The Guardians added some flexibility with their catchers and had a difficult decision with their most veteran reliever.
On Saturday, Cleveland made a series of roster moves that could provide some clarity as it relates to the potential playoff roster heading into Friday's Game 1 of the Wild Card Series.
Catcher Bo Naylor had his contract selected from Triple-A, officially adding him to the active roster. Starting pitcher Zach Plesac also returned from the injured list to start Saturday's game after missing time with a fractured hand.
In their place, reliever Bryan Shaw was designated for assignment and infielder Tyler Freeman was optioned to Triple-A Columbus.
Naylor becomes the third catcher on the roster, joining Austin Hedges and Luke Maile, which affords manager Terry Francona additional flexibility late in games. Hedges and Maile are on the roster primarily for their defensive capabilities, which leads to plenty of pinch-hit opportunities. Having a third catcher available makes it easier to be more aggressive on that front.
Naylor, who had a 21-homer, 20-stolen-base season in the minor leagues in 2022, also brings a different skillset as a more dangerous hitter who can also run.
"There’s some things there like if you pinch-hit him, you don’t have to pinch-run for him," Francona said. "We’re trying to set up our roster the best we think we can, and this was something that we felt we wanted to get to and try to get to it before the season was over to give the kid a little bit of a chance to play a game or two."
The Guardians could carry three catchers in the best-of-three Wild Card Series to give them as many pinch-hit or pinch-run opportunities as possible. They'd still have to do some maneuvering to get both Naylor and Will Brennan onto the playoff roster, but that shouldn't be an issue.
Naylor won't have much time to acclimate to the majors, but the idea is for him to gain as much experience as possible. For example, Naylor hadn't yet used PitchCom, the electronic sign-calling system that has become popular around baseball and especially in Cleveland.
Naylor made his major league debut in Saturday's loss to the Kansas City Royals, entering as a defensive replacement. In doing so, he became the 17th Guardians rookie to make his debut in a single season, which ties the franchise record with the Cleveland teams of 1912 and 1914. Naylor went 0-for-2 in his debut but did throw a runner out at second base in his first defensive inning.
Naylor, the younger brother of Guardians first baseman Josh Naylor, took a moment Saturday night to look over to his big bro.
"It's one thing seeing him [Josh] on the jumbotron — all the highlights, seeing him do his thing and be crazy, gotta love that — but at one point in the game I definitely looked up, saw him at the plate and just realized I was getting ready and I was like, 'You know, we're here,'" Naylor said. "It was definitely something that I want to make a usual thing. I really enjoy playing with him, I really enjoy having him on the same team and I think that we work really well off each other and I'm very excited for more."
Getting Bo Naylor onto the 40-man roster led to a difficult decision, as Shaw has been a trusted arm in Francona's bullpen for much of his tenure in Cleveland. But the Guardians were no longer able to carry him given the playoff roster needs and the direction of the team given its youth and future. Without Shaw, Plesac, who doesn't turn 28 until January, is the oldest pitcher on the staff.
Over parts of seven seasons with Cleveland, Shaw entered 519 games and led the American League in appearances four times (2014, 2016, 2017, 2021). He posted a combined 3.44 ERA as a member of Francona's bullpens while adding some additional value as a reliever who could help to limit the workloads of other pitchers.
"I know there’s a segment of people out there who don’t appreciate Bryan because I get the mail," Francona said. "It’s like that pulling guard that misses a block every once in a while. It’s the only time you notice them. But what he’s done here, especially this year with some of the youth we’ve had, he’s been so good and so selfless. There are days where he pitches and he has no business pitching and he’s kind of saved our staff more than, you say more than once, more than a lot. That’s just who he is."
Shaw's designation led to a difficult conversation.
"We needed to get Plesac on today and we wanted to get Bo Naylor on just because we've been hitting for our catchers. If we ever got into a predicament, that wouldn't be good," Francona said. "So, trying to get our roster to a point where we think we can go forward. But it still was hard. And over the years, you have some that are just really hard. This was one that we were all dreading, and I'm talking about Chris [Antonetti], [Mike Chernoff], everybody, Brian Sweeney, Carl [Willis]. And kind of like Bryan, he probably handled it better than we did."
Plesac returned to the mound and threw 69 pitches, allowing one earned run and four hits in 3⅔ innings. The expectation is that Plesac (4.34 ERA) will transition to a bullpen role for the postseason. Shane Bieber and Triston McKenzie will start Games 1 and 2. Cal Quantrill and Aaron Civale would be next in line.
"I’m looking forward to it. I’m gonna embrace whatever role I’m given moving toward the postseason," Plesac said. "We’re just gonna do everything we can to win and I’m gonna do everything in my power to be as sharp as I can coming out of the bullpen. I think on Wednesday I’ll probably get a feel out of the ‘pen so it’s not my first time come playoff time."
The presence of Gabriel Arias and Owen Miller meant Tyler Freeman would be third in line among infielders off the bench. The Guardians can get more utility out of Naylor's addition.
"We like Freeman a lot. Just with Gabby here, it gives us a little more versatility," Francona said. "[Arias'] ability to play first really kind of helps, and he can go to the outfield. So that's probably the biggest difference. We don't pinch-hit for any of our infielders, so we didn't need a third one."
Ryan Lewis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read more about the Guardians at www.beaconjournal.com/sports/cleveland-guardians. Follow him on Twitter at @ByRyanLewis.
This article originally appeared on Akron Beacon Journal: Guardians playoff roster adds possible clarity with Bo Naylor addition