TODAY: Plesac accepted an outright assignment to Triple-A after clearing waivers.
JUNE 4: The Guardians have designated right-hander Zach Plesac for assignment, making room on the 40-man roster for right-hander Triston McKenzie to be activated from the 60-day injured list. Plesac had been optioned to Triple-A earlier this month. To make room for McKenzie on the active roster, the club has optioned right-hander Michael Kelly to the Triple-A.
The news brings Plesac’s time as a member of the Guardians to a conclusion that’s surely disappointing for both player and franchise. A twelfth round pick by Cleveland in the 2016 draft, Plesac made his debut in 2019 and began his career on an impressive note, with a solid 3.81 ERA (124 ERA+) in 115 2/3 innings of work.
While Plesac’s 4.94 FIP and strikeout rate of just 18.4% in 2019 both gave plenty of reason for concern, Plesac appeared to take a leap forward during his sophomore season that at the time appeared to cement him as a stalwart of the club’s rotation going forward, even in spite of the fact that he was optioned to the club’s alternate site after violating MLB’s health and safety protocols during the 2020 pandemic season. During the shortened season, Plesac dominated opposing hitters to a 2.28 ERA (196 ERA+) in eight starts, backed up by a solid 3.39 FIP and a greatly improved 27.7% strikeout rate.
Unfortunately, Plesac’s dominance he showcased in 2020 did not last. Plesac’s lack of punch-outs came back in full force in 2021 as he struck out just 16.7% of batters faced, a figure lower than all but five starters with at least 140 innings that season. Consequently, Plesac’s results left plenty to be desired, with a 4.67 ERA that checked in just below league average with a 92 ERA+. When 2022 proved to be more of the same, as Plesac posted an ERA+ of 88 with a strikeout rate of 17.6%, Plesac’s dominant 2020 season quickly began to feel like ancient history.
Still, Plesac managed to secure a spot in the 2023 Opening Day rotation for the Guardians in part due to early injuries to McKenzie and Aaron Civale. That stint in the rotation proved to be disastrous, though, as Plesac posted a ghastly 7.59 ERA across six starts while failing to pitch into the sixth inning in all but one of his appearances. That led the club to option him to Triple-A last month, where he continued to struggle with a 7.56 ERA in 25 innings.
Going forward, the Guardians will have one week to waive or trade Plesac before either assigning him outright to Triple-A or granting him his release. Of course, Plesac has three years of big league service time, giving him the option to reject an outright assignment. That said, he would forgo the remainder of his $2.95MM salary in doing so, making it rather unlikely Plesac decides to test the open market.
Of course, it’s possible things won’t even progress that far. Plesac, as an optionable pitcher who’s still just 28 years old with a history of success int he big leagues, could draw interest from pitching-needy clubs such as the Rockies, Cardinals, or Rays even in spite of his extreme struggles this season.
Plesac’s departure opens the door for McKenzie to make his MLB debut after having the start to his season delayed by a teres major strain. A first-round pick in the 2015 draft by Cleveland, the 25-year-old McKenzie broke out in a big way last season, posting a phenomenal 2.96 ERA (127 ERA+) and 3.59 FIP in 191 1/3 innings with a 25.6% strikeout rate against a walk rate of just 5.9% as the Guardians managed to win the 2022 AL Central crown. McKenzie figures to immediately slot into the top of the club’s rotation alongside Shane Bieber, filling the vacancy left by Cal Quantrill’s placement on the IL earlier this week.
Making room for McKenzie on the active roster is Kelly, who did not make it into a game for the Guardians after being selected to the roster just yesterday. Kelly figures to serve as pitching depth for the Guardians at Triple-A going forward after posting an impressive 1.61 ERA in 22 1/3 innings at the level prior to his brief call-up.