Even though the Cleveland Guardians remain in local television contract hell with Bally Sports, with tens of millions of dollars hanging in the balance, there are still plenty of cheap free agents floating out there (some of whom we've recently discussed here).
The team has made some interesting moves to this point, but the Guardians could still use an infusion of veteran talent that should help the team weather the storm of a long season. These guys might not even be with the club for the entirety of 2024, but they'd be instrumental in helping the team compete for the AL Central, which is still entirely in reach given the current state of the division.
With that being said, here are four intriguing players the Guardians should consider signing:
It's certainly possible Mancini's best days in baseball are behind him, as he has a 74 OPS+ since coming to the Houston Astros at the trade deadline in 2022. He also doesn't play much in the outfield anymore, but it would be interesting to see what the 31-year-old still has left in the tank, even if it's just as a spring training invite.
Winker had an atrocious 2023 campaign, hitting just .199/.320/.247 with one home run in 166 at-bats with the Brewers. But the 30-year-old also maintained a 123 OPS+ over the six previous seasons, offering just enough pop and an elite eye at the plate. Given his low stock and the fact that he's a true outfielder, he might make the most sense for Cleveland, should the Guardians be willing to roll the dice to start the year.
This one's a stretch because, if you remember, Pederson recently called out teams like the Guardians for having such low payrolls every single year. It seems unlikely the 31-year-old is swimming in options, though, and Cleveland does have the chance to compete for a division title this year. And when healthy, Pederson still knows how to mash the ball. He hit 15 home runs and 14 doubles in 358 at-bats last season, and had a gloriously red Statcast profile when it comes to his power numbers. Pederson would be a great guy to add on a one- or two-year deal if he can be had (and is willing to come to Cleveland).
Fans have wanted Whit Merrifield in a Cleveland uniform for years, going back to his Kansas City days. Well, here's the chance, as Merrifield is a free agent for the first time in his career. The 34-year-old and the Blue Jays both declined his $18 million mutual option for 2024, and it seems likely he'll eventually get a one- or two-year deal. He's still very productive - and was an All-Star last year - hitting .272/.318/.700 in 2023, with 11 home runs, 27 doubles, and a 94 OPS+ in 592 plate appearances. He still spends significant time in the outfield, and his infield experience remains a plus. The longer he goes unsigned, the more enticing an option he is for Cleveland.
These are all recognizable names sitting out there as free agents. All of these guys have played the outfield at some point in their careers, and some of them have begun the shift to becoming a designated hitter or platoon/bench bat. For a guy like Winker, his stock is as low as you can imagine following a disastrous 2023 season, but his career track record still makes him an intriguing add to the outfield mix.
Don't get it twisted - none of these guys are expected to be saviors of a moribund offense. However, these guys would provide plenty of the added depth this team so desperately needs, especially in the early months of a marathon season. Any of these deals might flame out by the trade deadline, and that's totally fine, but these guys might also give you 300-400 plate appearances with some pop at a Cleveland-friendly price. In a weak AL Central, and with a number of prospects about ready to break through, that'll be just fine.