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2022 American League Central Division Preview: Cleveland Guardians

This team just doesn’t want to sign any free agents.

Chicago White Sox v Cleveland Indians Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images

Despite a name change to the “Guardians”, Cleveland’s baseball team continues its tradition of frugality. While teams like the Rangers and Mets have gone on spending sprees this off-season, the Guardians have signed just one Major League free agent - backup catcher Luke Maile, and are projected to have the third-lowest payroll in baseball at just over $50 million. It’s a team that still has a few top performing players, but has little proven depth and will have to depend on the farm system to continue to produce players, particularly on the pitching side.

Cleveland Guardians

2021 record: 80-82, second place, 13 games back

2022 PECOTA projection: 78-84

ZIPS projection: 77-85

Manager: Terry Francona

Key additions: Luke Maile

Key losses: J.C. Mejia, Blake Parker, Roberto Perez, Harold Ramirez

Offense

Jose Ramirez is still a star and one of the best hitters in the American League, but there are doubts he will even begin the season on the Cleveland roster as trade rumors swirl. The Guardians return just two other hitters who were league average last year - masher Franmil Reyes, who smashed 30 home runs for the second time in his career, and light-hitting Myles Straw, who had the second-lowest hard-hit rate among all qualified hitters.

Outfielder Steven Kwan is an intriguing rookie who will likely start in left. The former Oregon State star stands at just 5’9’’ and doesn’t hit for a lot of power, but has hit for average and had one of the lowest strikeout rates in the minors. Cleveland lacks much pop in their outfield, but they’re hoping to get a boost from the return of Josh Naylor, who may miss the start of the season but is expected back shortly thereafter after missing significant time last year with a leg fracture and ankle dislocation.

All statistics are 2021 numbers.

Cleveland Guardians 2022 Expected Lineup

Batter PA HR BA OBA SLG rWAR
Batter PA HR BA OBA SLG rWAR
CF Myles Straw (R) 638 4 .271 .349 .348 3.2
SS Amed Rosario (R) 588 11 .282 .321 .409 1.9
3B Jose Ramirez (S) 636 36 .266 .355 .538 6.7
DH Franmil Reyes (R) 466 30 .254 .324 .522 1.6
1B Bobby Bradley (L) 279 16 .208 .294 .445 0.3
LF Steven Kwan (L) 0 0 - - - -
2B Andrés Giménez (L) 210 5 .218 .282 .351 0.8
C Austin Hedges (R) 312 10 .178 .220 .308 0
RF Bradley Zimmer (L) 348 8 .227 .325 .344 1.2
Bench PA HR BA OBA SLG rWAR
C Luke Maile (R) 34 0 .300 .382 .433 0.3
IF Yu Chang (R) 251 9 .228 .267 .426 0.3
OF Oscar Mercado (R) 238 6 .224 .300 .369 0.9
OF Josh Naylor (L) 250 7 .253 .301 .399 0.3

Pitching

Cleveland has been known for their ability to produce pitchers, but they were seventh in runs allowed and tenth in ERA last year. Ace Shane Bieber returns after missing half the season with a shoulder strain, and the Guardians will hope some of their young pitchers - Zach Plesac, Cal Quantrill, or Triston McKenzie - will take a step forward. Righty Eli Morgan and lefties Logan Allen and Sam Hentges could also see some starts.

The bullpen features hard-throwing Emmanuel Clase, who had the top fastball in baseball last year. Cleveland had the third-best bullpen ERA in the American League, and they return most of those arms, with an intriguing addition of Anthony Gose, the former outfielder who throws 99 mph.

All statistics are 2021 numbers.

Cleveland Guardians 2022 Expected Pitching Staff

Rotation ERA FIP IP K/9 BB/9 rWAR
Rotation ERA FIP IP K/9 BB/9 rWAR
RHP Shane Bieber 3.17 3.03 96.2 12.5 3.1 2.7
RHP Cal Quantrill 2.89 4.07 149.2 7.3 2.8 3.9
RHP Zach Plesac 4.67 4.73 142.2 6.3 2.1 1.2
RHP Aaron Civale 3.84 4.83 124.1 7.2 2.2 2.2
RHP Triston McKenzie 4.95 4.70 120.0 10.2 4.4 1.1
Bullpen ERA FIP IP K/9 BB/9 rWAR
RHP Emmanuel Clase 1.29 2.11 69.2 9.6 2.1 2.8
RHP James Karinchak 4.07 4.31 55.1 12.7 5.2 1.0
RHP Bryan Shaw 3.49 4.53 77.1 8.3 4.4 1.3
LHP Anthony Gose 1.35 1.37 6.2 12.2 2.7 0.2
RHP Nick Sandlin 2.94 2.96 33.2 12.8 4.5 0.4
LHP Sam Hentges 6.68 4.48 68.2 8.9 4.2 -1.0

Cleveland has been able to churn the roster and keep winning, thanks to great scouting and a willingness to trade stars in their prime for prospects. But last year was their first losing season since 2012 and while Baseball America cites great depth in their farm system, they mention there is little upper-end talent. If Cleveland is going to continue to be stingy, the Royals have an opportunity to pass them in the standings. But don’t count out their ability to continue to develop quality players.

Poll

How many games will the Guardians win in 2022?

This poll is closed

  • 1%
    More than 95
    (3 votes)
  • 3%
    90-94
    (7 votes)
  • 10%
    85-89
    (20 votes)
  • 19%
    80-84
    (39 votes)
  • 29%
    75-79
    (58 votes)
  • 29%
    70-74
    (59 votes)
  • 6%
    Fewer than 70
    (13 votes)
199 votes total Vote Now