Stop me if you've heard this before, but the Cleveland Guardians could still really stand to add some power to the lineup ahead of the 2024 season. However, there are a few issues at play that aren't helping the cause.
Between the incessant delays between Diamond Sports Group (Bally Sports) and MLB on resolving the antiquated broadcasting deal and the Guardians' inability to find a desirable trade suitor in a potential Shane Bieber trade, this offseason has been relatively quiet. That isn't to say that there are not ways to improve the roster. It's just taking some time to actually (hopefully) happen.
You can call these guys under-the-radar options, but there are a handful of inexpensive names that the Guardians, once the finances are figured out with DSG, should pursue. It just so happens that they all play in the outfield, and the club has a logjam starting to form out there, too.
Randal Grichuk, Adam Duvall, Tommy Pham, and old friend Yasiel Puig would all be interesting additions to the club, and on top of it all, should be very affordable. Based on projections from Sportrac, the expected market values of each respected player are as follows: $8.04M (Grichuk), $5.59M (Duvall), and $8.35M (Pham). Puig was not listed, but would likely fall into that $5-$8M range as well.
Why are these figures so important? If we look back on the past half-decade of free-agent signings by the organization, there develops a theme of not breaking the bank (again, we all know this, but see for yourselves). The top signings are listed below:
- 2024: Austin Hedges - 1-year, $4M / Ben Lively - 1-year, $750K
- 2023: Josh Bell - 2-year, $33M / Mike Zunino - 1-year, $6M
- 2022: Bryan Shaw - 1-year, $3M / Luke Maile - 1-year, $900K
- 2021: Eddie Rosario - 1-year, $8M / Cesar Hernandez - 1 yr, $5M
- 2020: Cesar Hernandez - 1 yr, $6.25M / Domingo Santana - 1-year, $1.5M
The Cleveland front office simply does not live in a world where they deem using free agency as a means to an end. And quite frankly, that's okay. It's frustrating for sure, but understandable as well. Instead, the club has relied on homegrown talent and trades as a means to improve the team. Relying on typically older players and having to pay them based on past performance is a losing game - and that's usually what you get in free agency. Guys get older and start to produce less.
I say all of that, and boy, am I going to contradict myself now. But by adding one of the aforementioned outfield possibilities, even for just one season, the Guardians can lessen the expectations of their young outfield prospects, namely Johnathan Rodriguez, George Valera, Estevan Florial, and even Deyvison De Los Santos. This would allow each to either start the season in Columbus (Rodriguez and Valera) or without the added pressure to produce immediately (Florial and De Los Santos).
Grichuk has a 101 career OPS+ and sported a 103 OPS+ last season, which may not sound like much, but last season Myles Straw had an OPS+ of 69. Over the past three seasons, Grichuk has slashed .255/.299/.434 with 57 home runs and 198 RBI and turned 32 this past August. It's not out of the question that he could sign for even two years, either.
Over the past two seasons, Adam Duvall has become a part-time player, appearing in 178 games and owning a .231/.290/.470 slash line in that time, putting up 33 home runs and 94 RBI. More so than any of the possible free-agent targets, Duvall would strictly play in a platoon role.
Tommy Pham was off to a blistering start in 2023, cooling off as the season progressed, but over the past three seasons he's slashed .240/.326/.398 with 48 home runs, 180 RBI, and 44 stolen bases. Pham isn't the 20-homer-a-season threat he was when he was younger, but has shown to be able to still swipe a few bags.
Lastly, with regards to Puig, there are some things to unpack here. He's been out of MLB since 2020, last appearing in 2019 as a member of the Indians and Reds. This was due to some legal issues, and these matters led Puig to play in Mexico and Korea in 2021 and 2022, respectively. However, over 48 winter-league games thus far, Puig is hitting .360 with 12 home runs and 32 RBI. There have been recent reports that several MLB teams are interested in him, and he's still only 33 years old.
I get it - none of these guys alone are going to win the Guardians a World Series, let alone a Central division title, but they can all likely contribute. With the division so easily in play (at least conceivably), the front office needs to work around the edges of the roster to bolster it. Adding a bat capable of some power and likely another arm should be the top items of focus before the start of spring training a mere month away.