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How Badly Have the Cleveland Guardians Screwed Up the past Five Years?

The Tampa Bay Rays are reportedly signing reliever Phil Maton, a 30-year-old veteran most recently with the Houston Astros. Before he was with the Astros however, he was a member of the Cleveland Guardians, but dealt to Houston along with another player (who we'll discuss later) for center-field defensive specialist Myles Straw.

Phil Maton isn't the focus of this article; he was a middling performer who had bounced around the league for several years before having a wildly successful 2023 with the Astros, and his stuff didn't suggest his breakout season would ever happen. So, no, we're not going to hold that against Cleveland, but over the past few years, there are quite a few deals we can and will hold against them.

We'll go through a whole lineup of players that Cleveland gave up on or dealt, and compare them to their direct counterpart who's starting in the Guardians' current lineup. But before we get into all of that because it's going to seem like I'm completely dumping on Cleveland, I'd like to preface it with this; Cleveland has made a lot of good decisions as well.

They held onto Jose Ramirez, they have a penchant for developing pitching, they managed to get a high-caliber reliever for Corey Kluber right as the former Cy Young winner was about to hit a sharp decline in production, and they have a pretty good farm system, with four players in the MLB Top 100 and several just on the outside of that ranking.

Now that we've established that Cleveland isn't all bad, let's start pointing out their most glaringly obvious mistakes, position by position, comparing their current starters during the process and totaling up the projected WAR of the player they lost out on and their current starter at the end of the article using ZiPS projections.

Catcher: Yainer Diaz, Astros

Now, the Guardians do have a solid young catcher in Bo Naylor, and in regards to WAR, they're both projected by most major sites to be around 2-win players for 2024, basically replicating their production from 2023.

They're both tremendous hitters, totaling a 127 wRC+ for Diaz and a 124 wRC+ for Naylor last year, and Diaz is projected to outhit Naylor by a bit next year, but it's close enough to this a wash in the context of comparing who could be starting right now to who's starting right now for Cleveland.

But in terms of what the Guardians got for Diaz (and the previously mentioned Maton), Myles Straw was a 0.4-win player last year. Not good. He's a horrible hitter who doesn't walk, doesn't hit for power, and doesn't hit for average. He's a great base runner and was fantastic defensively in 2022, but the regression with his glove caused his overall value to plummet this past season.

The Guardians might not have found space to play Diaz anyway with the emergence of Naylor as their backstop of the future, but they could've DH'd him, as the Astros did quite a bit last year anyway. Despite Naylor's promising future, Cleveland comes out losers in this one.

First Base: Yandy Diaz, Rays

This one is certainly up there with the biggest misses the Guardians have had over the years; Diaz was a bit of a throwaway in a deal that netted the Guardians Carlos Santana and Jake Bauers, sending out Diaz and Edwin Encarnacion.

Diaz has become one of the best first basemen in baseball, posting a wRC+ of above 130 in three of the past four seasons, with a career-high last season of 164 and a 4.7 WAR. The Guardians have a quality first baseman in Bo's brother Josh, who managed a 128 wRC+ last season.

Obviously, it's not close to Diaz's production, but Naylor is six years younger than Diaz. In this case, we might call the direct comparison of the two another tie, mostly to be generous to Cleveland, because this is a harsh exercise. Although, Diaz is under contract for the same amount of time as Naylor, whose arbitration runs out after 2025, nullifying a bit of the youth advantage so... eek.

What they got in return for Diaz, similar to the Straw deal, was nothing compared to who "Yoked Yandy" has turned out to be as a player. Bauers and Santana are no longer rostered, and Bauers turned out to be a huge letdown compared to his lofty prospect ranking coming up with the Rays. Overall, another huge loss for the Guardians' front office.

Second Base: Cesar Hernandez, FA

The Guardians traded Hernandez to the White Sox for pitcher Konnor Pilkington, who's now a member of the Arizona Diamondbacks organization.

Hernandez is currently without a contract and wasn't a productive player following his Cleveland years, and current second baseman Andres Gimenez is pretty darn good, racking up 6.2 WAR in 2022 and looks to bounce back after a somewhat down 2023, as most sites project him to be around a 3.5-4 win player for 2024. We'll call this a W for the Guardians, both in their current replacement for Hernandez and who they got in return because both players turned out to be pretty inconsequential.

Third Base: Junior Caminero, Rays

I won't try to compare Caminero to Jose Ramirez, the best third-baseman in baseball. Caminero wouldn't have had any room to play in the infield for Cleveland, but as his value as a top-5 prospect in baseball is mostly tied up in his bat, a role as DH would be fine.

