Candidate: OF Bryan Reynolds (Pittsburgh Pirates)
2022 Stats: .262 AVG 27 HR 7 SB 126 OPS+ 1-time All-Star
Reynolds needs to be addressed right at the top. The reason is, he has been talked about as potential trade bait for the Pirates for some time now, without much actual expectation that Pittsburgh would actually make a move. To this point, he had been someone that contending teams would love to get their hands on, but the Pirates had little motivation to actually deal. That changed Saturday when he expressed to the Pirates that he now wishes to be traded. With Reynolds’s wishes out in the open, it suddenly seems much more likely for him to be dealt. Additionally, it does not seem like a coincidence that he made his request the literal day before the meetings started. A deal doesn’t have to occur in San Diego, but dialogues at the very least will certainly be beginning
Ironically, I think the Guardians’ chances of bringing Reynolds in went down with him making it known that he wants out. Reynolds is an incredibly valuable commodity as a former All-Star center-fielder with both strong contact and power skills. He is also not even arbitration eligible until after next season. With Reynolds’s wishes being out in the open, there is no question of his availability. That means that the Guardians will be far from the only team contacting the Pirates and competing for his services. This doesn’t mean that they can’t get him, but it certainly means they will pay more in a bidding war.
Still, Reynolds could play either center field or left field for the Guardians if they are able to add him. In doing so, Cleveland could move defensive stalwart Myles Straw to the bench from his everyday center-field role. If Cleveland feels strongly about Straw’s defense in the middle of the outfield, Reynolds could play left, which would move last year’s left-fielder Steven Kwan to right (where he did play some, especially early in the season) and move Oscar Gonzalez to the designated hitter role. Truthfully, the answer would likely be somewhere in the middle. The Guardians seemed to appreciate being able to interchange designated hitters last season after Franmil Reyes‘s departure. Reynolds would provide additional flexibility in the field while also providing a significant upgrade in the lineup.
By adding Reynolds, the Guardians lineup could extend. I could see him and his 25 home runs and career OPS+ of 127 hitting in the clean-up spot. He would provide switch-hitting protection to star Jose Ramirez and would add a top of the order that is fleet of foot. Placing him in clean-up slides down the remaining strong part of the Guardians’ order. One of Gonzalez/Naylor/Gimenez would in turn hit in the seven-spot. Reynolds also strikes out at a clip that is below the league average. Between his speed and above-average contact ability, he fits in with the Guardians’ general offensive philosophy while still providing more of a power punch.
Pittsburgh trades OF Bryan Reynolds
As previously stated, because of Reynolds’s request, competition will be high. Williams is arguably the Guardians’ second-best pitching prospect and Valera has a reputation as a sure-fire outfield prospect. Ironically, he projects as a future .280 hitter that could hit 25 bombs a season… that’s exactly what Reynolds is today. The Guardians could look to accelerate their own progress by swapping the future for the present, but it would likely take at least these two top-level guys in their organization. MLB.com lists them as the team’s second and third-best prospects.
Candidate: C Sean Murphy (Oakland Athletics)
2022 Stats: .250 AVG 18 HR 66 RBI 67 R 37 doubles .332 OBP 120 OPS+ 1-time Gold Glove Winner
The Guardians explored trading for Murphy at last year’s trade deadline, but those talks did not bare any fruit… yet. They have also already been linked to Murphy this winter, being listed as one of the most active teams in pursuit of him. Murphy hasn’t expressed a direct distaste for staying in Oakland the way that Reynolds has in Pittsburgh, but Oakland lost 102 games last season and long-time Executive VP of Baseball Ops Billy Beane has just stepped down. Oakland finds itself in the depths of a rebuild and Murphy has three years left of control. He is likely to not be on the team next time they contend at this point.
Murphy is a great candidate to add to the Guardians not only because he could provide 20 home runs and a high walk-rate that have propelled him to an OPS+ of 120 or higher in two of the last three seasons, but because he is a brilliant defensive catcher. Bringing in 2021’s AL Gold Glove winner at catcher would mean that the Guardians could improve offensively at the position, something they were horrendous at in 2022, while not compromising the defense they are known to hang their hat on behind the plate. The Guardians have been strong defensively at catcher since Yan Gomes. That’s not changing anytime soon, and with Murphy’s addition, they could actually be better than they had been last season with defense-first catchers Austin Hedges and Luke Maile. Having Murphy, who ranked 2nd in pop time and 5th in framing in all of baseball, would give Cleveland one of the best backstops in the game. They could find that improvement while being miles ahead of the .178/.265/.265 slash-line that Hedges and Maile combined for at catcher in 2022.
