Cleveland Guardians: Who fits among the newly minted free agents?
With clubs recently deciding to non-tender certain players on their rosters, a new wave of free agents has entered the mix. Now, before anyone objects to any of these names, yes, they all have some warts to their game. If they didn't, their previous club wouldn't have allowed them to leave.
So with that out of the way, let's take a look at this mystery cohort and see if any of them could make sense for the Cleveland Guardians.
Luke Voit could make for a nice platoon at first and DH. He's got 20+ home run potential, still has two years of control, and he should come relatively cheap. Admittedly, he possess a similar profile to Josh Naylor, so ultimately his fit may not be with this club, but in the vein of leaving no stone unturned I wouldn't rule Voit out completely.
Back when the club traded Francisco Lindor to the Mets, Dominic Smith was a name I was really hoping to be included in the deal. As it turns out he wasn't, but the 27-year-old is now available. Smith can hit lefties, with a career .267/.346/.404 slash line against southpaws. For comparison, Naylor has a career slash line of .209/.280/.285 against lefties. So in a platoon-only role, Smith could be a decent 1B/DH addition, though don't expect much power from him.
If you like to gamble, my next two targets could be primed for bounceback MVP-type seasons. Mitch Haniger when healthy is a threat to belt 30+ home runs, drive in 100 RBI, and hit .260+. But on the flip side, he could play 50 games, and hit 10-15 home runs and hit a slightly above-league average, like .245. He'll turn 32 soon, and made just south of $8 million in 2022. If the Guardians' front office thinks he can stay healthy for a full-ish season, Haniger could slide right into the everyday right field spot, allowing for Oscar Gonzalez to focus primarily on DH.
Our own Steve DiMatteo recently wrote about the next free agent, Cody Bellinger - it's a great read and you should all check it out. That said, I won't get too far into the weeds on Bellinger but some three seasons ago, Bellinger was an MVP winner and his star was burning oh so very bright. Over the past three season he's only averaged 14 home runs, with a .203/.272/.376 slash line, and a 74 OPS+. But the thing that intrigues me is his defense and the potential to move back to first some, too. His slash line versus left-handed hitting would be an improvement over Naylor, but Bellinger will certainly garner some interest from other clubs looking at him as a reclamation project.
Willi Castro, the former Cleveland farmhand, returns?! Crazier things have happened. Castro would provide a decent bench addition. During the 2022 season, Castro literally played all over the diamond for the Tigers, seeing time in each outfield spot, third base, shortstop, and second. He does tend to strike out a bit too much, and has had a few down seasons here recently. But if the club is going to move on from some of its middle infield depth, Castro could be a stopgap solution in a bench role, as he'll only be 26 years old this season.
Bradley Zimmer... okay, I'm just messing with you to make sure you're still paying attention.
Ultimately, I believe the best course of action for the Guardians to take is to look elsewhere at other available free agents and the trade market. Josh Bell, Trey Mancini, or Jose Abreu seem like perfect fits to platoon at first and fill in at DH. Personal favorite Bryan Reynolds would be an ideal trade candidate, as would any one of the Marlins starting pitchers, or maybe even one of the Blue Jays' catchers! But contained in this list of players, there are a few who also have a chance to carve out a niche role with the team - Smith and Haniger being the most likely, if things go in a certain direction this offseason, that is.