Inbox: How will Guardians' Opening Day roster shake out?

December 13th, 2023

This story was excerpted from Mandy Bell’s Guardians Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

The Winter Meetings are in the rearview mirror, but there’s still little clarity on what the Guardians’ roster will look like as we get closer to Spring Training. Let’s see if we can answer a handful of your questions in this edition of the Guardians Inbox.

Does Kyle Manzardo have a realistic shot at making the Opening Day roster at first base? -- @TheFritz330
The short answer is yes, the Guardians' No. 2 prospect, per MLB Pipeline, has a realistic shot at making the Opening Day roster. It doesn’t mean he will, but the opportunity is there.

Things are a little more complicated now than they were a week ago since Cleveland acquired 20-year-old corner infielder Deyvison De Los Santos (No. 12) in the Rule 5 Draft, who must be on the 26-man roster. With Josh Naylor and Manzardo at first and José Ramírez at third, it becomes quite crowded with De Los Santos also in the mix.

Maybe Manzardo starts the year in Triple-A Columbus, considering the team seems to avoid having prospects in Cleveland during the cold weeks of April when it can. Maybe it doesn’t change the Guardians' plans at all. They’ll need to get a better idea of where these players stand at Spring Training before making those decisions.

Starting first baseman? -- @thebuckeye47
To start the year? I’m guessing Naylor will handle that at least until guys like Manzardo and/or De Los Santos get their feet under them at the big league level. But he might not stay there (see next question).

Is it possible that at some point in 2024 we see Naylor move to right field again and platoon De Los Santos and Manzardo at first?
If Naylor can move to right field, that solves some of Cleveland’s problems. Will Brennan and Ramón Laureano are free to handle center field, spelling Myles Straw if he gets off to another slow offensive start. If Naylor hits like he did last year (.308/.354/.489), the Guardians will have a reliable bat with some pop coming out of the outfield. Depending on what Manzardo or De Los Santos can then provide at first/DH, the offense may suddenly be in better shape than 2023. But the Guardians are going to have to lean heavily on rookies to deliver. There’s no way to predict if that will be successful.

What are the real odds of [the Guardians] trading Shane, Josh and Clase? -- @Clevelandbsbl
Shane Bieber is the highest. Let’s put it at 70 percent. Yes, this team needs starting pitching depth, but it also needs to acquire a Major League-ready bat. Bieber is the Guardians' best chance of doing that. With only one year of team control remaining, and he’s coming off of two injuries to his throwing arm over the last three years that has caused his velocity to dip, his trade value isn’t what it once was. As long as the Guardians can find a trade partner willing to hit their asking price, there’s no reason Bieber wouldn’t be moved.

Emmanuel Clase and Naylor have much lower chances. I’d put Clase at a 15 percent chance and Naylor at 5 percent. That’s not to say it’s impossible for a deal to happen, but the Guardians would need to receive an enormous haul in order to commit to trading either of these players. Just because Cleveland listens to offers on these players doesn’t mean the club is actively shopping them.

Is the plan to have Manzardo on the Opening Day roster? Does Alfonso Rivas have a realistic chance to make the Opening Day roster and, if so, in what capacity? What is the plan for Tyler Freeman this year? Who, in order, right now, are your 6th, 7th and 8th SP? -- @DennisNosco
Let me break this down, question by question.

I hope I answered your Manzardo question at the top of this story.

As far as Rivas, it’s probably going to be easier to speculate once Spring Training rolls around. The Guardians have too many infielders to balance right now, and if De Los Santos, Manzardo and Naylor are all on the roster (and possibly David Fry), there’s no need to have yet another corner infielder in the mix on Opening Day. How all of the guys perform in camp will give much more clarity on where everyone stands in the roster race.

The shortstop job is open. So, the Guardians will look at Gabriel Arias, Brayan Rocchio (No. 1), José Tena and Freeman at that position. It seems more likely that Arias wins the role than Freeman at this point, but Spring Training could create other results. If it’s not Freeman, he’ll have to fight with Fry and possibly the young corner infielders to earn a utility role.

For the extra starters -- assuming Bieber stays in Cleveland -- I’ll go with Xzavion Curry (sixth), Cody Morris (seventh) and No. 11 prospect Joey Cantillo (eighth). Maybe Spring Training will change that order, too.