The Cleveland Guardians are in the thick of the American League playoff picture right now. They are two games behind the Minnesota Twins in the AL Central, and two games behind the Seattle Marines for the final wild card spot in the AL. There is a lot of time for them overcome that deficit, but it’s clear Cleveland has their work cut out for them.

The problem is that the Guardians did virtually nothing at the 2022 MLB trade deadline. They were rumored to be pursuing some bigger name candidates, while also being rumored to be listening to offers on some even bigger names on their roster. In the end, the only move they made involved sending veteran catcher Sandy Leon to the Minnesota Twins in return for relief pitcher Ian Hamilton.

It certainly wasn’t the deadline the Guardians or their fans were hoping for, especially considering how they are right on the edge of playoff contention in the AL playoff picture. Their failure to address the biggest need on their roster, which is the catcher position, was a big mistake, and this star who was available for the taking certainly would have helped their cause.

The 1 move the Cleveland Guardians should have made at the 2022 MLB trade deadline

Trade for Willson Contreras

The Guardians have gotten by this season without virtually any production from their catcher position. Austin Hedges has gotten the most playing time, but he’s hitting just .176 on the season. Luke Maile has gotten a bit more playing time recently since he’s hitting a bit better than Hedges, although his .217 average isn’t anything to write home about. Leon hit .133 in limited action for Cleveland, and Bryan Lavastida has just one hit in six games played this season.

Catcher is clearly the area where the Guardians need the most help, and there were certainly some catchers that were there for the taking at the deadline. Willson Contreras seemed set to be part of the Chicago Cubs firesale, Sean Murphy was an interesting option on the Oakland Athletics, and Christian Vazquez was curiously dealt to the Houston Astros by the Boston Red Sox. But the Guardians refused to bite on any of these trade targets.

Of the names listed above, missing out on Contreras seems like the most confusing misstep for the Guardians. Contreras is an All-Star caliber catcher, and would have offered a significant upgrade to Cleveland’s lineup immediately. He’s only 30 years old, meaning he still has some good years ahead of him and would be able to produce for more than the 2022 season.

Given that the Cubs aren’t contending this season, and that Contreras is set for free agency this offseason, the Guardians should have been able to land Contreras on a cheaper price. Of all the moves they missed out on, this is the one that they almost certainly should have made.

Contreras is hitting .253 with 16 home runs and 42 RBIs this season. Those counting stats are better than what all of the catchers Cleveland has used this season have combined for. To say Contreras would have been an upgrade over these guys would be selling his impact short.

It’s also not as if the Indians don’t have the assets to pull off a trade of this caliber. They have one of the deepest farm systems in the entire MLB, with their top eight prospects coming in among the MLB’s top 100 prospects in the game. They may have had to give up one of these guys to land Contreras, but considering the needs of their major league roster and the status of their farm system, it would have been worth it.

The Guardians have been so focused on trying to contend while building for the future that is has prevented them from making moves for solid players like Contreras. Contreras wouldn’t have been a one season fit, assuming they could extend him to a new deal before he hit free agency. Maybe that was a risk Cleveland didn’t want to take, but if that’s the case, the strategy behind that decision seems somewhat flawed.

Cleveland has a deep lineup behind their star third baseman Jose Ramirez. Adding Contreras would have given it the potential to be one that could make some serious noise in the postseason. But for now, they are stuck with Hedges and Maile behind the plate, and that’s probably not going to lead them to many postseason victories, if they even get there in the first place.

The Guardians were in a great spot to turn themselves into a solid playoff contender at the trade deadline. Instead, they stood pat, and are going to have to really battle if they want to make it into the postseason. They could have made things easier on themselves by swinging a deal for Willson Contreras, but that’s just not how Cleveland rolls.