Franmil Reyes designated for assignment by Guardians

CLEVELAND — Thought all the Guardians’ roster confusion was done? Not so fast.

The Guardians made a surprising announcement on Saturday afternoon, when they revealed they designated outfielder/designated hitter Franmil Reyes for assignment.

“Just think we feel like we want to see our young guys play, and this gives the opportunity maybe for someone to claim him,” said Guardians manager Terry Francona. “If they do, good for him. If they don’t, most likely, [we will] keep him … doesn’t really change a lot if nobody claims him.”

Let’s try to break this decision down the best we can to explain why it happened.

Reyes has had a crazy fall since Opening Day. He entered the year with many projecting a breakout season. On April 7, Reyes opened the year in Cleveland’s cleanup spot with nothing but high hopes ahead of him. Since then, he’s quarreled to put together more than a couple games’ stretch of looking like the powerful slugger the club once knew.

Reyes hit .213 with a mere .604 OPS in 70 games with the Guardians this season. He launched just nine home runs with a whopping 104 strikeouts in 263 at-bats (a brutal 37.1 percent strikeout percentage). There have been comments throughout the year that he needed to get in better shape, but that didn’t see much improvement.

So, when it got to the start of August and nothing was trending in the right direction, even after the team attempted to get him back on the right path after his stint on the injured list, it became difficult for the club to continue to put Reyes in the lineup, leading to his demotion to Triple-A Columbus on Tuesday.

“He wasn’t getting to the fastball, and it seemed like the hanging breaking ball, he was kind of hitting it maybe for a single, and there was an occasional home run,” Francona said. “But just wasn’t getting the pitches he used to.”

That all explains his demotion to Triple-A. The decision to designate him for assignment is a little more confusing to figure out.

Cleveland attempted to move Reyes prior to Tuesday’s Trade Deadline but failed to do so. Maybe that means the interest in him is low across the league, and the Guardians think he could clear waivers and end up back in their system without taking a 40-man spot while he works through his struggles. But even that isn’t cut and dry.

Reyes is still eligible arbitration. This year, he signed a one-year, $4.55 million deal. That could go down some, but whatever he’d make in arbitration will be high in relation to his production level in 2022. If he had remained on Cleveland’s 40-man roster, there was a strong chance he would’ve been non-tendered at the end of the season to avoid spending that chunk of money on him. But if he clears waivers and is outrighted back to the Guardians’ system, he’d become a Minor League free agent for ’23 since he’s no longer protected on the 40-man roster.

OK, we’ll take a second for all of that to soak in and get to a simpler answer as to why this move makes sense.

An easy way to view it is it also clears space on the Columbus roster, which could pave the way for Guardians No. 2 prospect George Valera to move up to Triple-A from Double-A.

There are a lot of what-ifs when it comes to Reyes’ future. It’s hard to know whether he’ll be claimed by another team that would have to go through the financial confusion that Cleveland is trying to avoid with his upcoming arbitration process. Maybe another club is willing to take that risk.

It’s easy to focus on the negatives now that this decision has been made. But there’s still a track record for Reyes that works in his favor. He’s still on the heels of a 30-homer season with a career-best .846 OPS. He hit 37 long balls in 2019. There are things to like about his toolset. It’s now just a determination of where he’ll be able to try to right the ship for the future.

“He gave us everything he got,” Guardians assistant hitting coach Victor Rodriguez said. “He wanted to do it, but he wasn’t able to do it. We saw signs at times that he was going to come out. … He’s young. I think his best years are still to come. Hopefully, he gets the chance somewhere and he can keep going.”

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