If the Cleveland Guardians are not going to open up their pocketbooks and sign free agents to bolster their lineup, they could at least find a way to extend one of their blossoming power bats in Josh Naylor.
Naylor is coming off a career year in 2023 that saw him slash 308/.354/.489 with a .842 OPS and 128 weighted runs created plus in 121 games. This solidified his place as one of the best young first base/designated hitters in the game and has proven that he can be a building block for the Guardians for years to come.
This now puts the Guardians in an all too familiar position of having to navigate the waters of the final two arbitration eligible years with the hope that they can retain a budding star talent this time around.
Naylor was asked about his future in Cleveland, and the answers coming from the Ontario native are eerily similar to those of Francisco Lindor just a few years ago.
"I'm going to leave that to them" and "You can ask them that question. Obviously, Cleveland's an incredible place to play" were his responses to his future with the Guardians. Forgive anyone for having flashbacks to how things went with Lindor, but these types of answers are not necessarily a ton of hope at the current juncture. Add in the less-than-ideal financial situation right now, and it is easy to understand why anyone would hit the panic button if they choose to do so.
In an attempt to calm down any of those prepared to go into all-out panic, it should be noted that this development is not exactly like that of Lindor's, which should inspire some hope of an extension. The most amount of games that Naylor has played came in 2022 with 122. Meanwhile, Lindor was an everyday player from 2016 to 2020. While it is not necessarily fair to penalize someone for being injured, it did happen, and a team has to take that into account when it comes to contract discussions.
The differences between Naylor and Lindor do not stop there. Lindor was a key cog and productive bat in Clevleand's lineup since being called up, while Naylor has experienced various levels of ups and downs. Naylor did reach an impressively high level of production in 2023, but the consistency has not been there yet. The lack of year-over-year productivity could be enough to keep Naylor in Cleveland's price range, even with his outstanding 2023.
Cleveland's front office has been threading the needle between competitive and financially conservative for several years now, and agreeing to terms with players before their arbitration-eligible years run out has been a key component of that strategy. The Guardians would be wise to again utilize this strategy and keep someone who is not only a productive bat in the lineup but the heir apparent to Jose Ramirez as the heart and soul of the team.
If the goal is to maintain an extended high floor for a team, extending Naylor now would help accomplish that, in addition to potentially some even loftier goals. It is just going to take the front office and ownership to temporarily step out of their comfort zone and retain a future star talent rather than go back to the well of dealing with them for a haul of prospects that may or may not turn into what they traded away in the first place. Naylor should be affordable enough right now that they will not have to turn to that strategy and instead keep him in town for the long haul.