The Guardians’ off-season quest to improve their outfield offense in 2024 will not include contributions from Oscar Gonzalez. The fan favorite known for his 2022 playoff heroics and Spongebob Squarepants theme walk-up song was claimed off waivers by the New York Yankees on Friday, as Cleveland waived him in an effort to retain him but remove him from the 40-man roster.
After a promising rookie campaign in Cleveland in 2022 that saw Gonzalez bat .296 with 11 home runs in 91 games and provide multiple post-season walk-off hits (including against his new ball club), Gonzalez struggled mightily in his sophomore season. He slashed a paltry .214/.239/.312 in 54 games, spending most of the season in the minors after being demoted in early May. Gonzalez, a natural free swinger, swung at pitches outside of the zone more often in 2023 than he did in 2022 while swinging at fewer pitches inside the zone at the same time. In turn, he made contact less often (72% of the time vs. 76% of the time) and his quality of contact was also woefully worse (.271 xwOBA vs .320 xwOBA). Coming into last season, some critics questioned if Gonzalez had gotten lucky in 2022, given his lack of plate discipline and low walk rate, and those criticisms appeared to be validated in 2023. Additionally, he does have a strong throwing arm but otherwise is also a below-average outfielder.
Gonzalez will be 26 years old for the entire 2024 season as he has just slightly over one year of Major League service time vested and two minor league options remaining. These elements make him a low-cost, low-risk depth option that the Yankees were seemingly happy to pounce on. They will try their hand at surfacing Gonzalez’s known power potential. He did hit 31 home runs in the minors in 2021, and again, did show some promise just one season ago. While the addition of Gonzalez certainly won’t dissuade New York in their pursuit of a Juan Soto trade, he very well could make the 26-man roster out of Spring Training as a role player if the organization can work with him to improve his plate discipline and swing.
On the other side of this transaction is Cleveland, who actively chose to make Gonzalez vulnerable to waivers to open up a 40-man roster spot. Whether this spot was opened up due to enthusiasm over another possible addition to the team or a lack of enthusiasm over Gonzalez is yet to be seen. As stated before, Gonzalez is only in his second year of service time and is/was cost-controlled, so this move is seemingly not motivated by any need to cut payroll.
At the moment, it seems that left-field and center-field will be occupied by defensive and speed mavens Steven Kwan and Myles Straw in 2024. This was the case in 2023 as well, while right-field has been and will continue to be an uncertainty unless the Guardians find a significant option that is not currently on the roster. Gonzalez played the majority of his Major League games at the position for Cleveland. Among the options currently in the organization are:
- Ramon Laureano (.224/.304/.371 with 9 homers in 105 games between Oakland and Cleveland in 2023, but did hit .288 with 24 dingers and 29 doubles in 2019 for Oakland, 2019 was a juiced ball year and Laureano was popped for steroids in 2021)
- David Fry (only 57 MLB games and only 7 in RF last year, slashed .238/.319/.416, probably more valuable as a utility man that can also catch)
- Gabriel Arias (.210./275/.352 in 122 games in 2023 with an awful 32.8% K-rate, could end up being the starting shortstop though depending on how Mr. Vogt and co. feel about Brayan Rocchio and Tyler Freeman).
- Will Brennan (.266/.299/.356 in 138 games in 2023, played like Walmart-brand Steven Kwan)
- George Valera (oft-injured top prospect who missed a lot of time in 2023 and never looked right, hit .220 in 79 games in 2023, mostly at AAA Columbus)
- Jhonkensy Noel (hit .220 but with 27 homers at AAA Columbus in 138 games in 2023, hit 32 home runs between three levels in 2022 and has seen his K-rate go down during 2023)
Water, water everywhere, but not a drop to drink. Plenty of options, but no super-inspiring ones.
Assuming the Guardians do not make a move to bring in an outside option (it would really be preferable if they did), I would imagine that Laureano starts the season in right field unless Brennan impresses this spring. It would not surprise me though if either a healthy Valera or a surging Noel take over mid-season if Laureano isn’t wow-ing. Noel in particular could be an intriguing player as he is someone who appears to hit the ball over the fence, however, his similarities to Gonzalez as well as Franmil Reyes are palpable. Ultimately, as the old saying goes, when you have six right-fielders you really have no right-fielder.
As for Spongebob, we’ll always have October 2022.