Guardians land former 1st-rounder Watson, deal Bell to Marlins

Club also acquires Segura, who will be released before he reports

August 1st, 2023

HOUSTON -- This past offseason, the Guardians wanted to put a point of emphasis on acquiring bigger bats for a lineup that needed some pop. They signed free agents and Mike Zunino to hopefully be the fix. Instead, neither are on the roster on Aug. 1.

The Guardians traded first baseman Bell to the Marlins just before Tuesday’s 6 p.m. ET Trade Deadline in exchange for infielder and middle infield prospect Kahlil Watson, but Cleveland announced Segura will be released by the club before he reports.

Guardians get: INF Kahlil Watson (Marlins No. 11 prospect), INF Jean Segura
Marlins get: 1B Josh Bell

That’s part of the risk when you venture into free agency and the contracts don’t work out the way you hoped.

Segura struggled this season with a .556 OPS in 85 games in his first year with the Marlins. Bell didn’t live up to his expectations, logging a .701 OPS with 11 homers in 97 games in his first season with the Guardians. Both teams were looking to dump large salaries for underperforming players. But in this deal, the Guardians were not only able to save a little bit of money, but were also able to pick up a prospect in the process.

The Guardians are no longer responsible for the rest of Bell’s 2023 salary (approximately $5 million) or his $16.5 million player option for next season. By releasing Segura, Cleveland is on the hook for the rest of his ‘23 salary (approximately $2 million), plus $8.5 million for next year and a $2 million buyout. Overall, the Guardians saved around $9 million.

There were flashes when Bell would look like he was settling in. He frequently expressed his frustration with his inability to remain consistent. The Guardians were hopeful coming into the year that he’d be the protection the team was looking for behind José Ramírez.

It turned out that Josh Naylor was better suited for that role. And when Bell struggled to bring much more to the table, it was clear he wasn’t going to fit into a long-term picture in Cleveland.

“For whatever reason, he wasn’t able to sustain,” Guardians manager Terry Francona said. “It’s like he was going to get going and he’d have moments, but just wasn’t as maybe as much as we’d hoped. He didn’t shortchange anybody on effort or being a teammate, I guarantee you that.”

The Guardians will now add another middle infielder into their Minor League system. Watson ranked 11th in Miami’s Top 30 prospects list, according to MLB Pipeline and was a first-round pick in the 2021 Draft. He hasn’t quite hit his stride in professional baseball just yet, hitting .234 with a .743 OPS in his two-year career, but Cleveland is optimistic that his quickness and athleticism will be solid additions to its system. In the coming days, he’ll be joining High-A Lake County’s roster.

“He’s a really athletic, dynamic player that’s got a great set of skills,” Guardians president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti said. “He can really impact the ball, he can run, as I said, he’s very athletic and we’re excited to add him to our system.”

The opening that Bell now leaves on the roster isn’t yet filled. The Guardians completed the trade just minutes before the bell rang on Tuesday evening and the club didn’t have time to figure out which position player will come up next. But in the more distant future, clearing Bell from first base will help provide more opportunities for first base prospect Kyle Manzardo, who was traded to the Guardians on Monday in exchange for Aaron Civale, in 2024.

Now that the Deadline has passed, the Guardians are looking at a clubhouse without Civale, Bell or Amed Rosario (who was sent to the Dodgers). The only addition to the big league roster was starter Noah Syndergaard. The two prospects added were Manzardo and Watson.

The Guardians haven’t gotten off to the best start this year. They can count on one hand how many days they’ve been at least two games over .500 since the end of April. Yet, they entered the month of August sitting just one game back in the AL Central.

It’s clear the Guardians think it’ll be challenging to win in 2023, which is why they’ve started building more for the future. And if the young players get hot down the stretch, then they can have some fun in 2023. But the big offseason signings in Bell and Zunino certainly weren’t the answers the club thought they could be.

“I think in trading Josh,” Antonetti said, “clears an avenue for some young players to step up and contribute and hopefully, [they will] help us win games as they’re developing.”