I want to focus on the trade that got Caminero to Tampa Bay. He was an 18-year-old rookie-level player when the Guardians dealt him for pitcher Tobias Myers, who was eventually dealt for cash considerations to San Fransisco.

It's hard to project someone that young, but the Rays have had so much success developing talent out of nowhere, wouldn't you think GMs would start to ignore calls from Rays POBO Erik Neander? Regardless of the process, the result of this trade is that the Rays (again) come away with a top-level prospect for essentially nothing, copying what they did with Curtis Mead and the Philadelphia Phillies. Ouch. Cleveland comes out of this one on the short end of the stick.

Shortstop: Fransisco Lindor, Mets

Sigh. I get it. They got Amed Rosario and Andres Gimenez out of this deal, with Gimenez being relatively close to matching Lindor's production in 2022 (but not approaching Lindor's elite stratosphere in the other two seasons).

Lindor commanded a pretty penny in his extension, and the Guardians, for whatever reason, felt as if they had to choose between Lindor and Ramirez. If we're going to grade them on those facets alone, they did fine in this deal. But that's bailing ownership (or the front office) out. They could have held onto Lindor and Ramirez, giving them the best third base-shortstop combination in baseball, and by a wide margin.

Not even mentioning Lindor's role in getting Cleveland to the World Series in 2016 or his marketability as a seemingly likable, personable personality that also happens to be one of the two best shortstops in the game.

Just a mismanagement of resources by the front office or a blatant hack job by Cleveland ownership. I'll restate a refrain that comes up a lot in my columns; if you own a professional baseball organization, be willing to run it as such and invest the proper resources, otherwise, do everyone a favor and sell the damn team. Chalk this up as a Cleveland loss.

Left Field: Michael Brantley, Retired

Am I going to hold it against Cleveland too much for letting Brantley walk? No; he was a relatively expensive commodity on the wrong side of 30 dealing with injuries, a problem that followed him to Houston.

He only cracked 100 games played once in Houston, and Cleveland has a talented (if not, powerful) left fielder in Steven Kwan, who is both a nice contact and on-base guy and an elite defensive outfielder. We'll give this one to Cleveland.

Center Field: Amed Rosario, FA

Ok, Rosario doesn't play center, and while Cleveland's current starting center fielder, Myles Straw, is, as we've discussed, horrible, they have a young promising center fielder in George Valera.

Valera's numbers last year are a genuine reason for concern, with his K-rate spiking and overall numbers dropping by a wide margin, he can still turn things around at age 23. Rosario is currently a free agent after the Guardians sent him to the Dodgers for Noah Syndergaard, who, like Rosario, is also currently unsigned.

Cleveland also takes this advantage simply because Rosario's such a question mark and doesn't really play center (he's got 20 career games started there, but I couldn't think of anyone else).

Right Field: Nolan Jones, Rockies

Oof. This one might hurt the most, because most places have Will Brennan and Ramon Laureano platooning out in right field next season. Jones was dynamite in his first season in Colorado, posting a robust 134 wRC+ and a 3.7 WAR, showing off an elite arm in his transition to a corner outfield spot for the Rockies. A third baseman with Cleveland, Jones was dealt to Colorado for 22-year-old middle infielder Juan Brito.

Brito is only 22 and is a switch-hitting contact-first middle infielder who could be a decent contributor at the ML level. The problem with that of course is that Jones is already a solid major league contributor who seems primed to continue to hit major league pitching in the famously hitters-friendly Coors Field.

A huge loss for the Guardians, making them 3-5 for the total lineup, and now we can reveal the WAR totals for both the Guardians' projected lineup and the projected lineup they missed out on.

For Brantley, Hernandez, and Rosario, we'll mark them as zero simply because Brantley's retired, Hernandez hasn't played in a year, and I'm not sold that Rosario will end up on an ML roster anytime soon. I'm also not going to include a DH for either team, because A) I couldn't find a DH for the Guardians to have missed out on, and B) the Guardians don't have a DH anyways. I also marked Ramon Lauriano as the starting RF, Bryan Rocchio as the starting SS, Myles Straw as the starting CF, and made Josh Naylor their 1B despite ZiPS listing him as a DH.

Guardians' projected position-player WAR total: 22.5
Former Guardians' projected position-player WAR total: 14.2

So despite missing out on three positions, despite ZiPS being quite generous with Myles Straw's bounce-back capabilities, the Guardians' current lineup only stands to out-gain the missed-out player's WAR by 8.3 wins. Now, let's compare the returns they're projected to receive from the players they received in those deals.

Returned player WAR: 6.2

Yup. Gimenez and Straw were the only contributors for this one because they're the only players still in Cleveland off these deals that are projected to make any ML contributions this year. So a net loss of eight for those counting at home. Ouch.

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