Coming off of a surprising 2022 season, the Guardians will be looking to continue their momentum and repeat as division champions. Last week Terry Francona was announced as AL Manager of the Year, and he will be back at the helm in 2023 leading what is expected to be one of the youngest teams in the Majors.
2022 Record: 92-70, First Place in AL Central
Team MVP: Jose Ramirez,
Team Cy Young: Shane Bieber
The 2022 Guardians outperformed preseason expectations to win what was a pretty ugly AL Central division. They were the youngest team in all of Major League Baseball. That young roster was led by Ramirez, Andres Gimenez, Steven Kwan, Bieber, and Emmanuel Clase. Clase was the only one of these heroes to not be in the running for any awards this past week, although he was an All-Star in July. Jose and Andres finished 4th and 6th in AL MVP, Kwan finished 3rd in Rookie of the Year, and Bieber finished 7th in AL Cy Young votes.
Coming into the season FanGraphs had Cleveland at 15.2% to win the division, just ahead of Detroit at 12.31%. But baseball is unpredictable, that’s one of the reasons we love it.
While Jose Ramirez was this writer’s pick for MVP, Andres Gimenez was a close second. Gimenez made his first All-Star game in 2022 and finished the year with his first Gold Glove award, being one of four Guards to make the list. Gimenez finished with a 140 wRC+ and was worth 6.1 fWAR. But, I picked Jose in a bit of a toss up.
When picking which hair to split between these two, BB%, K% and BABIP stood out to me. Jose Ramirez is the heart and soul of Cleveland Baseball. His contract extension at the beginning of the year changed the whole vibe around the organization.
Shane Bieber had another electric season, despite his four-seamer losing a little of its velocity. He pitched to a 2.88 ERA over 200 innings while striking out 198 batters against 36 walks. This gave him a 4.9 WAR, good for 4th in the American League. His K/9 was the lowest of his career to this point but his walk rate and home run rate both set career bests. The 27-year-old found new ways to be successful. Bieber increased his usage of his slider and cutter this season while relying less on his curve, per Baseball Savant. His whiff rates didn’t improve, but the percentage of balls that were hard hit decreased by about 10 percent off his cutter. Overall Bieber proved to be as successful as ever.
Free Agents: Austin Hedges
I would not be surprised if Hedges does not return next season. The team is pretty high on Bo Naylor, who Eric Longenhagen of FanGraphs ranks as the team’s second-best prospect. Bo moved from AA to AAA in 2022 where he hit 15 home runs in 66 games. His BB% and K% did each go in the wrong direction upon promotion; he still posted at 131 wRC+ in Columbus.
Potential Free Agent Targets
Let’s be honest with ourselves, the Cleveland Guardians are not going to enter into any sort of bidding war for guys like Judge, Correa, DeGrom, or Verlander. But, they might make a smaller move to add some extra pop to their lineup. Someone like Matt Carpenter might make sense here. Right now, RosterResource has Will Brennan slated at DH. I am not against Will Brennan long-term, but if the Guardians are going to be serious contenders they will need more power out of that spot.
Another potential free agent is Mike Zunino; he is coming off of an injury but was an all-star in 2021. He can provide plus defense and some power on a one-year, buy-low deal. He has a good reputation for handling pitchers. The Guardians can have him along with Naylor for this season and if Naylor proves ready for the full-time position, Zunino could DH or spot at first base.
This is one area that the Guardians have already been active in. They have already made a prospect swap with Colorado, sending Nolan Jones in exchange for Juan Brito. This trade was a little confusing at first, but it seems to be a reflection of Cleveland’s high contact, low strikeout philosophy. The Guards, it seems, can never have too many middle infield prospects that have bat-to-ball skills.
There was also a trade sending reliever Carlos Vargas to Arizona for pitching prospect Ross Carver. The swap of minor leaguers seems to be mostly about roster constriction for Cleveland and Arizona trying to address their weak bullpen.
I do not think these two teams should be finished talking. Arizona just made a trade with Seattle to acquire Kyle Lewis, the 2020 AL Rookie of the Year. This creates a bit of a logjam for the Diamondbacks in their outfield. You can only play three outfielders, and looking at the D-Backs roster they have more than three that seem to be deserving of major league at-bats. As mentioned by Nick Deeds of MLBTradeRumors, Arizona should be looking to relieve this jam. Daulton Varsho and Corbin Caroll more than likely will be building blocks for the future. But, they might be interested in moving someone like Jake McCarthy or Dominic Fletcher in exchange for a bullpen arm.
A dream move would be one for Sean Murphy from Oakland, but I am not sure how the Guardians would feel about spending the prospect capital a move like that would take given what we’ve already said about Bo Naylor.
- Steven Kwan LF
- Amed Rosario SS
- Jose Ramirez 3B
- Josh Naylor 1B
- Andres Giminez 2B
- Oscar Gonzalez / McCarthy RF
- Matt Carpenter DH
- Mike Zunino C
- Myles Straw CF
Projected Bench: Luke Maile, Gabriel Arias, Owen Miller, Will Benson, Will Brennan, Bo Naylor
Closer: Emmanuel Clase
The Guardians are in a very winnable division in 2023. They currently are projected to have a payroll in the mid-70 million dollar area. I do not foresee ownership splashing the cash this offseason, so the moves will most likely be on the periphery of the roster. Adding power at DH and in the outfield or catcher should solidify this team as an 89 to 94-win team. The Guards’ AL counterparts – the White Sox and the Twins – could do better than their previous year, making the division more competitive in 2023. A trade deadline move might make the difference in who is watching from home and who is taking on the Astros and the Yankees next October.
Please let me know what you all think! Hoping to be proven wrong about the spending!
Follow us @Diamond_Digest for more!