When Sunday’s victorious 1-0 masterpiece spun by Triston McKenzie and Emmanuel Clase came to a close, the Guardians moved to 56-52 on the season. The win combined with a Minnesota Twins extra-innings loss to Toronto brings Cleveland within a game of the lead in the American League Central Division. The Guardians also remain in the thick of the expanded wildcard race. While there are many teams to contend with in that wildcard mix, their record has them just two games behind the final playoff spot.
It’s far from a foregone conclusion, but playoff baseball in Cleveland could very well be a reality in 2022. However, given how the team’s management has behaved over the course of the last calendar week, it could be argued that the organization is providing much less optimistic signals about the remainder of the season.
For the sake of transparency, I tend to believe that the front office and management/coaching team in place in Cleveland are among the best in baseball and deserving of a lot of trust. You can draw a direct line from the groundwork that Hank Peters started in the late 1980s when he was hired by Dick Jacobs to be team president to the executive team of Chris Antonetti and Mike Chernoff today. Peters put the framework in place that would lead to the dominant 1990s teams and the Guardians have been competitive nearly every day for the last 3+ decades. Naturally, Terry Francona’s reputation also proceeds him. Two-time world champion. Broke the curse in Boston. One of the best baseball men on the planet.
Yet, the actions of the executive and management staff have me puzzled for the first time in a long time. What do I mean? Take a look over the last calendar week and see what decisions have been made (or not made) both on the field and to the roster.
Monday, Aug 1:
- Guardians option OF Alex Call to AAA Columbus and select the contract/activate OF Will Benson.
- RP Anthony Gose moves from the 15 Day IL to 60 Day IL to make 40-man roster space.
- Guardians beat the Diamondbacks 6-5 in extra innings.
In the backdrop of the impending trade deadline on Tuesday, this really wasn’t a bad day outside of what it foreshadows. Call had been mostly being used as a defensive replacement for struggling slugger Franmil Reyes who is not strong with the glove. Benson on the other hand had been having an excellent season at Columbus with at .279/.426/.522 slash line and 17 homers.
Let’s see what the trade deadline has in store…
Tuesday, Aug 2:
- Guardians trade C Sandy Leon to Minnesota Twins for RHP Ian Hamilton. Hamilton reports to AAA Columbus.
- OF Oscar Gonzalez is activated from the 15 Day IL and in turn OF Franmil Reyes is optioned to AAA Columbus.
- Guardians bring 3 rookie outfielders to the plate in the 9th, two pinch-hitting. All three strike out as the Guardians lose to the Diamondbacks 6-3.
- That’s it.
The “that’s it” is deliberate. Again, this was trade deadline day, and as the day began, the Guardians found themselves one game behind the Twins in the AL Central. The team reportedly was in talks to acquire Oakland Athletics catcher Sean Murphy, but those talks didn’t lead to a deal.
Murphy has three more full seasons before he becomes a free agent in 2026, has already won a Gold Glove and would automatically be the best hitting catcher on the Guardians. Cleveland has more young players that need to get onto the 40-man roster before the off-season’s Rule 5 Draft than they know what to do with. Consolidating multiple prospects for one young player that has already proven himself and could help the team down the stretch as well as in the future seems like a perfectly logical thing to do. Yes, Bo Naylor is raking in the minors, but Murphy is a known entity as a strong all-around catcher in the Majors now, and consolidating talent would really help with the off-season roster crunch.
So, what do the Guardians do? They make a trade involving a catcher, but not the one expected. They do the Twins a favor and trade them a catcher to replace the injured Ryan Jeffers.
Now, that’s a bit of an oversimplification. Ian Hamilton has been stellar out of the pen at AAA for the Twins but hasn’t really cracked into the majors. He could be a good add in the long run. More importantly, the Guardians had a handshake agreement with Leon, who had been traded in from Cincinnati in June to cover the Guardians when they were short at the catcher’s spot earlier this year. The agreement was that if they demoted him back to Columbus and an opportunity for him to be in the majors arose they would do right by him and trade him to that team. Unfortunately, that team ended up being the squad directly above the Guardians in the standings. Rock? Meet Hard Place. Leon isn’t much of a hitter anyway, it’s not like the Guardians traded Sandy Alomar Jr. to the Twins, but still. The one trade you make at the deadline potentially helps your direct competition for the playoffs? What are we doing here?
