The Guardians are “in advanced negotiations” with multiple players on extensions, reports Zack Meisel of The Athletic. It’s unclear which players are involved in those deep talks, but Meisel reports that the club has had at least some conversations with infielders Andrés Giménez and Amed Rosario, outfielder Steven Kwan, as well as right-handers Triston McKenzie and Trevor Stephan.
It seems talks with Gimenez are particularly advanced, as he’s now reportedly finalizing a long-term deal with the Guards. It was already known that Cleveland has also discussed an extension with Rosario, who’ll be a free agent next winter. Talks with Kwan, McKenzie and Stephan are new developments, though hardly surprising given the quality of each young player and the fact that president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti recently indicated he had multiple irons in the fire on the extension front.
Kwan, 25, made his big league debut just last season and parlayed a terrific .298/.373/.400 batting line (124 wRC+) into a third-place finish in Rookie of the Year voting. While he’s light on power (six home runs, .101 ISO), Kwan walked more often than he struck out (9.7% vs. 9.4%), swiped 19 bags in 24 tries (79.2%) and played exceptional defense in left field (21 Defensive Runs Saved, 10 Outs Above Average).
Cleveland already controls Kwan all the way through 2027, his age-29 season, so any long-term deal would surely prolong his arrival on the open market by at least a year — and quite likely by multiple years. That’d put him in his early 30s by the time he could test free agency, but there’s surely some appeal in locking in an early payday, particularly given his relatively humble draft status (fifth-round pick, $185K signing bonus) and the fact that the arbitration system won’t reward his contact-and-defense skill set in the same way it would a prototypical slugging corner outfielder.
McKenzie’s extension status could potentially be impacted by recent injury troubles. The Guardians announced yesterday that he’s suffered a teres major strain and will be shut down from throwing for at least two weeks. An absence of as many as eight weeks in total is expected.
That’s an unequivocal blow to the Cleveland rotation, as the 25-year-old McKenzie made good on his former top prospect status in 2022 when he pitched 191 1/3 innings of 2.96 ERA ball with a strong 25.6% strikeout rate against a similarly impressive 5.9% walk rate. Home runs were an issue for McKenzie early on, but over his final 17 starts he averaged just 0.73 long balls per nine frames, compiling a dominant 2.19 ERA along the way.
Cleveland has four more seasons of control over McKenzie, who won’t be eligible for arbitration until after the 2023 season. Currently, Blake Snell’s $50MM extension is the largest ever signed by a pitcher with between two and three years of Major League service time. (Although Spencer Strider topped that mark last summer when he had less than one full year of service.)
As a 27-year-old reliever, Stephan would be perhaps the riskiest but also surely the most affordable of this bunch. He won’t reach arbitration until next offseason but has quickly ascended from Rule 5 flier out of the Yankees’ system to a tried-and-true setup option for All-Star closer Emmanuel Clase.
Stephan had a solid rookie campaign, lasting the entire season in 2021 (and thus shedding his Rule 5 designation) while pitching 63 1/3 innings of 4.41 ERA ball. His command and bat-missing abilities took huge steps forward in 2022, evidenced by a 30.7% strikeout rate and 6.7% walk rate. That helped Stephan break out with a shiny 2.69 ERA that was reinforced by a 2.19 FIP and 2.55 SIERA. He picked up 19 holds and three saves, and he’ll head into the 2023 season as one of the bullpen’s top high-leverage options.
Extensions for relief pitchers are rare in general — and that’s even more true of pitchers so early in their arbitration years. The Mariners managed to lock up Andres Munoz on a four-year, $7.5MM deal when he was at a comparable service point, but he was coming off Tommy John surgery and faced considerable health risks. Jose Leclerc inked a four-year, $14.75MM extension that contained a pair of club options. That might be a more apt comp for Stephan, but by that point he’d already taken over as the Rangers’ closer — a role that Stephan won’t be occupying in Cleveland thanks to the presence of Clase. Broadly speaking, there’s no great, recent parallel for a Stephan extension, though that hardly means he and the Guardians can’t hammer out an arrangement that’s appealing for both parties.
Lock em up!
I wonder if discussions with McKenzie have stopped because of his injury. The Guardians tend to look long term and as long as they don’t think there is permanent damage, they may sign him anyway.
What would make more sense would be to trade Rosario for prospect capital the second one of Arias, Rocchio or Martinez starts hitting. Rosario is making $7.8 and might be coming off a career year, so extending him isn’t the smart value play.
If they didn’t have legitimate plans of competing, I’d agree. But at least for this year they’re probably better off rolling with Rosario because you pretty much know exactly what you’re getting with him. He doesn’t have the same upside, but you can pretty much guarantee he hits around .280 with 10-12 homers and decent defense. Plus he’s Jose’s best friend, and sentimental decisions don’t win games but he took a huge team friendly deal so keeping him happy probably isn’t the worst idea lol
I like Arias and Rocchio (plus Angel Martinez) long term so after this year it might be a different story, but I can’t imagine his value on the trade market is worth the uncertainty you’d have at short combined with the effect it could have on the clubhouse.
This one belongs to the Reds
It’s the 90s all over again in Cleveland!