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Guardians Seize ‘Unique Opportunity’ in Disastrous AL Central

“We had a unique opportunity to acquire three players to hopefully impact us moving forward,” Guardians president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti told the media on Thursday.

Credit where due: The baseball world has spent the last six months trying to find appropriate vocabulary to describe the disaster of the AL Central. Yet Antonetti still managed to do some real trailblazing with his language here. “A unique opportunity”! It certainly is.

Antonetti’s Guardians claimed a trio of players off waivers this week: Pitchers Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo López and Matt Moore, all formerly of the Angels, whose front office decided to cut their losses after watching their deadline strategy blow up in spectacular fashion. The astute reader might notice that both teams have the same record: The Guardians, apparently now pushing for the playoffs, are 64–70, and the Angels, breaking down as much of their club as possible, are 64–70. But therein lies the magic of the AL Central. It’s a unique opportunity, indeed.

The worst division in baseball should theoretically be a gift to its constituent teams. After all: Here is the easiest possible road to a playoff berth. And yet! The potential contenders of the AL Central have instead spent most of the year viewing that not as a chance to be taken but as a burden to bear. It might very well feel like there are no winners here. But someone has to come out on top in the end. And it turns out that may be… Cleveland?

Giolito’s short campaign with the Angels wasn’t successful (6.89 ERA, 1–5 record), but he should still improve the Guardians’ rotation.

Jerome Miron/USA TODAY Sports

The Twins have led the division for virtually the entire season. (They have slipped into second place for just four days since March 30 and never by more than half a game.) The Guardians have done very little to try changing that. At the deadline, they sat just one game behind the Twins yet decided to sell, trading away pitcher Aaron Civale, first baseman Josh Bell and shortstop Amed Rosario. The weeks since have not been especially kind to them: They’ve slipped further back in the standings after slouching to a 11–16 record in August. In fact, they’ve never been more out of the race than they have been this week, falling as many as seven games back of the Twins. (They entered Thursday behind by five games.) This made them little more than an afterthought in the waiver-wire race. Despite its squishy division, Cleveland had made clear its lack of interest in contending at the deadline, and it had only seen its position get worse since. So why on earth would the Guardians rush in for Giolito, López and Moore?

Well … because it’s a unique opportunity. The waiver-wire attention had focused primarily on the NL wild-card race: Perhaps the Reds, or the Marlins, or the Giants. But waiver claims work in reverse order of record. And here was a team with a record worse than any of those—a losing team, under .500 for all of August, with single-digit playoff odds—who wanted to claim this trio of impending free agents. Here were the Guardians, playing the role of spoiler, coming in to grab the best available pitchers.

Will it be enough to take over the division? The odds are still not in their favor. While adding more pitching never hurts, Cleveland’s greatest needs are in the lineup, which has spent all year hitting well below league average. And the biggest prize here is theoretically Giolito, but he’s struggled greatly as of late, watching his performance tumble after the White Sox traded him to the Angels. These additions make the Guardians better, certainly. Yet there are still plenty of question marks here.

But when you have a unique opportunity—a chance to do something a little bit absurd, a little bit funny, in a division that has been so miserable all season—you might as well seize it. 

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