Dissecting the Guardians’ Decision to DFA Cal Quantrill

Cal Quantrill of the Cleveland Guardians

We covered a number of notable moves that came during Rule 5 Draft deadline day, but one move made late in the day was rather significant. The Guardians opted to designate right-hander Cal Quantrill for assignment, just one year after he won 15 games and pitched in the ALDS for the Guardians.

Related: Five Hitters That Stood Out in the 2023 Arizona Fall League

A Look at Quantrill

The Cleveland Guardians acquired RHP Cal Quantrill three years ago, as part of a massive deal with San Diego that sent Mike Clevinger to the Padres. That trade worked out well for the Guardians, as it allowed Cleveland to add Josh Naylor, an intriguing lefty in Joey Cantillo, Gabriel Arias, and Quantrill.

The 28-year-old Quantrill had a couple of strong seasons in 2021-22 with the Guardians. Across 40 games (22 GS) in 2021, Quantrill posted a 2.89 ERA, struck out 121 over 149.2 IP, and limited hard contact. That remained mostly true in 2022 when he owned a 3.38 ERA and won 15 games over 186.1 IP.

This past season, though, was a nightmare for Quantrill. In what was an injury-filled campaign, the right-hander had a 5.24 ERA over 99.2 IP, and his hard-hit and walk rates both went in the wrong direction.

Quantrill’s never been a strikeout pitcher. His career-high K% rate was in 2021 at 19.6%, below league average. However, the key to Quantrill’s game is deception, command, and getting chases, whether it be a jam shot with the sinker inside or via the changeup and/or cutter.

The son of former MLB pitcher Paul Quantrill still had success with the curve, as opposing batters hit just .188 off it in 2023 and it was a pitch he could get outs all across the zone. He didn’t use it much in 2022 (4.3%) but that changed in 2023 (11.0%).

However, one stark change from 2023 as compared to 2022 was the cutter. Opposing batters chased at it less in 2023 (10.2%) as compared to 2023 (12.3%) and it had a .330 opponents’ batting average. That was significantly higher than the .236 average from a year earlier.

All in all, batters swung less than two percent of the time as compared to 2022 and chased at a clip of almost six percent less.

Given Quantrill’s past production and injury troubles — he did deal with shoulder inflammation this past season — one might have expected a mulligan. However, both Quantrill and Michael Kelly were DFA’d to place Cade Smith and top pitching prospect Daniel Espino on the 40-man roster.

How the Guardians Can Move Forward

Quantrill isn’t the only Guardian with significant MLB experience to be DFA’d this year by Cleveland. Zach Plesac was DFA’d earlier in 2023 and filed for free agency this past October.

The reality is that between Espino, Logan Allen, Tanner Bibee, Triston McKenzie, Xzavion Curry, Minor Leaguer Joey Cantillo, and — at least at this moment — Shane Bieber, the Guardians likely believe to have enough depth to cut ties, look for a trade, and save money for next season given that Cal Quantrill is arbitration-eligible.

Now, that doesn’t necessarily mean the Guardians had to DFA Quantrill. Starting pitching, after all, is not easy to find. But, a poor 2023, coupled with too many arms to protect on the 40-man roster at the moment, paved this path.

Plus, Cleveland could opt to add a cheaper depth starter — Quantrill, for what it’s worth, made $5.5M in 2023 — in free agency.