The Guardians are the franchise the Royals would seemingly like to emulate, competing year in and year out despite not splurging much in player payroll. The organization has become a machine, churning out young pitching and not being afraid to trade big stars at their peak to restock the farm system.
The Guardians surprised everyone and won the division last year with their proven recipe of young talent. They beat the Rays in the Wild Card round, and took a 2-1 series lead on the Yankees in the American League Divisional Series, but dropped the final two games. To get over the hump, they did actually dip into free agency, signing slugger Josh Bell to a two-year, $33 million deal. But most of the rest of the team returns, with their sights again set on the post-season.
2022 record: 92-70, first place (lost ALDS to the Yankees)
2023 PECOTA projection: 88-74
ZIPS projection: 84-78
Manager: Terry Francona
Key additions: Josh Bell, Zack Collins, Mike Zunino
Key losses: Austin Hedges, Luke Maile, Oscar Mercado, Owen Miller, Bryan Shaw
The Guardians were sixth in runs scored last year despite finishing with the second-fewest home runs. They stole the second-most bases and struck out the least among all American League teams, so in a way they were emulating those 2014-15 Royals that had so much success putting the ball in play and running around the bases.
The lineup is paced by MVP candidate José Ramírez, but he had help last year Andrés Giménez emerging as an All-Star, giving the Guardians two players in the top five in the American League in fWAR last year. Rookie Steven Kwan - who destroyed the Royals - was one of the hardest players to strike out last year. The addition of Bell, plus a healthy Josh Naylor, and a full season from rookie outfielder Oscar Gonzalez, could help the Guardians offense improve in 2023.
All statistics are 2022 numbers.
2023 Cleveland Guardians projected lineup
|LF Steven Kwan (L)||638||6||19||.298||.373||.400||4.4|
|SS Amed Rosario (R)||670||11||18||.283||.312||.403||2.4|
|3B José Ramírez (S)||685||29||20||.280||.355||.514||6.2|
|DH Josh Bell (S)||647||17||0||.266||.362||.422||2.0|
|1B Josh Naylor (L)||498||20||6||.256||.319||.452||1.7|
|2B Andrés Giménez (L)||557||17||20||.297||.371||.466||6.1|
|RF Oscar Gonzalez (R)||382||11||1||.296||.327||.461||1.6|
|C Mike Zunino (R)||123||5||0||.148||.195||.304||0.0|
|CF Myles Straw (R)||596||0||21||.221||.291||.273||2.0|
|C Zack Collins (R)||108||4||0||.155||.231||.320||-0.4|
|IF Gabriel Arias (R)||57||1||1||.191||.321||.319||-0.2|
|IF Tyler Freeman (R)||86||0||1||.247||.314||.286||-0.1|
|OF Will Brennan (L)||45||1||2||.357||.400||.500||0.3|
The Royals poached Brian Sweeney away from the Guardians coaching staff as their new pitching coach, but Cleveland should once again be one of the top pitching teams in the league. They were fifth in the league in runs allowed, fourth in ERA, and third in fewest walks allowed, so they already know how to “raid the zone.” The Guardians are not projected to have a single pitcher over the age of 28 on their staff to begin the year, so these are arms that are hitting their prime. Former Cy Young winner Shane Bieber, and up-and-coming right-hander Triston McKenzie give Cleveland a formidable 1-2 punch at the top of the rotation.
Emmanuel Clase is one of the nastiest closers in baseball with a 100 mph fastball and a nearly unhittable slider. James Karinchak has the sixth-highest strikeout rate of any reliever since 2020. Overall, Cleveland relievers had a 3.05 ERA, third-best in the American League.
All statistics are 2022 numbers.
2023 Cleveland Guardians projected pitching staff
|RHP Shane Bieber||2.88||2.87||200.0||8.9||1.6||4.9|
|RHP Triston McKenzie||2.96||3.59||191.1||8.9||2.1||3.6|
|RHP Cal Quantrill||3.38||4.12||186.1||6.2||2.3||2.2|
|RP Aaron Civale||4.92||3.86||97.0||9.1||2.0||1.3|
|RHP Zach Plesac||4.31||4.45||131.2||6.8||2.6||0.9|
|RHP Emmanuel Clase||1.36||1.98||72.2||9.5||1.2||2.4|
|RHP James Karinchak||2.08||2.29||39.0||14.3||4.8||1.0|
|RHP Trevor Stephan||2.69||2.19||63.2||11.6||2.5||1.7|
|RHP Nick Sandlin||2.25||3.68||44.0||8.4||4.9||0.3|
|RHP Enyel de los Santos||3.04||2.62||53.1||10.3||2.9||1.0|
|RHP Eli Morgan||3.38||3.58||66.2||9.7||1.8||0.6|
|RHP Hunter Gaddis||18.41||15.38||7.1||6.1||3.7||-0.6|
The Guardians are helmed by Terry Francona, now in his 23rd year of managing. He has had just one losing season since 2000, an 80-82 season with Cleveland in 2021. This organization is now a model of consistency, with one of the most homegrown teams in baseball. But their confidence in their farm system could be their undoing. Ownership has failed to invest much in player payroll, putting enormous pressure on internal player development. Perhaps the Guardians can continue to keep churning out pitcher after pitcher, but the margin of error is very thin.
How many games will the Guardians win in 2023?
More than 95
Fewer than 70