It only took three months, but for the last two weeks or so it finally seems like the Hot Stove season actually has actually activated and the baseball offseason matters. I mean, just this month I was talking to friends about where Matt Stafford and Deshaun Watson were going to be this fall more than about the baseball offseason, and the NFL offseason isn’t even here yet!

It only took two weeks for Cleveland’s baseball team to sort of inch themselves back in the direction of not completely agitating its fan base and confusing the rest of the sport. 

Or, maybe not completely?

Some throw-spaghetti-at-the-wall rumor starters think Cleveland is actively trying to move perennial MVP candidate and the best player on its team for the last four years, Jose Ramirez.

But anyone who has been paying attention since November of 2018, Cleveland has been in the processing of re-tooling and have been trying to get value back for players before they hit free agency and their value bottoms out (maybe except Corey Kluber). More on this later.

Surprisingly, Cleveland has made two free-agent additions that raise their floor in a very inexpensive way. They even upgraded an area of need, even if it complicated decision making, as much as it was complicated in 2020.

Cleveland (reportedly) signs OF Eddie Rosario to a 1-yr, $8 million contract

They signed outfielder capable of producing a batting line that is above major league average, first and foremost. Now, in 2020, they signed Domingo Santana as well, who was kind of in the same situation as Rosario. He was non-tendered by his team despite being relatively affordable in arbitration. He was coming off an injury that sapped his production, but has proven capable in past years to be a source of power and above average major league offensive production in the outfield. Maybe he would have been better in a normal, non-pandemic season. Or maybe his elbow issue made it hard for him to get his swing mechanics back in order. Either way, it didn’t work. But at least here, Cleveland realized they needed to add to their outfield if they wanted to have some sort of evidence to back their claims that they were trying to compete in 2021.

Even though I’m tempted to flush 2020 stats mostly down the garbage disposal (like the rest of the year itself), Cleveland’s outfield as a group produced a 54 wRC+ mark (46 below league average, where 100 is average).

Rosario has produced wRC+ of 117, 114, 103, and 110 the last four years. That is solidly above average offense compared to the rest of baseball, even if not All-Star level. 

But when you started have Carlos Gonzalez, Mike Freeman, and Delino DeShields Jr., in the outfield the last two years and you’ve struggled to develop any consistent performers in the outfield without Michael Brantley, solidly above-average seems pretty exciting.

Consider this too.

It was incredibly redundant to have DeShields play last year as much as he did and the way they handled the outfield in a shortened season. Santana was worth the gamble, but adding he and DeShields sure did cause some confusing decision making and kicking the can down the road on others in the process.

Rosario unequivocally makes this lineup better right now, even if on paper his 20th percentile in Outs Above Average and his hacker approach at the plate do raise some question marks. How much does he raise the floor here? Does he take them from 75-78 wins to 80-82 wins? It’s a marginal increase even as an improvement.

Equally as important who does Rosario’s presence this year affect when it comes to Cleveland making future roster decisions?

OF on the 40 man roster

NameAgeBatsPAsCareer wRC+OptionsFA Year
Rosario29L283010602022
Oscar Mercado26R5757912026
Bradley Zimmer28L5107212025
Jake Bauers25L8118802026
Daniel Johnson25L13-702N/A
Jordan Luplow27R54310512025
Josh Naylor23L3838432026

Find most of this info at our Depth Charts page.

We can count Naylor here, but he could see time at first base too. Same with Bauers, who is of course out of options.

So we can count Rosario and Bauers are part of the initial group of outfielders, along with Luplow who has a clear role as a platoon bat. That leaves Zimmer and Mercado to fight for at bats in centerfield. That leaves Johnson in a weird position and is ready for a shot, but Rosario is a more sure bet in 2021.

Does this also mean Nolan Jones won’t get a shot in June or July in the outfield? That situation is likely to sort itself out on its own through his performance, the performance of the names on the list above, as well as injuries and Cleveland’s own record by the trading deadline.

Johnson seems most impacted here and if one of Zimmer or Mercado ends up back in Triple-A, which probably doesn’t actually benefit either one of them.

There’s been some sentiment that this affects Bobby Bradley. But before Rosario, there didn’t seem to be room for Naylor, Bauers, Franmil Reyes and Bobby Bradley on one roster. If Naylor and Bauers split 1B/OF and Reyes is the DH. They could have found some rotation to work around the group, but it seemed an unlikely roster fit. So Bradley might have his final option burned in Triple-A unless something happens.

Re-signed 2B Cesar Hernandez to a 1-yr deal with a club option for 2022

After bringing on Amed Rosario and Andres Gimenez this looked very strange at first. Especially when considering that they signed him before Rosario, where the outfield was a greater need, even with the misfit crowd.

There seems to be a notion that as talented as Amed Rosario is and his former prospect status, that he may have been more of an ‘extra player’ in the deal. Rosario initially had the higher ceiling than Gimenez, but it looks more like Gimenez was the key MLB piece and the two prospects. There may have been things going on behind the scenes with Rosario that have held back reaching his potential and Cleveland might have been doing a favor clearing him from the Mets roster in order for them to take on $32 million in salary this year.