Monday night, Reyes knew he was getting demoted. Reports were that he cleaned out his locker after the extra-inning victory. Reyes’s 2022 has been abysmal. Once a significant threat in the middle of Cleveland’s order with two seasons of 30+ homers at the age of 25 or younger, he has been impotent in 2022 with an OPS+ of 72 while being on a less than 20 home run pace for the season. Still, he’s only going down to AAA, right? Maybe he can work on some things and come back for the stretch run. The Guardians would sure do well to have his power backing up Jose Ramirez and Josh Naylor in October…
(That’s called more foreshadowing)
Wednesday, Aug 3:
- Guardians option infielder Ernie Clement to AAA Columbus and recalled infielder Tyler Freeman.
- Freeman makes his 12th ever start at third base at any level of professional baseball so that Jose Ramirez can DH and Josh Naylor can have the night off.
- Guardians defeat the Diamondbacks 7-4.
Another day that’s a little more straightforward. This was a nice victory and while Clement is nice to have because he can play several positions, he hasn’t really hit very well. Freeman is another of these great young talents the club is trying to suss out. The one thing the team loses by demoting Clement is that it leaves a hole in terms of who will play third base when Ramirez needs to be spelled. Freeman and Owen Miller both played there at some point this week. They have 37 appearances at third base at any level of pro ball combined between them.
Thursday, Aug 4:
- The Guardians are shut out by Justin Verlander and the Astros, 6-0.
- Four of the nine Guardians position player starters are rookies. They go a combined one for 13.
The Astros are in town and this four-game weekend series has the opportunity to be a great measuring stick for Cleveland to get an idea of exactly how well they can complete with a serious World Series contender. The first indications of Thursday night are that they aren’t anywhere close, as this night’s game is one of the most decisive losses of the season. There is very little to be ashamed of in struggling against a pitcher like Verlander, but perhaps you would give yourself a little bit better of a chance if your six, seven and eight spots in your order had more than 75 career Major League at-bats.
Friday, Aug 5:
- Guardians option LHP Kirk McCarty to AAA Columbus and select/promote SP Hunter Gaddis, OF Alex Call is Designated for Assignment to make space on the 40-man roster for Gaddis.
- The Astros wallop Gaddis early and (nearly) never look back, winning 9-3.
Again, this could be a marquee series in the Guardians season. Hosting the Astros for four games has the ability to give the team a boost if they are competitive. Everything about this particular contest though was the opposite of competitive.
Nothing against Gaddis himself, but the man was making his major league debut against one of the top-five best offenses in baseball, and it absolutely looked like a novice pitcher against an experienced ball club. 3 1/3 innings pitched and eight earned runs. What hurts more is that Konnor Pilkington‘s turn in the rotation was also Friday and the Guardians decided against promoting him in favor of Gaddis and his two career starts at the AAA level. Now don’t get me wrong. Pilkington isn’t Sandy Koufax, but he at least has nine Major League starts under his belt and is a bulldog on the mound. His 4.17 ERA isn’t sparkling but is serviceable and he has shown a lot of moxy minimizing the damage on multiple occasions when his defense has let him down. I would have felt comfortable with him getting the start instead. Supposedly, the Guardians opted for Gaddis because they feared starting a lefty against the Astros. On this same night lefty reliever, Sam Hentges pitched 2 2/3 innings of scoreless, one-hit ball. Go figure.
The frustrations don’t stop there though. To this point, Terry Francona could be seen as an innocent bystander in all that has transpired over the course of the week. Yes, he is an important factor in the decision-making of who makes the roster and he has had many of these young players put onto the 26-man roster without him having full control. He is playing guys like Freeman and Benson because that’s who the entire brain-trust as a collective has decided to promote. However, on Friday night he directly made one of the most disappointing decisions of the whole week. With Gaddis in the showers and the Guards trailing 8-1, he gave up on the game.
Lead-off man Steven Kwan was replaced with Benson in just the 5th inning. Yes, Kwan fouled a pitch off his foot in the 1st, but he was good to play to that point and the 5th is awfully early to call it a night. Additionally, Francona didn’t only remove Ramirez from the game but ditched the team’s designated hitter in order to do so. DH Owen Miller was moved to 3rd base, effectively making the three-spot in the Guardians lineup the pitcher’s spot for the rest of the night.
This would loom large as the Guardians began to mount a comeback in the bottom of the 7th. While still down 8-3 with one out in the inning, there were reasons for optimism as Benson walked to load the bases, putting the tying run on deck. Amed Rosario would pop out for the second out, but no worries, the best RBI man in all of baseball is coming up and one swing could put the Guardians within one.
