The Guardians announced this morning that they’ve acquired veteran catcher Sandy Leon from the Reds in exchange for cash. He’s being added directly to the Major League roster, and right-hander Ian Gibaut has been designated for assignment in order to open a spot on the 40-man roster. Leon’s acquisition comes in conjunction with catcher Austin Hedges being placed on the 7-day concussion list. Meanwhile, righty Anthony Castro has been recalled from Triple-A Columbus to join the bullpen, and lefty Konnor Pilkington has been tabbed as the 27th man for today’s doubleheader against the division-leading Twins. He’ll start the second game today for Cleveland.
Leon, 33, was with Cleveland for the 2020 season and also spent the bulk of Spring Training with the Guardians this season before being granted his release. He signed a minor league deal with the Reds in mid-April and has spent the bulk of the season in Triple-A Louisville, where he’s batted .222/.321/.306 in 84 plate appearances.
A career .212/.277/.319 hitter who’s never hit much outside of a magical 2016 campaign in Boston, when he slashed .310/.369/.476 in 283 plate appearances, Leon is a respected veteran who is generally lauded for his game-calling and defensive prowess. He’s thwarted one-third of the stolen-base attempts against him in his big league career and regularly drawn positive marks for his framing and pitch blocking. In 3621 innings behind the dish, Leon has totaled 36 Defensive Runs Saved.
Cleveland clearly places a premium on defense behind the plate, which is obvious when looking at the glove-first nature of their catching corps in recent years. Beyond Leon, they’ve relied primarily on Hedges, Roberto Perez and Yan Gomes for the better part of a decade — all of whom are considered premium defenders even though they’ve rarely contributed much with the bat. (Perez and Gomes each had a brief run of plus offense but graded out below-average over their Cleveland tenures as a whole.)
Given the nature of his acquisition, Leon could be in for a brief stay with the Guardians. Then again, Luke Maile has batted just .180/.268/.279 through 71 plate appearances this season, so even if Hedges returns in short order, it’s perhaps possible that Leon could supplant Maile as the backup to Hedges.
Leon’s return to the big leagues comes at the expense of Gibaut, who’d only just returned to the Majors himself yesterday. He pitched 1 1/3 scoreless innings in last night’s blowout at the hands of his 2021 Twins teammates but will now be traded or placed on outright waivers within a week’s time.
Gibaut, 28, has pitched in parts of four Major League seasons, totaling 34 2/3 innings of 5.19 ERA ball between the Rangers, Rays, Twins and Guardians. He’s notched a 3.20 ERA in 19 2/3 innings with Triple-A Columbus this season and carries a career 4.15 ERA, 29% strikeout rate and 10.9% walk rate in 136 2/3 frames at that level.
Between that solid track record and the fact that Gibaut sat at 97.1 mph with his heater last night — a huge jump from the 95.3 mph he averaged from 2019-21 — it’s possible a bullpen-needy club will look to claim him or strike up a small trade with Cleveland. If not, he’ll be able to reject an outright assignment in favor of free agency, should he choose, by virtue of the fact that he’s previously been outrighted in his career.