I feel less strongly about Murphy hitting clean-up than I do about Reynolds doing it. Murphy’s offense is important in that is such a boost relative to what Cleveland did last season at catcher, but he doesn’t pack the same punch that Reynolds does. Still, his addition extends the lineup. He could hit 6th or 7th, likely behind Andres Gimenez or Josh Naylor so that Guardians manager Terry Francona can stagger the lineup between left-handed and right-handed hitters. Murphy hitting behind Naylor may discourage managers from bombarding Naylor late in games with lefty relievers, which was certainly the recipe the Rays and Yankees utilized against him in the playoffs.
Oakland trades C Sean Murphy
I think my previously mentioned offer of Williams and Valera could be on the table as well, but that is a steep price to pay for someone that Oakland isn’t being pushed to trade and should therefore have fewer suitors. They still likely need to trade one of their tip-top prospects and Williams fits the bill while the Guardians would still have top starting pitcher prospect Daniel Espino at their disposal. Bibee is ranked as the Guardians’ 6th best prospect with possible ascension in 2024. The Guardians are flush with pitching prospects and seemingly with the know-how of which of their pitchers is more likely to succeed. This is to say, they don’t have to deal Bibee, but just perhaps whichever of their top-level pitching prospects they feel least enthusiastic about. Rocchio is also among the bevy of middle infield prospects that the team has. He’s ranked as their 4th best prospect but has not gotten the opportunity to come to the Majors while fellow peers Gabriel Arias and Tyler Freeman have. At the same time, Amed Rosario remains a productive member of the roster and the Guardians’ current shortstop, which all leads to a logjam at the position. Rocchio is highly regarded but seems to be the least ready of the four potential shortstops, hence, he is expendable.
Candidate: 1B Garrett Cooper (Miami Marlins)
2022 Stats: .261 AVG 9 HR 50 RBI 33 doubles 113 OPS+ 1-time All-Star
Let me be clear, if the Guardians only add Cooper over the course of the off-season, the winter could understandably be viewed as a disappointment, but his addition is still intriguing. He is a right-handed first baseman and the most senior of the potential trade candidates listed. At 31 years old and in his 6th season of MLB service, he would be a one-year rental for Cleveland. Still, he is a solid, trade-able piece that Miami would likely be willing to lend for good value in return as he was talked about at least the season’s deadline as well.
Cooper, as a right-handed hitting first baseman, would make for a great platoon partner with Naylor. Additionally, the Guardians flat-out need more hitting talent. Cleveland was last in baseball offensively (by wRC+) at the DH position. That flat-out suggests not enough hitting depth in that the team simply couldn’t fit a role that directly related purely to offense. Cooper would give the Guardians another option to mix and match and create increased production. If nothing else, his .275/.348/.440 career slash-line is worlds ahead of Owen Miller‘s .231/.288/.338, and Miller is currently slotted in the role that most closely resembles what Cooper would do.
Cooper likely fits in a similar spot to Murphy in the lineup whether he is utilized against lefties or righties. Statistically, he is just as good against both sides, which makes him a potential everyday candidate, but if nothing else he could provide support since Naylor is legitimately deficient against lefties. Things get really interesting if the Guardians can add Cooper along with one of the other candidates above. His asking price should be lower than the Guardians’ other interests and if Cleveland’s lineup in 2023 could include Murphy as C/DH hitting 6th and Cooper as 1B/DH hitting 8th, the Guardians could really be formidable.
Miami trades 1B Garrett Cooper
Cleveland trades IF Juan Brito
Miami trades 1B Garrett Cooper
Cleveland trades SS Amed Rosario
Remember earlier when I said the Guardians have a log jam at shortstop? Well here’s another way to help resolve the log jam. Rosario has been a perfectly serviceable shortstop the last couple of years, but he too will be a free agent after next season and with plenty of other younger shortstops at the ready, he could be expendable. The question here would be if Miami is really interested. They currently have a veteran shortstop in Miguel Rojas, but he is versatile and could slide to first base in Cooper’s absence. From a production standpoint, Rosario is probably slightly better than Cooper if you don’t account for team needs. Miami may do it just to upgrade and try to convince Rosario to sign an extension. More likely though, they will look to value a more long-term prospect in return for Cooper.