Oh, wait, no. Bryan Shaw is due up… because we took Ramirez out of the game… and lost the DH in the process… so Owen Miller can play third base for the 11th time ever in his career… Nolan Jones, another rookie, would pinch hit for Shaw and strike out looking on a fastball right down the middle. And that would be the Guards’ best chance to get back in the game.
I shake my head in wonder. For a ball club that plays as hard as Cleveland does, that prides itself on not giving up in games, who came back down six runs in the 9th against the White Sox earlier this season, how on Earth do you raise the white flag in the 5th inning? How do you run a rookie out there to debut against arguably the best team in the American League? I just don’t understand. But there’s, even more, I don’t understand…
Saturday, Aug 6:
- SP Hunter Gaddis is demoted to AAA Columbus, RP Jake Jewell is selected/promoted.
- In order to make space on the 40-man roster, OF Franmil Reyes is designated for assignment.
- The Guardians start three rookies again against the Astros but win this time, 4-1.
- Jake Jewell doesn’t pitch.
Okay, the win is great, I love it. But what?!?!?!
So, the Guardians feel so strongly about needing additional relief pitching help that they demote themselves back down to four starters and promote Jake Jewell to the majors. They feel so strongly about the 7.75 career ERA Jewell that they waive Franmil Reyes. I guess Reyes won’t be tuning up and returning for the stretch run after all.
Again, Reyes has not been good in 2022. I am not fooling myself on that, but he does have a track record of success in Major League Baseball. Where is Jewell’s track record of success? What value decision is being made here? Jewell has been great in AAA this year, just like he was in 2021 for the Cubs organization and just like he was in 2019 for the Angels organization. I sure hope it translates to the Majors this time.
Some have suggested Reyes was waived so that he would be off the 40-man roster and could be traded after the trade deadline. This is incorrect. No player that has been on the 40-man at any point in the season can be traded after the deadline. Others have suggested that he has soured himself on the organization in some way, perhaps he has not taken his conditioning or work in the field as seriously as the team would have liked. This I cannot speak to and would certainly change the calculus of the situation, but if there were any frustrations about Reyes’s attitude within the organization none have made it to the press. It feels hard to turn down a potential 30 homers a season, even if things haven’t gone well this year.
Sunday, Aug 7:
- OF Alex Call is claimed by the Washington Nationals
- Triston McKenzie is masterful as the Guardians beat the Astros 1-0.
- Jake Jewell doesn’t pitch.
So, if teams are willing to claim Call, I have to figure someone will want Reyes as well. Time will tell, but I have a hard time thinking he will pass through waivers and remain in Columbus. If he does, then something is seriously wrong and maybe the org is really onto something. In the meantime, I am keeping track of how often Jewell pitches since he was clearly so important to promote to the majors.
More importantly, Sunday, as well as Saturday’s performances on the field, showed what Cleveland is still capable of. McKenzie pitched eight innings, gave up two hits and struck out eight. He didn’t allow a hit after the 2nd inning and set down 18 straight Astros at one point. The Guardians only scratched out one run on a Luke Maile homer, but that’s all they needed to generate a split of the series and salvage some confidence against the team in the AL with the best chance to win the World Series, according to Fangraphs.
Saturday and Sunday make Friday night’s decision-making all that much more frustrating. They make the decision to not add impactful talent at the trade deadline all that much more frustrating. They make the decision to give up on a 30-home run potential ballplayer all that much more frustrating.
I generally trust Antonetti, Chernoff, Francona and all those that come with them. They clearly have made the decision not to compromise their vision on how this roster should unfold as the Guardians continue to ascend. They are going to play young guys. They need to. They need to evaluate what they have in terms of major league talent. The winter’s roster crunch looms. If they happen to win some ballgames and sneak into the playoffs on the way, that’s wonderful, but they are going to do it without compromising the mission at hand. 2022 isn’t about 2022. 2022 is about 2023 and 2024.
I know it. I understand it. But I look at the standings and see the Twins only one game above the Guards and that makes it hard to swallow. Knowing how much of the MLB playoffs comes down to luck and getting hot at the right time makes it even harder.
In 2025, we should re-visit this week. Something tells me we will look back at the first week of August 2022 and either think of it as the week that put the Guardians on a path for success or as a week that was a giant missed opportunity.
I guess all we can do is continue to trust.