The Cleveland Guardians find themselves in a very interesting position when it come to the middle infield. This should come as no surprise to anyone who has paid attention to the club or their recent minor-league affiliates, but don’t feel bad for them; this is one of those “good problems.”
The clock is ticking on what to do with current shortstop Amed Rosario. And it really began to tick louder when the club decided to call up Tyler Freeman, one of their top infield prospects. If you peek down at the Triple-A roster you will also find Gabriel Arias and Jose Fermín. And in Double-A, you have Brayan Rocchio and Jose Tena waiting their turns.
Often viewed as the throw-in piece of the Francisco Lindor trade with the Mets, Rosario has proven himself to be a great clubhouse leader, a solid top-of-the-lineup bat, and an adequate infielder. His wRC+ currently sits at 106, and he finished the 2021 season with a 99 wRC+. Based on this metric you can understand why he was being shopped around this past offseason.
To complicate matters further, Rosario is only under team control, via arbitration, through next season. Currently making $4.95 million, it’s safe to assume his contract will rise to something closer to around $7 million. So using this as a baseline moving forward, any contract extension that Rosario would seek is likely to be in the $8-10 million range.
The Guardians did show this past offseason a willingness to extend players they deemed as being part of the core moving forward. So has Rosario entered that strata with his play this year? Or does the front office view one of the aforementioned prospects as being the future? Andrés Giménez has established himself as an All-Star at second base, so they could keep him there and run it back with Rosario next season. Or they might be enticed to move on with an unproven commodity.
Freeman has been lauded as a table-setting contact bat who can be an above-average defender at second. Arias has been viewed as a superior defensive prospect, though he has struggled mightily at the dish with Columbus this season (which is a disappointment after the numbers he put up in 2021). Rocchio may be the most well-rounded of the three, and is consistently amongst the youngest at each level he’s played at. All of this talent is ready to get some views, and that’s even before mentioning the Fermín and Tena.
I suppose what I’m getting at here is that the front office has a number of options when it comes to the shortstop position for 2023 and beyond. On the one hand, it’s easy to stick with the known commodity, but on the other hand, with the number of prospects in the system, something has to happen. Any of these guys can be flipped; as for what the return might be… well, that remains to be seen. Teams know the Guardians have a full stable of middle infielders, so Cleveland may have to sweeten the package a bit.
When considering a Rosario extension, $10 million per season should not be an insurmountable amount, especially with the new minority ownership. But again, the team could look to spend that elsewhere and decide to go with more team control with one of the younger prospects. These storylines will certainly be interesting to follow the remainder of the season, during the offseason, and possibly into next season’s spring training.