Should Guardians Try Kyle Manzardo in the Outfield?

Kyle Manzardo is likely the next prospect to be promoted to the Guardians. With Josh Naylor ensconced at first base, should the Guardians try to find another role for Manzardo?

Mar 12, 2024; Surprise, Arizona, USA; Cleveland Guardians designated hitter Kyle Manzardo (73) bats in a spring training game against the Texas Rangers.
Mar 12, 2024; Surprise, Arizona, USA; Cleveland Guardians designated hitter Kyle Manzardo (73) bats in a spring training game against the Texas Rangers. / Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

We've done our share of pondering over how the Guardians can make the best use of their glut of promising shortstops. There is another glut coming, though, and how it is managed will be just as important for the future of the franchise.

At some point in the next month or two, Kyle Manzardo will be promoted to the major league roster. Manzardo has primarily been a first baseman throughout his minor league career. However, the Guardians already have a good first baseman in Josh Naylor. While the obvious solution is for one of the two to spend a great deal of time at DH, this decision has long-term implications, making it important for the Guardians to get it right.

Since Josh Bell was jettisoned at the trade deadline last year, the Guardians have mostly used the DH slot to give players a partial day off. With a versatile bench, Jose Ramirez turning 32 this season, and the potential to keep Bo Naylor's bat in the lineup when Austin Hedges is catching, this seems like the right way to go.

Plus, a full-time DH takes a roster spot that robs the manager of defensive flexibility.

On the flip side, a recent article by Hannah Keyser in the Ringer points out that teams with full-time DHs get significantly more productivity out of the position. It's never a good idea to assume that league-wide trends will apply to every team equally, but the Guardians' DHs did finish 29th in MLB in OPS last year. Sure, the team has a whole finished 27th, but the DHs posted an OPS of .667 while the team's as a whole was .694.

Without getting too far into the weeds, we can safely say that the shared DH approach didn't help. Just as an example, Josh Naylor and Jose Ramirez got the most DH at-bats besides Bell last year. Naylor posted an OPS of .673 at DH, compared with a .904 figure at first base, while Ramirez posted a .659 OPS at DH and .872 at third base.

Guardians Opinion: It's Time to Try Kyle Manzardo in the Outfield

All of that would seem to indicate that the Guardians would benefit from using either Manzardo or Naylor as the primary DH. But it seems less than ideal to consign the #2 prospect in the system to such a limited role so early in his career, if for no other reason than that it reduces his trade value.

Given that, and the fact that two of the three outfield positions are somewhat in flux, should the Guardians consider moving Manzardo to the outfield?

Anyone who saw Manzardo hit in spring training realizes he isn't in Columbus because his swing needs work. He is biding his time, either to allow the parent club time to check out other options, or to mess with his service time.

So, why not have him spend a week or two in right field, to see how he looks?

It seems unlikely that Naylor would be used in the outfield, given the injury that he sustained the last time he played there. If nothing else, if Manzardo is at least functional out there, it would give the Guardians some flexibility if they need to use someone else in the DH role.

A complicating factor in all of this is Naylor's contract. He currently makes $6.5 million, which will only increase through another year of arbitration. He becomes a free agent after the 2025 season. Given the frugality of this front office, you can't rule out the possibility of Naylor being traded, in which case Manzardo would likely take over at first base.

But the emphasis right now should be on winning in 2024. To that end, Manzardo must be in the lineup as often as possible. If he proves that he can perform capably in right field, the Guardians may find more ways to utilize his bat.

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