The Cleveland Guardians boast two of the game’s premier players at their respective positions: José Ramírez and Shane Bieber.
However, after the team’s World Series appearance in 2016 and consistency as one of the league’s best teams until 2019, it now seems that the franchise is going in a different direction.
Their trade of Francisco Lindor highlighted their intent to lower payroll and avoid signing any major contract extensions.
Francisco Lindor trade to the Mets is being “finalized,” per @JeffPassan pic.twitter.com/h4Z3puwZ9j
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) January 7, 2021
Now, they once again face decisions surrounding their biggest stars.
If the Guardians want to return to the playoffs sooner rather than later, it is time for them to pay for the extensions.
A Proven Core
It can be hard for any rebuilding team to find a core of players.
It is even rarer to have a perennial Cy Young and an MVP candidate that is part of the core.
Though Bieber battled injuries last season, he has been one of the league’s most dominant arms since 2019.
This includes his stellar 2020, where he posted an American League best 1.63 ERA on his way to the Cy Young Award.
No starting pitcher has reached 100 Ks faster in a season than Shane Bieber (62.1 IP). 💯 pic.twitter.com/URIvkPTjji
— MLB (@MLB) September 12, 2020
The Guardians are still in a good position with Bieber as he won’t become a free agent until 2025, when the team could look much different.
If they are smart about their moves, the 26-year-old could serve as their ace for a very long time.
On the other side of the ball, Ramirez has built quite the resumé for himself.
He has accumulated three top-three finishes in the MVP voting, and has been one of the most consistent third basemen in MLB.
José Ramírez raked a team-high 36 home runs this season.
Start your morning right. 😌 pic.twitter.com/Ady3LLjJCS
— Cleveland Guardians (@CleGuardians) October 14, 2021
Despite this, his name has floated around in trade rumors all winter.
The Guardians just have team control of him through 2023, meaning time is running out for them to decide what direction they want to go in.
Even in the face of a relatively weak AL Central division, the Guardians still seem to be unwilling to pay to win.
If they shift their mindset, the duo of Bieber and Ramirez would be critical for the team to return to the playoffs.
Weak Division Opens Door For Guardians
The biggest factor in why the Guardians need to pay their stars lies in how relatively weak the division is.
While the Minnesota Twins have made big moves like signing Carlos Correa this offseason, there are still question marks surrounding their pitching staff.
The Detroit Tigers signed Javier Baez, but are still a few years away from being able to contend in the division and the Kansas City Royals are not competitive enough.
That leaves the Chicago White Sox as the division’s favorites, and though they have a strong roster, they are not untouchable.
This puts the Guardians in an interesting position: push to compete now or opt to rebuild early.
Money availability is not the team’s problem as they have the second-third lowest payroll in MLB at just over $37 million.
Embarrassed for your fan base…be better. If you can’t, sell ur team to somebody that wants to show the fan base and baseball they’re at least trying to compete. Sorry unacceptable pic.twitter.com/n5KZpxgEor
— Joc Pederson (@yungjoc650) March 23, 2022
This gives them plenty of room to sign free agents or ink extensions with their current players, if they want to.
The Guardians farm system also ranks consistently in the top 10, meaning the future is bright in terms of their talented minor league teams.
Between these two factors, the Guardians are a team that project well for the future if the right moves are made.
This first starts with addressing their biggest stars and building around them.
If they chose to keep them, the Guardians can begin to add around them through free agency or the trade market.
This would give the franchise and their fans a quicker turnaround than expected.