Cleveland Guardians gave the Cincinnati Reds the blueprint for winning in smaller market

Cincinnati Reds Tyler Stephenson
Cincinnati Reds Tyler Stephenson / Jason Miller/GettyImages

No one thought the Cleveland Guardians were going to the postseason . And yet, here we are. Terry Francona's group defied the odds and the Guardians won the American League Central Division for the first time since 2018.

Cleveland has given the Cincinnati Reds a blueprint for success with a small market team. According to Spotrac, the Guardians rank 28th in total payroll while the Reds have the 22nd-highest payroll in baseball.

Cleveland built their team from the inside-out, developing young prospects in the minor leagues and trading away top talent at the right time in order to piece together a winning team. Will Cincinnati find similar success?

Guardians gave the Reds the blueprint for winning in smaller market.

The Cleveland Guardians have been led this season by All-Star second baseman Andres Gimenez who was the key acquisition in the trade with the New York Mets that sent Francisco Lindor to the Big Apple. Gimenez is hitting .305/.377/.484 this season and plays terrific defense.

The Guardians also have the always reliable Jose Ramirez who is having another MVP-caliber season. Of course he'll fall short in that quest to eventual AL MVP Aaron Judge, but the four-time All-Star will definitely be in the conversation.

Ahmed Rosario has given Cleveland an unexpected boost this season as well, and the team has received solid contributions from young position players like Steven Kwan, Oscar Gonzalez, and Josh Naylor. All three are 25 years old and younger.

Finally, it's been the young and talented pitching staff that has helped Cleveland return to the top of the AL Central. Triston McKenzie, Cal Quantrill, and Shane Bieber have pitched very well, and the Guardians can turn to closer Emmanuel Clase in the ninth inning to seal the deal. Cleveland's team OPS of .699 ranks 10th in the AL, but their 3.52 team-ERA is among the Top 5 in the league.

How can the Reds follow the Guardians' example?

The Cincinnati Reds are well on their way to following the Cleveland Guardians blueprint for success, but several things have to break their way. First, the Reds need to shed the giant contracts of Joey Votto and Mike Moustakas. Both players can become free agents after next season.

The only large contract that's on Cleveland's books is Jose Ramirez (seven years/$141M). Andres Gimenez will likely be the next young star the Guardians attempt to lockup for the long haul, but the 24-year-old will not even reach free agency until after the 2026 season. The overwhelming majority of players on Cleveland's roster are pre-arbitration eligible.

The Reds also need one of their key trade acquisitions to be an impact player in the major leagues. Gimenez has been that for the Guardians. Will Noelvi Marte, Edwin Arroyo, or even Spencer Steer elevate their game to the same level that we've seen from Gimenez?

Cleveland is also preparing for the future. The Guardians have five prospects ranked among the Top 100 in baseball according to MLB Pipeline. The Reds have five as well, but none of their top prospects are as advanced in their journey through the minors.

Finally, if the Cincinnati Reds really want to follow the example set by the Cleveland Guardians, they've got to find a top-notch manager like Terry Francona. A team's manager does not matter nearly as much as it did 20 years, but an experienced skipper like Francona (who's arguably the best in the game), has certainly helped mold this year's Cleveland team into what it is.

The Reds are at least one year, and perhaps two, behind the Guardians in terms of developing young prospects. But the front office finally seems to be willing to commit to a rebuild. Will it yield the same results that we've seen from the Cleveland Guardians? Only time will tell.

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