The Cleveland Guardians organization is probably in about as good a shape as any team in baseball. The combination of an already competitive on-field product, an absolutely loaded farm system, a low payroll with a variety of avenues to continue to manage finances wisely whether they add payroll or not, and a new minority owner with money to potentially inject into the on-field product all combine to form a very bright future for the Guardians franchise.
According to FanGraphs Roster Resource, the Guardians closed 2022 with a $69 million payroll, which is projected to only rise slightly to $72 million in 2023. In the 2021-22 offseason, the Guardians made only two major-league free agent signings, inking catcher Austin Hedges and reliever Bryan Shaw to one-year deals worth $4 million each. Both of those contracts are now off the books with Shaw being outrighted from the roster to make room for rookies to join the team down the stretch, and Hedges becoming a free agent following the World Series.
This leaves only three guaranteed contracts for the 2023 season: third baseman José Ramírez and closer Emmanuel Clase, who are two of the cornerstone players for the Guardians, and center fielder Myles Straw, who is signed for the next four years, but will likely be heavily involved in trade speculation throughout this offseason, as he is an expendable piece for the Guardians who could be very valuable to a number of teams in the market for a true center fielder.
Arbitration raises account for the remainder of the uncertainty in the payroll. The Guardians had nine players eligible for arbitration (listed below in order of their projected 2023 salary from MLBTradeRumors) entering the offseason and are down to seven, as Luke Maile and Anthony Gose are no longer on the roster. The seven arbitration-eligible players left include:
- Shane Bieber, SP: $10.7 million
- Amed Rosario, SS: $9 million
- Cal Quantrill, SP: $6 million
- Josh Naylor, 1B: $3.5 million
- Zach Plesac, SP: $2.9 million
- Aaron Civale, SP: $2.2 million
- James Karinchak, RP: $1.4 million
The rest of the players above will likely be tendered contracts, though expect there to be wide-ranging speculation about nearly everyone on this list. Rosario, Civale and Plesac are possibilities to be traded as they are replaceable, getting more expensive, and still valuable to enough other teams to generate significant interest. Quantrill will be discussed as a mid-rotation starter at a reasonable price, though he is less likely to be dealt due to the stability he brings to the rotation. Bieber will likely be talked about, though manager Terry Francona has spoken very highly about his leadership, and his projected salary is reasonable and manageable even for a small market team. An interesting name to watch will be Karinchak, who was dominant in 2022, and as he grows slightly more expensive will become a possible trade piece for a Guardians team that has a plethora of young pitching talent, and knows the instability of bullpen arms.
The Guardians could look to go multiple directions with trades this offseason. Their lineup is in desperate need of power, some of which will be added with growth of homegrown talent, but they could look to add a power bat at DH or to upgrade at first base. They could also look to continue stocking the farm system with high-end talent in the low minor leagues to extend the pipeline of major-league ready talent that they already boast. Or they could continue to add prospects that are closer to major-league ready to continue having replacements for injury or ineffectiveness.
Regardless of which direction they go, the Guardians are in an enviable position as we head into what figures to be an interesting and active offseason.