Sometimes all a player needs is a trip abroad. A stint with a league overseas like the KBO or Japanese Professional Baseball can lead to a revitalization and extend a player’s career for a few more years. Most recently, Eric Thames showed that it was possible to leave the United States, play in a different league and come back to the major leagues and contribute again. Plenty of former Cleveland Guardians are no stranger to this process, one that could be demoralizing or rejuvenating.
From just the last few seasons, a few former Guardians have fallen off the tracks at the major-league level and decided to continue their careers overseas, a “Mr. Baseball” story - hopefully one with fewer egotistical fiascos - of their own.
Here are three former Cleveland players who are trying to revive their careers overseas.
McCarty was a seventh-round pick of the Guardians in the 2017 draft and never really panned out with the club. After a stellar junior season at Southern Mississippi in which he finished with a 10-2 record, 3.52 ERA and 103 strikeouts through 17 starts, McCarty went to Mahoning Valley where he worked as a starter and reliever. Through five seasons in Cleveland’s system, he combined a 4.30 ERA with a .261 batting average against and a 1.31 WHIP, struggling to keep hitters off the bases against him while watching his ERA balloon.
He was eventually added to the Guardians in April of last year as a COVID-19 replacement player, making his major-league debut on April 24. Though he was sent back to the minors the following day, McCarty appeared in 13 games last year for Cleveland, earning a 4-3 record with a 4.54 ERA through two starts and 11 other appearances out of the bullpen. He was a fine spot starter who ended up getting designated for assignment on July 3. He was then claimed off waivers by the Baltimore Orioles, but was DFA’d again on July 12 without making an appearance. The Guardians then claimed him off waivers, where he finished out the season with them and Triple-A Columbus.
On November 27 of last year, McCarty decided to continue his professional career in the Korean Baseball Organization, signing with the SSG Landers, where he currently is on a one-year deal worth $600,000. Through four starts this season, he’s compiled a 1-1 record with a 3.09 ERA and a 1.03 WHIP, while recording three quality starts and 17 strikeouts. After a poor opening performance against the Kia Tigers where he allowed eight runs off ten hits through 3 1/3 innings pitched, he has since settled down and hasn’t allowed an earned run in the ensuing three starts.
Santana signed with the Guardians for the 2020 season with a club option for 2021 after a pedestrian 2019 season with the Seattle Mariners that saw him record the highest strikeout percentage (32.3%) in the majors. He also committed nine errors that year, the most out of any outfielder in MLB. After just 24 games through the pandemic-shortened season, Santana was designated for assignment on August 31 and outrighted to Cleveland’s alternate training site.
He slashed just .157/.298/.286 with two home runs and 12 RBI during his time in Cleveland, and the club declined his team option for 2021 after the season, making him a free agent. With little interest from major-league clubs over the next month, there was a clear need for the then-27 year-old Santana to remake himself as a hitter. He was once a top prospect for the Philadelphia Phillies that was a key part of the Hunter Pence trade to the Houston Astros. At the time, he could hardly hit his way out of the infield and was striking out at an unprecedented rate.
On December 2, 2020, he signed with the Tokyo Yakult Swallows of the Nippon Professional Baseball league, making his debut in Japan the following April. While he still has difficulty striking out, whiffing 103 times through 116 games in his debut season, Santana is slashing .284/.512/.359 through three seasons with the Swallows. He also smashed 35 home runs and drove in 101 RBI through 194 total games in Tokyo.
An 11th-round pick of the Guardians in 2013, Plutko climbed his way to the No. 19 prospect in Cleveland’s organization after helping UCLA to their first national championship as a starting pitcher alongside Gerrit Cole and Trevor Bauer. Despite missing his first season with the organization due to a stress fracture in his shoulder, Plutko went from Lake County to Cleveland in just two seasons. Prior to his call up on September 20, 2016, Plutko had compiled a 9-8 record and a 3.73 ERA that season between Akron and Columbus.
He then spent all of 2017 with Columbus, where his ERA ballooned to 5.90 and his record dropped to 7-12. Appearing sporadically over the next three seasons with Cleveland, Plutko’s ERA never fell below 4.86, and he became known for giving up home runs and getting shelled as the fifth starter for Cleveland. After never panning out with the Guardians, finishing the 2020 season with a 4.88 ERA and 15 strikeouts through ten games, Cleveland traded him to the Orioles in exchange for cash considerations on March 27, 2021. His only season with Baltimore went worse than any year in Cleveland, and after posting a 6.71 ERA through 38 games, he was designated for assignment and elected free agency at the end of the season.
That December, he inked a one-year, $500,000 deal with $300,000 of additional incentives with the LG Twins of the KBO. In his first year, he finished with a 2.39 ERA, a 15-5 record and a 1.01 WHIP through 28 starts, 18 of which were quality starts. He struck out 24 more batters than hits and only walked 38 hitters through 162 innings. He resigned with the Twins on a one-year deal worth $1.4 million and is off to a near-perfect start. Through four starts this season, he has a 4-0 record and has allowed just five runs in five starts while striking out 19 batters. Could we see Plutko stateside again soon?