Photo: USA Today Sports

So far since Rosario’s arrival in Cleveland there have been mentions of him playing the outfield. Now we see rumors from multiple reporters that other teams have been calling about Amed Rosarion, specifically the Reds. 

This chatter makes it seem like they aren’t completely committed to him just because of his former prospect status and being part of a large, unpopular trade. Which is good. Trying to force a fit and giving multiple chances to players to make a trade look a little better is sometimes a negative rather than just knowing when to cut bait. 

If they end up hanging onto Rosario, it still seems inevitable that he’ll end up at shortstop when the season opens, while Gimenez works on not getting picked off or his defensive positioning at Triple-A, or wherever minor league players might be when the season starts. Gimenez did skip Triple-A at the age of 21 and had a 104 wRC+ and was in the 96th percentile in Outs Above Average according to Baseball Savant.

He more than held his own at the big league level but it seems like as long as Amed Rosario has a presence this holds him back initially.

The option year was a bit strange. Having a club option seems to serve two purposes for Cleveland:

  1. Who knows what the minor league season will look like in 2021. If there is a very short season, or none like 2020, Cleveland might not have an answer at second base next year without a season for Tyler Freeman or Owen Miller to compete in. So that serves as some insurance.
  2. If they fall out of the playoff race, or one of those two minor leaguers forces their way up to the majors, or maybe Amed Rosario performs well if he stays and they use Gimenez at second, a club option can be attractive for Hernandez’s trade value for a team looking to add an infielder and he doesn’t have to be a rental. It’s a small boost, but it inflates it some.

Miller could prove ready for a chance in 2021 in the majors, but that’s not certain after a year away from actual competition. Freeman is unlikely to be up this year also due to service time. As long as they find a way to get Gimenez on the field in 2021, this signing is fine. Especially now that they brought in Rosario to lengthen the lineup.

Pay attention to what they do and say about Rosario to get a clue about how they feel about him or their early plans with Gimenez.

What is it to be a top-100 prospect?

There has been some handwringing on twitter recently about some of the industry’s annual top-100 prospect lists and the fact that players from the Lindor/Carrasco, Bauer, Clevinger, and Kluber trade’s didn’t appear on some.

Andres Gimenez, though he lost his rookie eligibility in 2020, made Baseball America’s Top 100 list at 66.

Keith Law of The Athletic said in his intro to his top-100 list that Gimenez would have made his list if he had rookie eligibility.

“To be eligible for these rankings, a player must still be eligible for the Rookie of the Year award in 2021, which means they may not have more than 130 at-bats, 50 innings pitched, or 45 days on an active roster heading into this season. Days on the roster in September 2020 do count against the rookie threshold, whereas days on the active roster in any previous September do not count, a change MLB made to the rookie eligibility rules just for last season. Thus new Cleveland shortstop Andrés Giménez, who played a full season for the Mets in 2020 and spent 65 days on the Mets’ active roster, is no longer a rookie and thus ineligible for these rankings.”

Gabriel Arias from the Clevinger deal made Baseball Prospectus’ top-100 list at 87.

If Cleveland had a poor farm system lacking young prospects offering long-term upside and they didn’t acquire more top-100 type prospects in those trades, I could see the disappointment. But that’s not what they targetted because the farm system is filled with young talent that need time on the field to work their way up, not to mention the upcoming 40 man roster crunch coming up this fall. 

These are just the notable names that need to be added this fall from my 40 man column in November.

  • LHP Joey Cantillo
  • RHP Cody Morris
  • RHP Nick Sandlin
  • LHP Adam Scott
  • OF George Valera
  • OF Alexfri Planez
  • OF Steven Kwan
  • INF Owen Miller
  • INF Jose Tena
  • SS Tyler Freeman
  • SS Brayan Rocchio
  • INF Richie Palacios
  • 2B Aaron Bracho

There is a good chance any “top-100” prospects Cleveland might have targeted in those trades would have been added to this list, making things more difficult.

Whether the strategy is agreed upon or not, clearly the focus was – get players who can help in 2020/2021 and be part of the future when the group above and then some can join them in the future to build the future core.

Also saying that they didn’t get a “top-100 prospect” from those trades lacks context.

Corey Kluber for Delino DeShields Jr and Emmanuel Clase

Clase was hurt in early 2020 then suspended but is supposed to be part of the bullpen in a big way in 2021 and into the future. DeShields, well, that clearly was Cleveland taking back salary for Texas taking Kluber’s salary and neither contributed to their clubs in 2020.

Kluber was also coming off a poor start in 2020 and then a fractured forearm and strained oblique. Cleveland didn’t trade 2014, 2017 or even 2018 Kluber. His value after the injuries and his salary dragged all that down.