Which is why Brito is an option. Brito is new to the Cleveland organization. He was the return Cleveland received in exchange for Nolan Jones last month in their trade with Colorado. The Guardians love prospects that play in the middle of the field and received yet another in Brito. They are athletic, defensively versatile and other teams also value them in trades. Brito only adds to the Guardians log-jam though and if Miami doesn’t want an immediate return for Cooper, he could be the 2024 solution for the fact Rojas is in the last year of his deal.
Candidate: C Tyler Stephenson (Cincinnati Reds)
2022 Stats: .319 AVG 6 HR .372 OBP .482 SLG 130 OPS+ in 50 games
This one is a bit more out on a limb. There are internal questions among the Reds on how much they need to strip it down as they have already started to acquire young talent that is working its way to the Majors. Stephenson will be in only his third season and as such, is very much part of their current youth movement. Still, Cincinnati lost 100 games last season and Stephenson has suffered injuries that have kept him away from the 400 AB mark in both of his Major League campaigns. It likely wouldn’t hurt to shop him around, but from Cincinnati’s perspective, it would definitely need to be for the right price.
Stephenson is also a bat-first catcher. He was having a great 2022, but a combination of concussions and a broken thumb limited him to 50 games. In those 50 games though, he appeared to be really finding his footing as a Major League hitter. He hit .319 in 166 at-bats and is a .296 hitter in 190 games in the bigs. His comprehensive offensive numbers also relate to Murphy’s very similar and are even a little better across the board. At the same time, Stephenson is not the great defensive catcher that Murphy is. He does have a strong arm and the know-how to call a game behind the plate, but he isn’t as the quality of a pitch framer (perhaps that no longer matters someday with robotic umpires). At the same time, he will be only a third-year Major Leaguer in 2023 and could learn. What better way to get an education than from say… Sandy Alomar?
Stephenson is good enough to compete with Gonzalez to hit in the middle of the Guardians’ order. Regardless of what spot he lands in, he represents another opportunity to extend the Guardians lineup and while Stephenson may eventually age out of a catcher role, that shouldn’t be an immediate problem. He could catch and DH at times in order to get rest with a capable backup behind him. However, if the Guardians were to consider teaching him first base, he could also play as a potential platoon partner to Naylor in that role.
Candidate: TJ Friedl (Cincinnati Reds)
2022 Stats: .240 AVG 8 HR 25 RBI 10 doubles .436 SLG 101 OPS+
Friedl is another young Reds player, but he has the potential to be dealt with in a similar vein. If the Reds can get value for them, they would listen.
He would be a 2nd year player in the Majors in 2023 as a left-handed hitting outfielder that can play all three positions. He is an absolute burner in terms of speed and has had a low strikeout rate in his short Major League career. Friedl wouldn’t accommodate the Guardians’ need for additional power. Still, he would certainly hit the profile of their current team and could provide adequate depth and another option to compete for an outfield spot and the DH role rotation. He becomes a very interesting possibility when he is paired with Stephenson in a deal.
Friedl would not be an automatic everyday starter but would be able to at least spell Straw in the outfield. The next man up in center field for Cleveland’s current depth chart is Will Benson, and his time in the Majors in 2022 didn’t inspire confidence in his future. Offensively, Friedl is already more promising at the Major League level than Benson and could even be better with the bat than Straw. The real question here would be that he is not the fielder that Straw is and therefore the team may rather slate Straw in the lineup. Either of them would likely project to hit at the bottom of the order. Still, Friedl wouldn’t be an empty spot in the lineup and should play center well enough to feel okay about Straw not playing.
Cincinnati trades C Tyler Stephenson OF TJ Friedl
Williams makes another appearance in this trade for the reasons I have listed above. He is the promising but expendable guy in a position of depth. Curry dabbled in the Major Leagues in 2022 and did a fine job in the process. At the same time, he is less heralded than Bibee but is closer to being able to take on a role in the Majors immediately. Speaking of, a pitcher like Civale or Plesac would be a young but experienced addition immediately to Cincinnati’s rotation. Really, the Reds could get 2/5 of their 2023 starting pitching just from this deal. Dealing Civale or Plesac would also open up spots for competition among the Guardians remaining starting prospects to have an impact role in the rotation in 2023. If the Reds are not interested in Civale or Plesac, then another mid-level prospect of their choice could also be used as a kicker. Technically, the above deal was an overpay according to MLB Trade Values, but it may take that much to pry away Stephenson when he isn’t truly on the market in the same way as someone like Murphy.