The intrusive thoughts won. Let’s get into this.
Before I begin, I’m not going to technically endorse this idea, though I do fully believe this would lead to a World Series for the Cleveland Guardians. And banners fly forever, especially when it’s the first one in 75 years. Desperation? Maybe. Crazy? Without question. Feasible? Well, of course. We just saw Juan Soto get traded; anything is possible.
With that out of the way, let’s see what it would take for the Cleveland Guardians to pick off baseball superstar Shohei Ohtani before the start of the season.
Ohtani just showed the world in the World Baseball Classic that he is pound for pound the best player in baseball. Not only can he hit at an unprecedented slash line, but he can also dominate on the mound with a prolific arsenal and microscopic ERA. He struck out his Los Angeles Angels teammate Mike Trout on three straight swings and misses, something Trout has only done 24 times out of his 6,174 major-league plate appearances.
Since bursting onto the scene in 2018, a season in which he won AL Rookie of the Year, Ohtani has dominated everywhere he’s been. But he’s been relegated to the regular season, as the Angels, despite some of the best generational talent in the game, haven’t been able to make it to the postseason since 2014.
It feels like baseball, one way or another, is going to get Ohtani onto a playoff-ready roster as soon as it possibly can. This year’s trade deadline seems like a likely time for that to happen, but at that point, the Guardians wouldn’t be willing to part with what it’s going to take to land Ohtani for two months and a likely postseason run. They’re not big on rentals anyway, let alone ones they know they can’t re-sign the next year and would deplete one of the best farm systems in the league. I feel like the only way Cleveland’s nifty front office would pull the trigger on something like this would be at the beginning of the season so they could have Ohtani for 162 games.
So, let’s say, hypothetically, Cleveland has been in top secret talks all offseason with the Angels about Ohtani. Los Angeles has been deconstructing profiles of everyone in the Guardians’ organization - no one is off limits. How many major-league players do we want? Prospects? Are those prospects major-league ready or a few years off? The Guardians, meanwhile, have agreed to some and continue to argue over others, further drawing out the process. José Ramírez is likely untouchable, though the Angels push and push.
Cleveland, getting a known starting pitcher and designated hitter, began to see certain players as expendable. Shane Bieber - who the Guardians have already begun looking at potential suitors for - could actually lead to the Angels accepting fewer prospects. But he’s a rental, too, so Cleveland throws in Tanner Bibee as well. Los Angeles needs more bats, so they agree to Josh Naylor and George Valera. Baseball Trade Values says this is a major overpay for Cleveland, but I’d expect the Guardians to ask for the Angels to pay for some of Ohtani’s $30 million contract this year, which is why they’d need to part with two high-level players.
Baseball Trade Values says that if Los Angeles agrees to pay $20 million of the contract, it looks a little more favorable to Cleveland.
Now, with the trade completed, what does this mean for the 2023 Guardians and beyond? Obviously, they’re getting a nearly ten-win player who immediately slots into Bieber’s place as the ace of the pitching staff. Josh Bell becomes the everyday first baseman, which I don’t really think is the best idea defensively, but he could earn days off if utility players slide in at first. Ohtani is the everyday designated hitter without Naylor. Without Valera on the 26-man roster, Tyler Freeman earns his quick promotion to the big leagues and slots in as the utility guy. The outfield stays relatively untouched, with Will Brennan standing as the fourth outfielder ready to replace Myles Straw.
The biggest loss would definitely be felt with Bibee, the No. 5 prospect in the Guardians organization with magnificent upside. Gavin Williams might even be needed to pull off this blockbuster. Either way, Cleveland would likely need to part with one of its top pitching prospects. What complicates this is a second injury to Daniel Espino that’s going to shut him down for two months. Now he has an injury history, and his trade value, if he was realistically available in the first place, has plummeted. It also makes the pitching situation past this year a little more volatile.
Maybe the Guardians are banking on some of these top arms entering the fold by next year to fill in the gaps of a hot-and-cold back half of the rotation, which would keep them from parting ways with Williams or Bibee. Maybe that means Gabriel Arias or Angel Martinez is on the block, or even packaging together two other prospects ranked between No. 15 and No. 30 in the system.
Whatever it looks like, I feel like the Guardians have the ammo to pull the trigger, sending shockwaves through the league and putting themselves as a favorite to win the World Series. It’s doable. Could they? Should they?