Chris Antonetti and Mike Chernoff continued their quest for cheap, young, raw power earlier this week when they finalized a trade with the New York Yankees that will put outfielder Estevan Florial in a Guardians uniform. In exchange, the Yankees received pitcher Cody Morris.
Florial is a left-handed hitting outfielder from the Dominican Republic and a former top prospect. He was New York’s best rated prospect per MLB.com in 2019 and was the 26th best prospect in baseball according to Baseball Prospectus in 2018. It could be argued that these accolades are Florial’s peak, to this point.
He would play 84 games in that 2018 season, mostly at the High A level and slash a respectable .283/.377/.422 despite breaking the hamate bone in his right wrist in May. The injury would cause him to miss about three months. He would suffer a fracture in that same right wrist in Spring Training of 2019 and would again miss half the season, spending the other half back at High A Tampa and seeing his production taper off (.680 OPS).
The pandemic would see the Yankees hand be forced in 2020. Rather than losing a year of development due to no minor league season, the Yankees would include Florial on the taxi squad though he would only appear in one MLB game, going 1 for 3 on August 28th against the New York Mets.
Florial would return to the minors in 2021 and would spend most of the season at AAA where he would hit just .218 and slug only .404 in 78 games. He did play 11 games with the Yankees, hitting .300 and smacking his first career home run (off of another Guardians pitcher that was traded this winter- Enyel de los Santos, pitching for the Phillies at the time.)
Not until 2022 would Florial seem to find his footing at AAA as he hit .283 with 15 homers and a .481 slugging percentage. Even with the improved play, the Yankees were not moved to promote and utilize Florial at the Major League level. Tim Locastro (65 OPS+), Harrison Bader (50 OPS+), Miguel Andujar (51 OPS+), Marwin Gonzalez (63 OPS+), and Joey Gallo (76 OPS+) all classified as outfielders for the Yankees that year and saw more playing time (often significantly more playing time) than Florial at the Major League level despite them all being lethargic offensive performers. Seemingly, the Yankees had already made their mind up on Florial.
Which means it was no surprise when Florial was DFA’d on April 1st 2023 due to being out of options. He was sent back down and again spent most of the year at AAA and again only played in 19 games in the Majors. Only this time, Florial smashed 28 home runs while still hitting .284 over the course of the 2023 campaign at AAA.
Florial still holds rookie status, having only played a total of 48 Major League games for the Yankees. He will be 26 years old for the entirety of the 2024 season. The Guardians will hope that Florial figured out his power potential over the course of 2023 and that it can translate to the Majors as they are a team that is desperate for ballplayers that can hit the ball over the fence. A trade for Florial is a maneuver to try to add power, but to do so in a cut-rate manner, much like their Rule Five Draft selection of outfielder Deyvison De Los Santos.
Florial has spent most of his career in the center field, so he could provide an alternative to Myles Straw patrolling the middle of the outfield. The Guardians outfield situation appears murky at this point in the off-season. Steven Kwan is likely a lock to maintain his spot in left field and Straw would be the leader in the clubhouse in center based on the fact he is capable of playing Gold Glove-caliber defense on any given night. But many fans, and perhaps the Guardians organization, have grown tired of his lack of production at the plate. Right field appears to be Ramon Laureano‘s to lose, but he hasn’t been a consistent offensive performer for the last two years either. Florial, de los Santos, Will Brennan, George Valera and Jhonkensy Noel will all likely be competing to make the 26-man roster, but if they really wow in Goodyear, perhaps they could find their way into the lineup over Straw or Laureano.
The X-factor in this scenario is manager Stephen Vogt. We have no idea what his approach to lineup construction will be. Under previous manager Terry Francona, Straw and Laureano were likely locks to play every day, especially early in the season, as Francona had a tendency to favor veteran ballplayers until their failure was apparent. We don’t know if Vogt will have the same proclivities.
The Yankees appear to have become skeptical of Florial’s Major League future despite his 2023 power surge. They decided to swap their 26-year-old rookie with a once-promising future that couldn’t crack the Majors for a 27-year-old pitcher who was dominant at times in the minors but has also struggled to stick in the Majors.
In Morris’s defense, he has at least collected a year’s worth of Major League service time between 2022 and 2023. He pitched in 13 games for the Guardians in the last two seasons, starting 5 of them and pitching to a very solid 3.41 ERA. Morris, much like Florial, has spent a lot of time on the Injured List. In fact, he spent most of 2022 inactive due to a shoulder injury. He was again hurt in Spring Training in 2023 and upon his return, the Guardians seemed unsure of how to use him. He was promoted to the Majors as a reliever in June but was subsequently sent to the minors in order to get stretched out in order to start games. That would never up happening as he would make a total of only 6 spot relief appearances over the course of the season for the Guardians.
The Yankees add Morris as a potential pitcher to compete for a spot on their 26-man roster either as their fifth starter or as a reliever providing depth. New York has dealt away a total of seven pitchers so far this off-season (in trades for Juan Soto and Alex Verdugo) and is in a place where they need to replenish. The Guardians likely feel they’ve traded Morris from a position of strength, having a stable of young pitchers that ascended to the Majors in 2023 and performed fabulously. However, having traded Cal Quantrill earlier this winter and with rumors swirling about Shane Bieber‘s future, there is some question as to if the Guardians’ brass is playing with fire and potentially wearing their pitching depth thin.
Still, this move appears to be a calculated risk for both sides. Both teams are taking players that have extended histories with their former teams but due to injuries, mismanagement and perhaps ineptitude of the players themselves, haven’t impressed. Both have shown flashes. Both are potentially filling positions of need. In some ways, the possibilities are endless. New homes could fit like hand-in-glove. Or five years from now fans of neither team may even remember the Estevan Florial era in Cleveland or the Cody Morris era in New York.
One thing is clear. The Guardians know they need to add power and they know they specifically need to add it to their outfield. They also clearly feel the need to try to add that power through the least financially burdensome methods they can find. Adding Florial could be an opportunity to strike gold, but he could also just be a patch-up job done with popsicle sticks and bubblegum.