The negligence of the Cleveland Guardians could lead to disaster just days after rebranding kicks in.
Looking ahead to the 2022 season brings us hope and excitement for what’s to come. The possibilities are endless for the Cleveland Guardians, both good and bad, and on the brink of a rebrand, it is easy to get complacent and overlook some of the minute details. Unfortunately, one of the not-so-minute details that could cause waves will come just days after the new “Guardians” brand takes hold.
Most of you by now have seen or read about the monster season Oscar Gonzalez is having. He opened the season with Cleveland’s Double-A affiliate where he played 49 games and completely wrecked the league. Gonzalez put up an impressive .330 average with 13 home runs while driving in 41.
The front office was quick to pull the trigger and promoted Gonzalez to Triple-A Columbus. As with any player, a slight adjustment period was needed, but he was able to pick back up with his torrid hot streak for the most part. Since the move, Gonzalez hasn’t hit as well with a .270 average, but he hasn’t missed a step in his productivity adding 15 home runs and 36 more RBI in 64 games.
Oscar Gonzalez was signed by the Indians as an international free agent on July 2nd, 2014. He got off to a bit of a slow start in 2015 but turned things around exponentially the following season, earning an AZL Post-Season All-Star nod as well as AZL MVP. In fact, since 2016, Gonzalez has been named to five All-Star teams including the MiLB.com Organization All-Star team in 2018.
Even with a multitude of accolades and his productivity through the roof at each level of the minors, Gonzalez has been all but overlooked when it comes to prospect rankings. Unfortunately for him, it seems as though he may be slightly overlooked by the Cleveland front office as well. Every Cleveland baseball insider seemed to be under the impression that with roster expansion coming, so too would the debut of Oscar Gonzalez in the big leagues. Yet, here we are nearing the end of September with no mention of a call-up.
Gonzalez not getting the call isn’t a problem within itself. The problem lies with the circumstances surrounding his career. Being that he was signed in 2014, the Indians organization could hold the rights to him for up to seven completed minor league seasons which brings us to this year. The league ruled that the lost Covid-19 season would still result in a service time credit which works to move players along so teams can’t stagnate their farm systems.
The clock is ticking as Oscar Gonzalez has 10 games left until he finishes his seven-season tenure and the timeline afterward is where things get iffy. Right after the final game of the 2021 World Series, the Cleveland Indians will become the Cleveland Guardians, thus kicking off a new exciting venture for the organization. At that very moment, the team will have to begin weighing their options for Gonzalez.
I don’t believe they have had a minor league free agent with as much leverage in my time following the team. His numbers are good enough to warrant many other teams around the league to take a chance on him with their big league club and the Guardians may have to make a quick decision.
To avoid a potential mishandling of the situation, the Guardians will have until 5 PM, on the fifth day, after the final game of the World Series to either add him to the 40-man roster OR agree to terms on a new contract. Simply put, the Guardians have A LOT of 40-man roster decisions that need to be made this offseason and the very first one will have to be made almost immediately after the conclusion of the current season.
Considering the lack of outfield production Cleveland has had since the departure of Michael Brantley, taking a flyer on Oscar Gonzalez is a low-risk, high reward type of deal. There is no indication that he would give us less than the production we have seen from guys like Bradley Zimmer or Oscar Mercado and if he happens to play to his potential the front office will boast, yet, another of the league’s most team-friendly contracts.
At this point, there is no reason to believe that the club will let him walk in free agency but there are upwards of 12 key prospects who will be eligible for the Rule 5 Draft in December. The 40-man roster crunch should, if done properly, constitute a rather large turnover in the big league roster which will lay the foundation for a lot of young talent as the Guardians approach their inaugural season.