Just barely four years after being traded to Cleveland, Franmil Reyes’s time with the Guardians has come to an abrupt end. The news was shocking Saturday when the club announced it had DFA’d its designated hitter/outfielder, though in hindsight, it really shouldn’t be too much of a surprise.
Let me explain.
Before we can look forward, let’s take a quick look back at the trade that would bring him to town. July 31, 2019: Reyes was traded to the then-Indians, along with Yasiel Puig and prospects Scott Moss, Victor Nova, and Logan Allen in exchange for Trevor Bauer. Bauer had just days before sent a ball into the fountains at Kauffman Stadium, so the team was looking to get rid of him quickly and the Cincinnati Reds obliged. The Reds thought they were on the postseason doorstep at that time; they faltered in 2019, but did make it in the COVID-shortened 2020 season (one that saw Bauer take home the NL Cy Young award, too).
Back to Reyes, when he arrived it took some time for him to acclimate to his new digs, and his numbers that second half of the season weren’t overwhelming: 237/.304/.468, ten home runs, 35 RBIs in 51 games. The slash line improved in 2020 and 2021, but it still felt like he hadn’t quite reached his full potential. Then came this year.
There are plenty of rumors circulating that he is out of shape and wasn’t committed as some in the front office would have hoped, but this isn’t the time to dive into that. Reyes is still young (he just turned 27 years old in July), and it’s not surprising that the Chicago Cubs would pick him up. Quite frankly, why not? They have nothing to lose and if Reyes can at least preform near his career averages of 30+ home runs, 80-85 RBIs, and a .250/.315/.480 slash line, he would be of value as the Cubs continue to re-tool and re-build.
What does this mean for the Guardians moving forward?
That’s the question I have been asking for the past 48 hours. Following last season, I believe many fans would have considered Reyes to be the designated hitter for the next 4-5 years, and that even an extension would be in the works. Clearly that will not be the case, and maybe the club can look to extend someone else now. But after some thought on the matter, I believe the club has a direction it will take, at least for the remainder of 2022 and 2023. Beyond that, that’s when things get a little muddy.
In my opinion, this move is based on the progression of three individuals. Without said progression, we are probably still seeing Reyes in the lineup on a consistent basis. Those three members of the Guardians who will fill the role are none other than Josh Naylor, Nolan Jones, and Oscar Gonzalez.
Naylor has preformed quite nicely after sustaining that nasty ankle injury last season. At times you can still see he isn’t back to 100% but to recover in less than a full season like he has is amazing. I’d even go out on a limb (though I’m sure many would agree) that outside of José Ramírez, Naylor is the second “heartbeat” of the lineup. It’s my hope that the club plays Naylor more at first down the stretch (Owen Miller seems like the perfect utility infielder moving forward), but I completely understand that he may need to rest that ankle, too. That’s where DH comes into play with Naylor as well. You really don’t want to lose his bat in the middle of the lineup. Naylor isn’t a free agent until 2026, though I wouldn’t be shocked one bit if the club looks to extend him here in a year or so.
With regards to Jones, he’s still finding himself and learning the new level at the plate, but he looks to be holding his own in the field. Before the call-up, he did play some first base, which makes a ton of sense; he is 6’4″, after all. I also recall the organization having some success converting a third baseman to first base back in the day, too… anyway, with Nolan’s ability to play both right field and first base, he can hopefully platoon with Naylor at first to lighten his workload.
Lastly, we have Gonzalez. He’s been relegated to right field and DHing duties, but has performed nicely so far on the few months he has been with the club. The knock on him before joining the team was that he was not much of a fielder and that he would likely only be a DH at the major-league level. Despite that label, he’s roamed the outfield better than expected and even has three outfield assists in only 35 games – I’ll take 10+ assists from a “bad fielder” any year! At the dish, Gonzalez has been showing some extra-base pop as well.
So when thinking about replacing Reyes over the next 14-16 months (yeah we’re getting into early 2024), I think the team is fine with guys whose potential aims to be .260 with 20-25 home runs and 70-80 RBI. The club is clearly proceeding with hitters who profile as more contact bats, and in the short run look to be okay with sacrificing home-run potential so as to get better overall bats in the lineup. It’s a philosophy that worked for the Royals during their World Series run nearly a decade ago, and it’s one being implemented by the Tampa Bay Rays now, too.
The 2024 season and beyond is a completely different story, and by that point guys like Jhonkensy Noel and George Valera will hopefully be ready to contribute to the big-league roster either at first base or right field. But that gives the club plenty of opportunities to get enough of a look at Naylor, Jones, and Gonzalez respectively. Platoons are never a fan favorite, but the potential platoon situations the club has for first base, right field, and designated hitter are quite enticing.
Truth be told, it’s also a very big reason the club didn’t make any big moves at the deadline this year, either.