Here’s a primer on team building. When you spend the better part of three years getting essentially zero offense out of the catcher position, and you give a five-year contract to a center fielder with a lifetime OPS of .626, you had better get offensive production out of every other spot in the lineup.
Last year, that worked out for the Cleveland Guardians. This year, not so much.
As of Tuesday night, the Cleveland Guardians have two of the nine positions on the diamond (first base and third base) with OPSs above .700. The other seven positions are all under that mark. That includes designated hitter and all three outfield spots. Therein lies the major issue that needs to get fixed in the upcoming offseason.
You can live, even in this day and age, with middle infielders who don’t produce huge numbers. That’s especially true when your corner infielders, Josh Naylor and Jose Ramirez, are producing at elite levels. There is certainly room for hope at both second and short. Just one year ago, second baseman Andres Gimenez provided an OPS of .837, along with Gold Glove defense. The Guardians just have to hope that his .686 showing in 2023 is the fluke, especially since he has a new long-term deal. At shortstop, Cleveland has tried four different players since trading Amed Rosario. None has taken the world by storm, but Gabriel Arias has made steady progress on offense while excelling on defense. It seems clear that the front office wants Arias to be the shortstop in 2024, but if his offensive development stalls, Brayan Rocchio and Tyler Freeman should be ready to step in.
Standing pat in the outfield, however, is simply not something the Guardians can afford to do. These guys simply did not provide enough offense to give this team a chance to contend. Left fielder Steven Kwan is an excellent fielder and a prototypical leadoff hitter. If the rest of the lineup produces as it should, he is an asset because he gets on base and plays smart. Myles Straw is as good defensively as any center fielder in the game, but his OPS has been under .600 two straight years. That makes Straw’s defense a luxury that this lineup can scarcely afford. Maybe if Bo Naylor continues to develop and the Guardians can hit Straw ninth full time next year, his lack of offense could be tolerable.
In a perfect world, Kwan and Straw would platoon in center and the Guardians could get a big bat for left field. But this is a small-market team, so Cleveland will probably start next season with both in the lineup. Right fielder Will Brennan might not be so lucky. Brennan has played more or less full time against right-handed pitching and has seen spot duty against lefties. He has produced 23 extra-base hits and 12 walks, resulting in an OPS of .660.
Clearly, this is the spot where the Guardians can make a significant upgrade. There is nobody immediately available in the minor league pipeline, so a trade is the only option. Fortunately, Cleveland has a deep well of prospects, especially if their front-line pitchers return to health next season. Would a package of Logan Allen and Rocchio be enough to pry loose Bryan Reynolds from the Pirates? It’s certainly worth a phone call. Or, could they keep the youngsters and use Shane Bieber as the bait? The Texas Rangers have a surplus of hitters and are desperate for pitching. Again, there are plenty of options.