Mike Clevinger/Greg Allen/Matt Waldron for Josh Naylor, Cal Quantrill, Gabriel Arias, Joey Cantillo and Owen Miller

Clevinger had some injury issues and had broken some goodwill here with his COVID protocol violation, plus was coming up on his ARB-2 year. And Cleveland has the pitching to replace his talent level. They absolved risk by moving him in the first place.

Naylor – a former top-100 prospect himself, to meet that argument and will get a chance to be a part of the future at first or left field.

Quantrill – Could move into the rotation in 20201 and has the baseball bloodlines and tag of a former high draft pick. 

Arias – Made one top-100 list in 2021, even if that is aggressive and largely dependant on his hit tool growing into average (BP had it at a 50, and personally I think it’s a 40 at best. But if he gets to a 50, he could be an All-Star, so the top-100 thought is warranted.).

Cantillo – Fangraphs had him on the “picks to click” for 2020, believing he could be a “top-100” type by 2021 had their been a 2020 season. Could be a part of the future of the rotation soon.

Miller – Not likely to be a “top-100” type but has the track record of a consistently good hit tool and the type that could make external evaluators too low. Even without the pedigree or being on a list, could be a valuable utility type.

Trevor Bauer for Franmil Reyes, Yasiel Puig, Logan Allen, Scott Moss and Victor Nova

Cleveland wasn’t going to re-sign Bauer, had 1+ years of control left and they had grown weary of their relationship with him. Clearly had plenty of value.

Reyes – Was already big league established with power the team lacked. 

Puig – No context needed here. Fans clamored for him for years. He was a mediocre producer in his time in Cleveland. Continued the behind the scenes issues that plagued him in Los Angeles, but was generally fine on the field. Was out of baseball in 2020.

Allen – Also a former top-100 prospect and has yet to be given a consistent shot in the majors. But he was a top-100 prospect at one time.

Moss – Likely a fill-in back end starter and may look better as a reliever. Depth option.

Nova – Lottery ticket on a low-level bat with some defensive versatility.

Francisco Lindor and Carlos Carrasco for Andres Gimenez, Amed Rosario, Isaiah Greene and Josh Wolf

Gimenez fields a ball at second during a 2018 Scottsdale Scorpions game in the Arizona Fall League. – Joseph Coblitz, IBI

No need to dig into the Lindor and Carrasco situations deeply. Wouldn’t pay their salaries and Lindor was going to leave via free agency after 2021 anyway.

Gimenez – As discussed, was on BA’s top-100 list and would have made Keith Law’s if he hadn’t lost rookie eligibility.

Rosario – Once a top-100 prospect himself and has a little post-prospect hype syndrome. May also had some behind the scenes problems that have prevented him from realizing his potential, although his approach at the plate is subpar. May be a trade candidate anyway.

Greene and Wolf – Both are former second round picks. Wolf got to pitch some in 2019 and looked good. Greene was a 2020 pick. Both have the tools and pedigree to be future “top-100” types but need to get on the field. They don’t need to be added to the 40 man roster for a while, so that likely played a role in Cleveland’s interest.

It was rumored Toronto offered more prospects, but less help in 2021 in their package for Lindor. That might have meant players who needed to be added to the 40 soon and again, no help for now.

People focus on who Cleveland DIDN’T get in those trades instead of looking at the players on those top-100 lists.

Law:

  • 12 Mckenzie
  • 42 Naylor
  • 76 Valera
  • 78 Freeman
  • 86 Jones

Baseball America

  • 26 McKenzie
  • 45 Jones
  • 66 Gimenez
  • 82 Freeman

Baseball Prospectus

  • 48 Valera
  • 52 Jones
  • 73 McKenzie
  • 87 Arias
  • 100 Espino

MLB Pipeline

  • 36 Jones
  • 51 McKenzie
  • 98 Freeman

Top-100’s are fun to read and debate. But at the end of the day, there are plenty of players on these lists that don’t end up making it in the majors. We’ve all seen that with players like Alex White, Matt LaPorta, Andy Marte (Rest in Peace), Dorssys Paulino. You get the point.

Shin-Soo Choo came in a trade and wasn’t a big hyped prospect and was a good player. Cleveland got Carlos Santana for Casey Blake. Not a big trade at the time but he ended up getting a lot of hype and was very valuable.

And not to mention, Kluber and Jose Ramirez never made a bunch of prospect lists. I realize they are an exception. But it proves you don’t need to make one of those lists to be good or provide value. Shane Bieber was not on any top prospect lists industry wide. Neither was Clevinger. 

Nobody enjoys prospects and prospect lists more than I do. But grading trades or players based on whether or not they made a top-1000 ranking from one specific outlet in a specific year (especially after a minor league season disappearing after a pandemic) is incredibly short-sighted, lacks context and is poor framing.

Speaking of top prospects, our annual top Cleveland prospects lists will be coming soon. Stay tuned. If you’re not already an Insider, it’s just $4.99 a month and we’re going deeper than our usual 50 this year with a new format as well. You’ll want to read those. 

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