"We're always looking to improve the team, but frankly I think a lot of our improvement is going to come internally and organically. We have a lot of young guys that we have to see what they can do, and they are about to break through."
Those were Paul Dolan's words this past weekend during Guards Fest, and the likes of Gabriel Arias, Will Brennan, and Myles Straw should take note, as each could be on borrowed time with the team. But more on that later.
The Cleveland Guardians were never going to be in on guys like Shohei Ohtani, Cody Bellinger, or Teoscar Hernandez. Apparently, they never intended to be in on Hunter Renfroe, Joey Gallo, or Justin Turner, either. Maybe some of the available free agents will become so cheap in a month that even the Guardians will want to take a flier. I just wouldn't bank on it.
But Mr. Dolan does have a point. This team is chock-full of young guys who have yet to prove themselves or get a fair shake. When you look at a potential 26-man roster, there are more question marks than we probably want to admit. Two-thirds of the outfield has no clear-cut answer, nor does shortstop, and neither does DH. However, at each position, there are a number of young players vying for larger roles.
Estevan Florial should get every opportunity to win the center field job in spring training, and maybe he ends up being just a guy. FanGraphs recently compared Florial to Jose Siri in Tampa, and that would be a significant upgrade over Myles Straw. George Valera will also be knocking on the door down in Columbus, and it's not that far-fetched that he's called upon at some point in '24, either.
Ramón Laureano and Will Brennan seem poised to start the season in a right field platoon role, a pairing that is acceptable for the time being. Last season, Johnathan Rodriguez showcased that he's also a potential fit to answer the longstanding void of power in the outfield.
Over at short, Gabriel Arias probably only has one last opportunity to claim the everyday job. There's no denying that he possesses tremendous raw power, but his 32.8% strikeout rate may be far too much to stomach. Brayan Rocchio, who has had a phenomenal winter, is waiting in the wings, and though he likely won't possess as much power, he puts the ball in play. If the club sees improved power from elsewhere, it's easy to imagine Rocchio getting the nod over Arias sooner rather than later.
Lastly, at DH, could the Guardians go with the committee approach to start the season? Cycling between José Ramírez, Josh Naylor, David Fry, and Deyvison De Los Santos sure seems plausible, as it seems Kyle Manzardo is destined to start off in Columbus.
I could spend time trying to predict the bullpen as well, but that seems like a fool's errand. Just know that there are guys on the verge of needing looks there as well, including Cade Smith, Daniel Espino (later in the season), Franco Aleman, Tanner Burns, and Mason Hickman, just to name a few.
There are a few outfielders still available out in free agency who could contribute, even if only for a season; there will no doubt be criticism of the front office if the current players fail to live up to expectations or if any of those remaining free agents get off to a tear. The current roster construction is undoubtedly very backloaded with talent, and I certainly hope the club takes an aggressive approach for once to start answering some of these roster questions.
Please, if anyone reading this is in the Guardians front office, no more Myles Straw or Gabriel Arias - they're just blocking the way for better players.