Two years ago, we were all begging the Cleveland Guardians front office to make a trade from the plethora of middle infielders. By and large, that didn't happen. Hey, maybe in 2024 we'll finally get a firm idea of who the long-term shortstop is. Then again, we could very likely still be discussing that in a year's time.
This year, the Guardians' front office wasn't going to let Boxing Day come and go without shopping the return/clearance sections. And, lo and behold, they swung a deal with the Yankees for outfielder Estevan Florial.
Florial, for what it's worth, did impress last season at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, where he slashed .284/.380/.565 with 23 doubles, four triples, 28 home runs, 79 RBI, and 25 stolen bases. But he has struggled in prior seasons and, as a result, has seen his stock diminish within the Yankees system. Thus, he became expendable.
The Guardians officially have nine individuals listed as outfielders on their 40-man roster. Gabriel Arias, Will Brennan, Florial, Steven Kwan, Ramon Laureano, Jhnokensy Noel, Johnathan Rodriguez, Myles Straw, and George Valera. Add to the mix - Tyler Freeman and Angel Martinez, who have each been getting outfield work in the off-season. There's also Rule 5 pick Deyvison De Los Santos, who has expressed a willingness to play outfield, and Josh Naylor, who has shown the ability to play out there as well. Now, suddenly the club has 13 candidates to play one of three spots each day.
But let's really assess each player's likelihood of seeing time in the outfield during the upcoming season. Barring trade or injury of course, and I must emphasize the trade angle - someone or someones are on their way out, right?!?
First up are the 26-man roster locks. There aren't many, but they'll likely get a bulk of time this season in some capacity. Here we have Kwan, Laureano, Naylor, Florial, and De Los Santos. Now Kwan needs no explanation. He's your everyday left fielder, who I may add, will be seeking his third consecutive Gold Glove (can we please stop with this notion of moving him?). Turning our attention to Laureano, he should slot into a platoon role. Versus left-handed pitchers last season, he slashed .270/.333/.460. Naylor should not see the outfield at all, especially after all these recent moves - let him and Kyle Manzardo split 1B and DH duties. Florial and De Los Santos get lumped together. This is because they both need to be on the roster, or the Guardians risk losing both. Florial is out of options, and De Los Santos was a Rule 5 pick, sure they may be able to hide them on IL or something - but otherwise, they'll each need to be on the 26-man roster.
The next grouping of candidates are the ones who probably make the roster, but there may be a sliver of doubt with each as well. Brennan would make for a fine platoon partner with Laureano, as he slashed .279/.314/.379 against right-handed pitching last season - but disappointed overall, could the team move on from him? It's unlikely, but it's not zero. Similarly, Freeman didn't light the world on fire last season but has shown positional versatility and the club will need that, so has Martinez. There can be only one - so I'll give the nod to Freeman due to familiarity. Finally, Gabe Arias isn't guaranteed a spot either. He battles Brayan Rocchio for the everyday shortstop spot. I'm not sure that if Rocchio wins out, that Arias has a spot on the 26-man roster - he could conceivably fetch a decent return on the trade market, probably as part of a larger deal.
Noel, Rodriguez, Valera, and Straw would all appear to be the most likely of this group to wind up in either Columbus or elsewhere to start the season. That should come as no surprise with regard to Noel and Valera, both battled injuries last season and still remain extremely young (22 and 23 respectively). Rodriguez is still only 24 himself, but with the additions of De Los Santos and Florial, his path to meaningful playing time in Cleveland this season seems like a near impossibility. As for Straw, it seems like he could be the biggest causality - his time was diminishing in the second half of last season as it was. Not to mention everything the club has done in the outfield this off-season has seemingly buried Straw further and further down the depth chart.
I have no idea what Chris Antonetti and Mike Chernoff have in mind. I'm sure to some degree, they are trying to catch lightning in a bottle/find a stop-gap solution until more prospects separate themselves (we haven't even mentioned Chase DeLauter's name) - but something has to give. The club cannot go into 2024 with 13 outfielders, most of whom are unproven. Hopefully, some of the aforementioned will break out during spring training and make all of this much more clear. Otherwise, it could be a mind-numbing exercise finding the perfect outfield combination.
Ultimately though, we will in all likelihood have to wait until mid-March to see how things pan out, but it's easy to envision an Opening Day outfield of Kwan, Florial, and the aforementioned Laureano/Brennan platoon. Then again, maybe the front office swings a deal for an Anthony Santander or Brent Rooker type. Let the chaos ensue.