple-A and given how he improved with the bat, Cleveland was not going to risk losing him. So he was probably an obvious selection.
OF/INF Richie Palacios
In 428 plate appearances, Palacios hit .297/.404/.471 with a 141 wRC+ with 33 doubles and 20 steals. He also finished the year in Columbus and had a strong showing in the AFL and would have been ready to make his debut somewhere else next year if Cleveland didn’t add him.
LHP Konnor Pilkington
After coming over from the White Sox in the Cesar Hernandez trade, Pilkington enjoyed a 2.33 ERA in 38 innings with the club with 49 strikeouts and 18 walks. He’ll be in the Columbus rotation to start 2022 and though he maybe wasn’t a slam dunk add like the first ones on this list, someone would have given him a shot to pitch for them in some role in 2022 if they had the chance.
RHP Tobias Myers
Cleveland traded 18 year old DSL 3B/SS/1B Junior Caminero and his big power to Tampa Bay for Myers just before the roster deadline. Tampa Bay needed to clear roster spots and chose to get something for Myers rather than risk let him be drafted for free. Cleveland clearly valued Myers a lot, as Chris Antonetti said Saturday that they tried to trade for him this past trading deadline and that they chose to protect him over arms like Joey Cantillo and Adam Scott. Having Myers also gives them some cover on the roster if one of those two gets selected. But it is telling they went and traded for him and added him instead of either of those two.
(“He is a guy we’ve talked about for quite a while,” Antonetti said. “We had a few conversations with the Rays about him this past deadline. He’s an athletic, right-handed pitcher with a good, four-pitch mix. His fastball has really good life. His change-up is currently his best secondary pitch, but he also has a curveball and cutter.”)
INF Jose Tena
Here’s where it gets interesting. Coming into the offseason, I didn’t think Tena needed to be rostered. At age 20 and just three games in Double-A, it seemed unlikely that some team would try to take the risk and ask him to play in the majors next year. The odds were probably low and still are. But Tena had a strong AFL campaign and he hasn’t probably hit his peak value as a prospect year. He might be a very valuable trade commodity next summer and it’s kind of hard to trade a player when he’s on someone else’s roster. A team like Washington, who has a low 40 man roster right now and not a ton of prospect depth could have taken the chance.
INF Jhonkensy Noel
This was the most interesting decision. Myers clearly took Cantillo or Scott’s spot, but Noel being added also kept a spot from going to one of them. This says a lot of what they think about Noel because as a 20 year old who has less than a half season at High-A to this point and is really only a first basemen, the odds of him going in the draft and sticking all season were low. But keeping him says it was a risk they didn’t want to take, but also for the risks in presents to them going forward, as I’ll detail later. But this was a big decision and as bold a decision as the Guardians have made since changing their team name.
Notable Cleveland Guardians left off the 40 man roster
LHP Joey Cantillo
To me, Cantillo was the second biggest player in the Mike Clevinger deal. He has mid-rotation upside. He’s still tall and very projectable. He hasn’t pitched regularly since 2019, so maybe that’s why the team chose to risk leaving him off the roster. But he can touch 94 with the fastball, already has an above average changeup and some good command (despite his rust in 2021) and lefties are so easy to hide in the bullpen, so it would be a shock if nobody took him in the Rule 5.
LHP Adam Scott
Missing most of the 2021 season probably hurt Scott’s chances. He can throw up to 94, too and has a bat missing slider. He protected more as a reliever anyway, but that makes him more likely to be taken in the Rule 5 as well. I can understand why the team didn’t add him, but I would have kept Cantillo over him, but I still expect a team to draft him.
OF Oscar Gonzalez
As I’ve been saying since he had this monster season, the approach and lack of speed and defense will keep him on the outside looking in. The power might do enough for an NL team to take a chance on him in the Rule 5 draft as a DH if the new CBA makes the DH go to the NL. But there is the question of a team being able to sign him as a minor league free agent a week ago and not have a Rule 5 draft stipulation attached him. Perhaps teams didn’t want to sign him and add him over the names they looked to add themselves, but if they signed him and lost him in the Rule 5 themselves, it’s no loss because they never had him. So I am skeptical any team adds him.
INF Jose Fermin
This will be the third straight year Fermin is Rule 5 eligible. I don’t expect anyone to take him still, but I won’t be surprised. I don’t think more power is coming, so he’s a fantastic utility infielder who can play all three spots with enough arm, hit and approach, and speed to make a roster. He’s going to play in the majors someday, I’m convinced. But it won’t be here but I’m not sure it will be in 2022.
RHP Aaron Pinto
Relievers are popular targets in the Rule 5 draft and he has good command with a good riding fastball and breaking ball to match. He’d be a low end reliever but someone who can hide out. Someone could take him late if they want a reliever with command for nothing.
OF Will Benson
Benson is notable for being a first rounder and got off to a majorly hot start in 2021, looking like he might be in position to make the roster. But that cooled off and teams probably won’t have room for him. However, despite the K’s, he can add value in the outfield with defense and on the bases. He can draw walks and run into a mammoth homer when he makes contact. Sound familiar? (Bradley Zimmer). Seems unlikely but you never know, a team may want to bank on the other skills and see if they can help get him to make more contact. I’d take him before I took Gonzalez, if I’m a team not expecting to win in 2022 and have no real outfield prospects.
