The 2022 season was a success for the Cleveland Guardians. Surpassing all expectations, the Guardians won the AL Central division and made it to the ALDS, forcing a Game 7 with the Yankees. Coming into the 2023 season tied as the favorite to win the Central, Cleveland has looked like anything but a division winner so far.
Let’s take a deep dive into the Cleveland Guardians’ struggles this season, and how they can potentially improve their playoff hopes
Last year, the core of the production for the Guardians came from Jose Ramirez, Andres Gimenez, Amed Rosario, and Steven Kwan. Interestingly enough, excluding Ramirez, three of these players all had career seasons in 2022. Kwan was one of the best contact hitters in the American League, posting a .298 average with six home runs, earning him a top three finish in rookie of the year voting for the American League race. Gimenez was a monster last season, finishing sixth in the AL MVP voting hitting .297 with 17 homers (140 wRC+) and earning his first All-Star appearance. Rosario was excellent too, posting a career-best 11 HR/.283 slash while playing elite defense at shortstop. Oh, and Ramirez was exceptional too, notching a 139 wRC+ and finishing fourth in MVP voting.
As expected, 2023 hasn’t been as kind to these four, and rightfully so. It’s just not fair to expect these three players to replicate career seasons. Gimenez has struggled mightily, slashing an 88 wRC+, with his defense falling off too. Kwan’s batting average has dropped about 30 points, and Rosario has just one home run this season along with a .250 batting average. Ramirez has been the sole producer in this lineup, maintaining a strong 130 wRC+.
It’s clear Ramirez is just about the only name in this lineup who has been elite, with Cleveland currently sitting at 27th in runs per game this season. While these regressions are frustrating, Cleveland took precautions in case these young studs didn’t live up to their career numbers. The Guardians had one of the most aggressive free agent spendings in franchise history, hoping to aid the young core of their lineup.
Offseason addition struggles
The Guardians struggled to get postseason production from catcher Austin Hedges (hit .133 during the postseason) and DH Owen Miller (hit .111 during the postseason). Cleveland addressed their two biggest holes over the offseason, bringing 1B/DH Josh Bell and catcher Mike Zunino into the lineup. While it seemed promising bringing in two veteran power bats with playoff experience, both signings have looked very grim so far. In fact, after hitting just .177 with three homers in 124 at-bats, Zunino was desginated for assignment by the Guardians. With Zunino’s departure goes $6 million down the drain, a brutal reality for the Guardians who are very frugal when it comes to spending free agent money.
As for Bell, the one-time All Star is currently sitting with a .231 batting average with six homers, registering for an underwhelming 96 wRC+. While Cleveland hoped Zunino and Bell could fill some much needed holes in the lineup, the two signings so far have looked like a major swing and miss.
With Gimenez, Rosario, and Kwan struggling, along with these signings, it’s no surprise the Guardians are having a very tough time scoring runs this season.
The Guardians would be far out of playoff contention in just about any other division besides the AL Central. At 36-38, the Guardians are sitting a remarkable one game back of the Minnesota Twins for first place. Cleveland may be completely out of the Wild Card, but winning the division is entirely possible.
While most would immediately jump to encouraging a trade, Cleveland may have a different approach. Currently, the Guardians have four top 100 prospects at the Triple-A and MLB level. RHP Gavin Williams (#17), OF George Valera (#38), C Bo Naylor (#45), and INF Brayan Rocchio who could all provide a much-needed spark to this big league club. In fact, the team has already embraced this idea, calling up Bo Naylor after putting Zunino on waivers. On Tuesday against the A’s, Gavin Williams also made his MLB debut. With a big league lineup searching for answers, these young, highly-touted young stars could provide a much needed spark to this struggling Cleveland Guardians ball club.