Cleveland Guardians’ roster takes shape, bringing both clarity and confusion



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GOODYEAR, Ariz. — Stephen Vogt shook hands with Austin Hedges on Friday morning and told the veteran catcher he officially secured an Opening Day roster spot.

Not that there was any doubt after the Cleveland Guardians handed Hedges a $4 million contract for 2024, but Hedges told his manager it “never gets old to hear that,” even as he embarks on his 10th season in the majors.

The Guardians settled much of their roster puzzle on Friday. Brayan Rocchio, Gabriel Arias, Tyler Freeman and David Fry all made the club, as did pitchers Carlos Carrasco and Tyler Beede. But there remain some unanswered questions, and the shuffling figures to continue into the season as the team sorts out who belongs and who doesn’t. The roster has become both clearer and more confusing.

“It is messy,” said team president Chris Antonetti.

• Myles Straw’s roster spot is in peril. The team placed him on outright waivers, a source told The Athletic, meaning any team can claim him — and his cumbersome contract. That’d be a surprise, given his salary and his offensive shortcomings. The aim is to remove him from the 40-man roster. The Guardians could have just optioned him to Triple A, but by placing him on waivers, perhaps another team noticed the muscle he added over the winter and the solid at-bats he’s taken this spring and will take his contract off Cleveland’s hands. The more likely scenario is Straw clears waivers and roams center field at Huntington Park in Columbus unless he elects free agency. But if he does that, he forfeits his contract.

It was two years ago this week the Guardians initiated talks about a contract extension with Straw. They owe him $4.9 million this year, $6.4 million next year, $7.4 million in 2016 and then either $8 million for 2027 or a $1.75 million buyout.

• Freeman’s smooth transition to center field helped to influence the Straw decision. Freeman arrived at camp adamant he find a way to earn more playing time after twiddling his thumbs on the bench for much of 2023. He’s not the only one capable of handling center field. The jury’s still out on what Estevan Florial and Will Brennan can offer at the plate. Ramón Laureano will get at-bats (and maybe become a trade candidate in July).

• So, this leaves the team with two roster spots for Straw, Florial, Brennan and Rule 5 pick Deyvison De Los Santos. Here’s the issue with the De Los Santos plan: The company line is that April conditions can beat up a young hitter, yet that’s precisely the environment in which they’d be evaluating the 20-year-old. And, remember, the De Los Santos decision has ramifications throughout 162 games, not just the start of the season. They can’t option him to the minors, which hampers their flexibility. He either needs to stick or be offered back to the Diamondbacks. And with those hurdles in place, barring a change of thought, it’s likely he will return to Arizona’s system.

• No, Chase DeLauter is not a candidate for the roster, despite his sizzling spring. He never really was, and Vogt said DeLauter has played his last Cactus League game this spring. The club’s top prospect was not in big-league camp, only depth camp. You hear the story all the time: The Guardians hid Pitcher X from joining big-league camp because they knew Terry Francona and Carl Willis would fall in love with his strike-throwing ability and demand he make the Opening Day roster, even if it wasn’t the best developmental decision. Well, that’s sort of what happened with DeLauter. His spring showcase took place in front of coaches who can now vouch for him if the outfield isn’t humming in, say, June or July.

“The future for him is very bright,” Vogt said.

• It’s easy to see how Vogt appreciates Fry’s skill set since the manager played a similar role as a backup catcher who could bounce around the diamond. Fry can limit Hedges’ exposure to the batter’s box and start at designated hitter or first base when it makes sense.

• Rocchio is expected to receive the bulk of the shortstop reps in the early going, relegating Arias to a utility role. The organization loved Rocchio’s offseason, in which he won a winter league title with Tiburones de La Guaira in Venezuela. Neither shortstop definitively emerged in the competition, but Vogt noted Arias is still working on some swing adjustments, especially as he tries to solve the riddle of left-handed pitching.

Offering Rocchio a fair look and also not abandoning Arias would seem to make it difficult for Freeman to get reps at shortstop. Oh, and Angel Martínez had an eye-opening spring and could challenge for an opportunity this summer. Don’t forget José Tena, either. And because this club never has enough middle infielders, don’t be surprised if Daniel Schneemann breaks through at some point. Vogt and Antonetti raved about his energy, reliability and versatility.

• Since the club sent Kyle Manzardo to Triple A, if De Los Santos doesn’t make the roster, the club can cycle players through the DH spot. Manzardo did nothing this spring to suggest he isn’t ready to face major-league pitching, especially for a lineup that could use a jolt of pop and patience.

• OK, on to the pitching staff which, thanks to injuries and illness, is as much or more of a mess. Trevor Stephan and James Karinchak are likely bound for the 60-day injured list. Sam Hentges and Gavin Williams will start on the 15-day injured list. Xzavion Curry and Ben Lively, working their way back from the virus that swept through the clubhouse for much of the spring, could join them.

At the start of camp, it seemed as though the rotation was set and there was only one bullpen vacancy. Now, there’s an open rotation spot and as many as four bullpen spots available. Carrasco or Beede will be the fifth starter, and the other will land in the pen. Hunter Gaddis, Tim Herrin and Cade Smith all seem like safe bets to make the team, too, barring an external roster addition or a rapid recovery by Curry or Lively.

The Guardians reassigned Anthony Gose to minor-league camp on Friday. He’ll be in the mix at some point, a remarkable feat given what he’s endured. It’s one thing to shift from the outfield to the mound, but just when he got his big-league footing as a reliever, his elbow started howling. He hasn’t appeared in a game since July 2, 2022.

• Fifteen years ago, Cleveland traded Cliff Lee to Philadelphia for a package built around Jason Knapp, a hard-throwing, well-regarded pitching prospect … who never advanced past A-ball. Another piece of the trade is still paying some indirect dividends, though. Carrasco debuted for the Indians on Sept. 1, 2009. Rocchio was 8 years old.

Antonetti marveled at how some of the areas Carrasco needed to work on early in his tenure — harnessing emotions on the mound, building relationships with teammates — are now his strengths.

“It was great,” Vogt said, “especially to see the smile on his face, at 37 years old and 13 years in the major leagues, to tell him that he came home to Cleveland and he made the Opening Day roster, it’s a special conversation. He was ecstatic.”

Antonetti: “The look on his face, you would have thought it was the first Opening Day roster he ever made.”

(Photo of Carlos Carrasco: Kareem Elgazzar / The Enquirer / USA Today Network)





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