RHP Jerson Ramirez
I have found out that Ramirez’s elbow is OK, so he’ll be ready to go in 2022 as of now. His fastball is maybe average, but his slider is a high spinner and he is older, so he could be ready for a mop up bullpen role this year, so there’s a small chance someone is interested.
Cleveland Guardians cut from the 40 man roster
OF Daniel Johnson
This one was a head scratcher but not out of left field. They clearly have had a disconnect with Johnson for two years as he didn’t play much in 2020 or 2021 and had the misfortune of being on the COVID necessitated taxi squad the last two years, which sapped playing time from him in Triple-A and the majors. He had an option left and seemed like they’d use that depth, at least for now. Maybe he’ll clear waivers and come back or get traded, but for a player that had some promise, this was an unfortunately bizarre ending.
(In an ideal world, we would have continued down that path with Daniel, but obviously, when we’re adding 11 players, we had to make some difficult decisions with the players we took off, and Daniel was one of those. I still believe he’s going go on and be a productive offensive player at the major league level.” – Antonetti.)
OF Harold Ramirez
It likely came down to Ramirez or Mercado, and Mercado made the cut, or didn’t get cut, for now anyway. He was out of options and the organization didn’t have a ton of time or money invested in him so this was probably not the hardest call, though Antonetti said it was and that Ramirez spent a lot of time hitting in the middle of the order for them.
LHP Scott Moss
Moss dealt with a neck issue in 2021 and looked like he was going to be ready to contribute last year of this year. That never happened and with adding three arms to the 40, he was a casualty, also considering his age.
LHP Kyle Nelson
Nelson got by on command and a plus slider, but also battled injuries in 2021 after making brief cameo’s on 2020 and 2021. The emergence of Anthony Gose while still hanging onto Logan S. Allen and Sam Hentges gave the better left handed options to turn to at the moment.
RHP Justin Garza
While he filled in some innings nicely in 2021, Cleveland probably hopes to have some higher end relief talent join its bullpen. Garza is also 27, so he wasn’t someone the team might have been looking to for relief help long term. If he clears waivers the team would probably like to have him back in Columbus, however.
RHP JC Mejia
One of Mejia, Allen or Hentges had to lose their spot. Mejia being right handed and lacking a third pitch probably made the most sense. All three were out of options, though we thought Mejia might get a fourth option year. He still may and maybe he returns to Cleveland, but they still must believe in Allen more and hope that Hentges can turn into a bullpen asset, where Mejia was kind of a tweener.
LHP Alex Young
The Westlake, Ohio native was unfortunately just depth for the team to get through the 2021 season. He had brutal results in Arizona, which was pitching depleted, and Cleveland, which now isn’t.
The biggest risk Cleveland took was adding Tena and Noel. Their odds on being taken were low, though Tena’s might have been 50/50 or perhaps a big greater. But, what this does is start their career clocks. Neither Noel or Tena would be ready to help the major league team in 2022 given their proximity, which is why it seemed unlikely to be taken in the Rule 5 draft anyway. But, now both will have options burned in 2022, putting them at two going into 2023 (if the CBA rule on this holds) and both will burn an option that year too as the club rarely ever takes rookies on their major league roster out of spring training. That leaves both Tena and Noel with possibly one option year before making their major league debuts unless they forced the team’s hands before then.
This also applies to Carlos Vargas, who some mentioned as a cut. But they held onto him through 2021 during Tommy John surgery. Though he hasn’t started a game above Short-Season A yet and is 22, he still has a lot of potential. The team should also get a fourth option year on him since he missed his entire first option season anyway. That helps his case.
One thing that has to be looked at is that Cleveland turned over 45% of its roster in one day.
Between the end of the 2021 season and yesterday, the team let go of 12 players from its roster and added 11. A total of 23 players moved on the roster in that time, so that is well over half with turnover. That’s a lot and is a sign of a new era, and it needed to happen since players like Nick Wittgren, Bryan Shaw, Blake Parker and others needed to go in order to facilitate the transition to a better 2022 core.
Vargas (who I still think could contribute as soon as 2022 as a reliever, but he did just come back from Tommy John), Rocchio, Tena, and Noel are all players who likely won’t be ready to help the club in 2022, so those are four spots on the 40 man roster they may be unable to turn over for major league help and depth in 2022.
Cleveland had all of its opening day rotation decimated by injuries or performance-related demotions at some point last year, so it is going to need more than eight or 10 starters on call, not to mention relief help and injury depth, or players they can just call up if someone goes on the Paternity or Bereavement list. Some or all of that could occur at the same time.
What really stands out, are those three (if you want to say Rocchio *could* help in 2022, but its unlikely) or four spots that could be locked and unusable on the 40 and two of them burning their first option year in a where they probably can’t contribute.
It is possible they use some of these prospects in trades still this winter, or next summer, to make additions to the major league roster. This gives them the ability to trade some and the other team be able to protect them on their end or not lose them this winter in Rule 5 and not be able to use them in trades.
Still, adding that many players to the 40 man roster is good because at least nine of them were easy Rule 5 targets, which means this core has a lot of potential now and the future for them and this team is starting to come together quickly. It’s even more advantageous that the main additions were position players, a group that Cleveland has struggled to develop despite its run of success going back to 2013.
Not protecting Cantillo was one of their few mistakes. Injuries do happen to pitchers, but left handed pitchers with his talent are too scarce to risk losing.