Quantrill DFA'd in surprising move to protect young pitchers

November 15th, 2023

CLEVELAND -- There were no surprises that the Guardians decided to protect righties and from the Rule 5 Draft on Tuesday night. What came as a shock is how the team made space for the two hurlers on the 40-man roster.

The Guardians announced that they designated right-handers and for assignment. Given his limited role in the bullpen this year, Kelly was a likely candidate to be designated for assignment to help clear space on the roster. Quantrill, however, was not.

Quantrill has been a consistent starter for the Guardians over the last two seasons. He was acquired by Cleveland at the 2020 Trade Deadline and bounced back and forth between the rotation and the bullpen in ’20 and ’21. Although ’23 consisted of injuries that impacted the effectiveness he saw on the rubber in ’22, Quantrill still had a strong September this year.

The 28-year-old righty still has two years of control remaining before he hits free agency. But he was projected to make around $6.5 million dollars in salary arbitration by Cot’s Baseball Contracts and MLB Trade Rumors. Because his production level dipped in ’23, that ballpark number wasn’t something the Guardians envisioned themselves paying.

“Ultimately, we made the determination that with where we were in the offseason, we wouldn’t be able to commit the resources necessary to keep him through the arbitration process,” Guardians president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti said. “We made the determination, and in our context, we were better off allocating these dollars in a different way.”

The Guardians rarely part with starting pitching without getting something in return, which makes this move even more surprising. Quantrill returned from the injured list on Sept. 1 and recorded a 2.76 ERA in the final six starts of the season. And yet, the Guardians haven't been able to make a trade to this point.

“We’ve been engaged with teams and in trade conversations,” Antonetti said. “Ultimately, we haven’t been able to find that right partner yet, but the next couple of days will continue to give us opportunities to do that.”

If Quantrill hits the free-agent market, Antonetti said that the Guardians are open to bringing the righty back, but just at a different price than what would’ve likely been determined in arbitration. If a reunion doesn’t occur, Quantrill ends his time in Cleveland with a 3.58 ERA, 320 strikeouts and a 1.25 WHIP over 3 1/2 seasons.

“Just last year, 2023, didn’t go the way he had hoped or we had hoped,” Antonetti said, “and sometimes that necessitates us making some difficult decisions, especially in this case, when we have to make them in the context of the arbitration process and what those expected earnings might be. And we don’t have the benefit of time in this case.” 

So, Quantrill was part of Cleveland’s moves to clear space for former top prospect Espino and Smith, who could be a contributor out of Cleveland’s bullpen in the near future. Smith owned a 2.86 ERA in 17 games with Double-A Akron this season and pitched to a 4.65 ERA (30 appearances) with 66 strikeouts in 40 2/3 innings once he was promoted to Triple-A Columbus.

“Cade, it’s been exciting to see his continued progress,” Antonetti said. “He’s a big, physical right-hander with a fastball that really plays. And his secondary stuff, both his split and slider, made some strides this year. We think he can be a really effective Major League reliever for us in the not-so-distant future.”

Espino remains a question mark for Cleveland. His stuff is enough to make any big leaguer's head turn, but his durability sparks hesitation. He hasn’t pitched in a Minor League game since April 29, 2022, due to knee and shoulder trouble. In May, he underwent right shoulder surgery (anterior capsule repair) and was projected to return to game activity in 12 to 14 months.

“He’s about six months post-op right now,” Antonetti said. “Hopefully he’ll progress to throwing here at some point soon and build up from there. We don’t have a clear time frame yet.”  

Because of his triple-digit heater and above-average slider, Espino is a must to protect from the Rule 5 Draft, despite his long road to recovery. The Guardians are hopeful that after this procedure, he’ll be able to stay on the mound consistently and contribute to the big league rotation in the next few years.